“The least I can do is get you a coffee,” the red-head gushed. “I mean, I’m the barista and everything so I can get you whatever you want, but, like, now I don’t have to crash on Melanie’s floor and I definitely think that we’re all going to be totally happier about that.”
Dean grinned at her. “Anything I could do to help you…”
“Professor Dolan was totally right; you just fixed it. She didn’t show up at all last night and I even had Kevin and Marie stay with me just in case, you know?” She pulled Dean along with her, to some coffee shop off campus. Dean couldn’t quite remember her name - Katie, Kathy, Kitty, Kimmy, something with a K anyway. “And they didn’t see her either and they definitely did before and it was Marie who wrote the editorial about it in the paper, the one about all the blood on the floor; you said you read that, you said that’s why you came here. I should totally get her, like, a some chocolates or something for that, don’t you think?”
Dean thought he’d like Katie-Kathy-Kitty-Kimmy more if she’d actually stop talking long enough for him to actually say anything. She was pretty enough, all curves and delicate freckles and big blue eyes, but Dean had never met anyone who talked as much or as fast as she did. Dolan had warned him that she was one of his star students and might be a little suspicious, a little hard for Dean to work with, but Dean hadn’t expected this.
“Here it is,” she said proudly, stopping in front of a pretentious little bakery for a moment. “I know it’s not much, but I don’t exactly have a better way to thank you and you kind of basically saved my life. I would not be able to study for exams with that thing in my room.” She grabbed Dean’s arm again, pulling him inside and then depositing him at a table near a display of cinnamon buns and turnovers. “Like, my boss will totally kill me if I don’t work. You’ve got something to do right? Of course, you do, you got that bag there. I’ll totally bring you coffee and stuff and if you want something to eat, just let me know. I totally owe you my life and everything.”
Dean sat at the little chair and table that were built for someone who was at least six inches shorter than him. The little red head kissed the cheeks of the blond behind the counter and made up some kind of coffee. Dean watched her a bit suspiciously. Coffee shouldn’t be that hard to make. This looked like some kind of thing Sam would drink, something sweet and fluffy and made with four or five different whirring machines, with chocolate and sprinkles and the love of sparkly kittens.
“Here you go!” Katie-Kathy-Kitty-Kimmy exclaimed, delicately placing a large mug topped with honest-to-god whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles in front of Dean. “It’s our specialty. Me and Annette came up with it ourselves; it’s a double-shot espresso latte with the three signature flavor shots and extra cinnamon.” She grinned at him. “I added the whipped cream just for you ‘cause you deserved something special, you know? Look, I gotta go back ‘cause Annette needs to take her break in a minute, but totally let me know if you need anything and I’ll get you a coffee or anything you need, okay?”
Dean watched the two girls for a minute or two, until the blond headed outside with a little purse slung over her shoulder and a pack of Virginia Slims in her hand. He cautiously took a sip of the coffee and managed not to wince in surprise. He wasn’t sure if even Sam would drink this. It didn’t taste anything like coffee. It sort of tasted like a liquid candy bar. He took another slow sip. As long as he didn’t think of it as coffee, he might be able to manage it and maybe get some time with Katie-Kathy-Kitty-Kimmy before he headed on up to Sioux Falls.
He reached into the duffel at his feet and pulled out his copy of Nobody’s Death from underneath the bags of rock salt, dirty clothes, and spare knives. He opened it to the first chapter, skipping the preface and dedication he’d read before he’d even bought the book. It broke something inside Dean to read the words, but he pushed on, hoping that it would get better, knowing, at least, that they would get through in the end. Sal knew pain, knew it deep somewhere inside of him where he imagined his soul ought to be. He’d lost Mom and Dad and Beth and Carrie. He’d been shot and knifed and he had even died, just little. But Sal had never known anything like this. He had never known how to live without Ray. He couldn’t imagine that a life without Ray was any kind of a life at all, that a world without Ray was any kind of world worth saving.
“Oh my god, you read Sam Wesson, too?”
Dean looked up at the red-head standing at his table, pulling himself out of Sam losing himself to the demon blood, of Dean showing up, broken and battered on his doorstep. She was holding another coffee drink in one hand and a slice of frosted cake in the other. “Yeah. I mean, it’s just good stuff, you know?”
“Oh, totally!” She took the seat across from Dean and it was apparent that she was the right size for the table. “I’m taking a class on the twenty-first century American writer this term and I just got permission, like last week, to write my final paper on Wesson. He’s totally making a social commentary on the Beat Generation, you know, especially Kerouac. But he’s also blending in the sub-post modern mind-set of the magical realism break throughs in the English language and talking about the current generations and, like, our multi-cultural social mores. I’m thinking about using Foucault to look at the suppressed desired expressed through Sal.”
Dean blinked at her, his mind still caught up with Sam losing himself to the darker side of the world and humanity’s own damnation and being distracted by and fooled by the angels himself and that horrible rift that had existed between them for that first year he’d been back.
“Oh man, I’m totally distracting you, aren’t I?” She blushed prettily, the tops of her cheeks turning a rosy pink. “I’ll let you get back to the book. You definitely need to be able to savor Wesson, you know? And just wait until you finish that one; I hear that he’s coming out with a new one, it’s supposed to be out next fall, and, man, I’m so excited about it.” She stood up, leaving the coffee and cake at the table, and retreated back behind the bakery counter, giggling with the blond for a minute.
Dean got distracted by the book, frowning deeply when he read about Sal learning to fight from the demon-cum-drug dealer Abbie Rosier. He remembered all too well how Sam was after Ruby’s betrayal, how hard the come down from the addiction was, how Sam had gripped Dean’s arms and begged him, begged Bobby, not to kill him, cried that he didn’t mean to do it, he didn’t mean it, he was so sorry. Being torn apart and embroiled in old memories was Dean’s only excuse for not noticing Sam until he made a strangled noise in his throat and, by then, it was too late.
“I thought you were in New York,” Dean said stupidly, not putting the book down, not touching his coffee.
“I just needed to sign some papers. When I called, Ben said you should still be in Omaha.” Sam’s voice was stilted, like he couldn’t quite get enough air. He made the noise again, the same one he had made back in Oklahoma when the poltergeist pinned him to a wall, the fireplace poker across his neck. “I didn’t know you read my books.”
“I’m not exactly illiterate,” Dean told him. “And with you running off, I gotta have some kind of company around besides my baby.”
“And you just decided to read my books?”
“It’s not like I don’t already know most of it anyway,” Dean protested, trying not to think of how Sal felt and how, especially in Nobody’s Death, he didn’t dream of walking away from Ray. Dean sort of wished that Sam actually felt that way, that it wasn’t the fiction of the book.
Sam stared at him, working his jaw for a moment. Then he just deflated, like he was a marionette puppet and someone had cut his strings. “Just,” he said, looking and sounding younger than he had in years, “just, please, don’t read them.”
Dean traced the cover of the book absently with his thumb, feeling the creases where it had been bent out of shape. “It’s just a book, Sam. It’s not like it’s a bad book and everyone already know that you were the geek boy in the family.”
Leaning forward, Sam gripped the edge of the table with white knuckles. “Please, Dean.”
“Okay,” Dean said slowly, still not understanding why this was important.
Sam slid into the chair across the table from Dean and stared at him for a long moment as Dean put Nobody’s Death back in his bag. “Thank you.”
“So you needed to go all the way to New York City just to sign a few papers?” Dean asked, taking another short sip of his overly sweetened coffee confection.
“Palmer wanted to talk about my new book,” Sam told him with a sharp shrug. “We had a difference of opinion.”
“What, you wrote about a possessed agent who’d made a deal with the devil and he didn’t like it?”
“Something like that.” Sam smiled a little bitterly.
They sat at the table, just staring at each other uncomfortably. Dean felt like he was missing something important. Sam still looked stressed and upset, but Dean couldn’t imagine that is was actually about the books. Sure, Nobody’s Death was a little more personal than Life in Winter, especially when Sal was dealing with Ray’s death, but it wasn’t anything Dean didn’t already know or couldn’t have figured out if he spent a little time thinking about it.
As a bit of a peace offering, Dean pushed the uneaten slice of cake at Sam. Sam looked like he hadn’t eaten all day and after the candy bars masquerading as coffee, Dean didn’t think he’d be able to stomach the cake anyway.
Katie-Kathy-Kitty-Kimmy came over to the table with a huge smile on her face. “Dean, just let me know if you need anything or if your friend -” She froze, miraculously silent for a moment when she saw Sam. “Oh my god! Oh my god! You’re Sam Wesson!”
Sam smiled a little falsely at her, the same fake look he sometimes gave witnesses when he was exhausted or sick of the case or getting ready to leave again. “That’s me.”
“Oh wow. Like - oh, your stuff is just amazing. I was just telling Dean that I’m totally writing my paper on repression and desire in Nobody’s Death. Oh. My. God.” She paused and and seemed to catch her breath. “You know Dean?”
Sam looked at Dean across the table. “We’re coworkers.”
Dean frowned. That stung; it really hurt. They were just coworkers now, two guys who just did their jobs side-by-side and went to home to separate houses at night and never thought anything more of each other? Screw that. “You could say that I’m the Ray to Sam’s Sal.”
Sam made that strangled noise in his throat again, like someone was choking the words out of him.
Katie-Kathy-Kitty-Kimmy, though, let out a noise that Dean could only classify as a squeal. “Oh my god, that is so sweet! The Ray to Sam’s Sal! You are too cute!”
Sam looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in that little bakery in Omaha with the hot co-ed squealing at him. “Look, I,” he shot a look at the red-head, “I found us a job down in Missouri. I caught wind of it when I was in New York. I know it means not seeing Bobby, but I figure we should get it done sooner rather than later.”
“Sure,” Dean told him. “I got the car over at the White Cricket Motor Inn.” He smiled at Katie-Kathy-Kitty-Kimmy. “Thanks for the coffee, sweet thing.”
She beamed at him. “You know, I thought you were one of Dolan’s old boyfriends, but it is so much sweeter that you’re with Sam Wesson.”
“What’s wrong with your face?” Sam asked, after they left the bakery and were making their way back to the motel.
“Dolan’s like Bobby’s age; I would so not date a guy old enough to be my father,” Dean said. “And why does everyone always think I’m gay? She was a babe and now she thinks I’m doing my brother.”
“That ‘babe’ is about half your age,” Sam pointed out.
“I got rid of the bleeding, headless chick that was haunting her bedroom,” Dean protested. “She totally do me for that. But now she thinks I’ve got some adorable romance with you and she wouldn’t want to break up the eternal love between her savior and her favorite author.”
Sam didn’t really have anything to say to that.
The job in Missouri turned out to be a particularly vicious and clever empusa. Dean hated empusas. He didn’t know if Sam remembered it, but he and Dad had hunted one in Oklahoma back when Dean was twelve. Dad hadn’t really wanted Dean to be anywhere near it, told him to stay home and protect Sam, but empusae are smart and some get a special taste for hunters. It went after them at the little rented place they’d been staying. Dean didn’t think he would ever forget that last night, sitting on the foot of Sam’s bed, gripping the shotgun with the consecrated rounds and listening to Dad hunting outside, not knowing if the pained cries were Dad’s or the empusa’s. It took Dad a long time to recover; they had stayed in that nameless town long enough for Sam and Dean to finish school and for the weather to get hot and dusty. Dean didn’t remember what they told Sam or what questions he had asked them.
Sam was tense and edgy as well. He woke up before Dean in the morning and twice Dean had to send him out for burgers or coffee because his twitching was making the already frightened witnesses nervous. No one wanted to trust a jumpy FBI agent. He watched Dean closely and got quieter and quieter as the hunt dragged on.
They finally got the fucker, catching her in the chest with consecrated bullets, blessed at Pastor Jim’s old parish the last time they blew through town, but not before she had taken down more victims: an elderly pig farmer and a pair of kids who had had been playing outside, just a little too far from home.
They closed up the case, wrapping up their tracks and burning the empusa’s remains, but Dean still felt raw all over. Losing people, losing kids, always got under his skin. He hated seeing the emptiness in the parents’ eyes. It got to him, made him restless in his own skin, to be reminded that even after all they’d done and all they could do, they couldn’t save everyone.
Either Sam got the same feeling like all his skin was a size too small or he noticed that Dean was getting read to pick a fight in the local bar that would leave him bruised and bloody. Whichever it was, they got the hell out of Dodge and were onto a new case. The Impala was halfway to Nowheresville, West Virginia before Dean realised Sam had them after a pack of pixies.
Dean scowled at his arm. It sparkled. When he moved it in the sunlight, he left a glittering rainbow in his wake. It would have been livable if it was just his arms and hands. He had plenty of long sleeve shirts and an odd pair of Dad’s leather gloves was kicking around the trunk of the Impala. But it was everywhere, like he’d bathed in glitter. When Dean got in the shower that morning, even his dick sparkled under the dull yellow bathroom light.
Fucking pixies. They were normally vicious little things, ready to bite and snarl and trick you with illusions. This nest, however, decided they liked Dean. They’d swarmed him. They had asked him to join them, to go away with them, and they had showered him with shining gifts. Sam had scattered them with iron rounds and most of their gifts turned to mud and stone, but Dean stayed sparkling in the moonlight.
No amount of scrubbing would get it off and Sam insisted on hunting without him. It stung, watching Sam driving off without him, even though it made sense. The pixies had marked him and would know where he was. Besides, shooting off rainbows in the woods would attract attention from the civilians. Even so, he still felt like a stupid civilian himself and he looked like an idiot.
The sun was setting over the mountains and Dean’s stomach growled, hunger for something other than luke-warm instant coffee and M&Ms from three states ago. He shrugged on his leather jacket with the sleeves too long and half covering his hands and put on a decrepit USMC cap to cover his glittering hair. There was a truck stop up the road and as long as he paid cash, they probably wouldn’t ask questions. For good measure, he stuffed the regional newspaper from Weston into his jacket alongside his copy of Nobody’s Death. The last thing he needed was to have some local trying to talk to him and noticing that Dean was covered in magical rainbow glitter.
The truck stop wasn’t far and Dean was grateful. In the dank southern humidity, the leather of his jacket stuck to his skin uncomfortably. The dining area wasn’t air conditioned by any means, but the pretty young waitress who couldn’t have been a day over seventeen sat him in a booth near an ancient fan. Dean ordered a bowl of the house chili and a double cheeseburger with barbecue sauce, managing it without showing her his hands or letting his face catch too much of the light. There was no need to blind pretty young girls with his temporary sparkle power.
He carefully read the Weston paper while he waited for his chili. Most of the locals were congregating down by the bar, where they could drink their beers and watch the game. A handful of guys were playing darts by the door. If he wasn’t currently playing the role of Sparkly Vampire Eight in the local rendition of Twilight on Broadway, or if Sam were there to back him up, Dean would have been at the bar. If he’d felt like it, he’d have hustled a game or two, caught up on local gossip, and relaxed.
He wasn’t paying attention to what he was eating, not really, and he was too used to the bland, tasteless tomatoes-and-beans house chilis in greasy spoons across the country. The nearly-whole hot pepper caught him by surprise and he choked on the heat as it gagged him. He coughed and chugged his beer until his eyes stopped watering.
Dean tried to catch the attention of the waitress, but she was too busy leaning over the next table, where a pimply faced kid was showing her some kind of hand held tech. He’d done it often enough; Dean knew all of the signs of flirting in a small town. Pimple Face wanted under Waitress’s skirt, or at least, if he were more like Sam than Dean at that age, to hold her hand and take her to prom.
“See, Annie,” the boy was saying, “I can get anything on here.” Pimple Face’s accent was as thick and dense as the pixie infested forest, but Dean had lived and worked in the South often enough that he could understand him.
“Really?” Annie, the waitress, asked, tucking a loose dark curl behind her ear. “I never saw one before.”
Pimple Face grinned at her, all too obviously happy that she was paying attention to him. “Yeah. Hey, look, you like those Wesson books, don’t you? I got that interview of him on here, that one that was on Late Night last week.”
“I missed that one!” Annie exclaimed. “Pete has me working a double shift on Thursdays. I was so pissed.”
“Here.” Pimple Face pushed a few buttons and Dean didn’t even have to strain to hear Sam’s voice over the whirring of the fan. He knew Sam’s laugh anywhere and it was only too easy to drink his beer and eavesdrop on a couple of teenagers.
“I guess it means that someone’s reading my books, at least?” Sam told someone, after catching his breath. “Obviously, I’m not a fan of schools banning Nobody’s Death, but I understand why they’re doing it. My metaphors aren’t exactly kid-friendly, but I don’t think it makes them bad stories, not at all. Just don’t go giving your copy of Life in Winter to a five year old, you know?”
A man laughed along with Sam. “Always a man of understatement, Mr. Wesson. I have to ask though - people have been talking. You’ve said Sal is a stand in for the everyman. And we all know that Sal has a very different kind of relationship with his brother. How does your family feel about that?”
“I’m lucky enough to be an only child, Rick,” Sam said after a brief pause. “So I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck, asking if that’s what I actually think about them. And, of course, my parents both died when I was a teenager. It’s all fiction, anyway. I mean, really, angels and demons and the end of the world - I’m not exactly writing for the History Channel here.”
The other man, Rick, laughed, the fake tinny sound of television hosts everywhere. “I’m pretty sure if I was your brother, I wouldn’t want to admit it. And there we have it - Sam Wesson, promoting his new book, Broken Luck, on the shelves everywhere in November!”
Dean put his empty bottle down on the sticky table heavily. He didn’t even hear the announcer welcoming someone else onto his show for the first time. He only heard Sam’s words echoing in his head. He put money down on the table, more than enough for his chili and beer and the burger that hadn’t come off the grill yet.
“Mister, you okay?” he heard Annie, the pretty truck stop waitress who loved Sam Wesson, call out as he left. He didn’t answer.
He walked back to their shitty motel room, the Weston newspaper in his right hand and his battered, unread copy of Nobody’s Death in his left. Dean barely felt the sweat that poured off him under Dad’s old leather jacket and USMC cap. He didn’t think to tuck Nobody’s Death into his jacket, not even when he saw the Impala, gleaming and black, parked in front of their room.
Sam was in the bathroom when Dean walked in. He heard the shower turn off, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even know why he was so upset, so hurt. He barely heard when Sam walked out of the tiny bathroom, wearing nothing but a worn towel slung over his hips.
Sam didn’t say anything either. His eyes swung from Dean’s shuttered face to the book and paper in his hands before he pulled on an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt that had seen better days. Silently, he zipped his bag shut and pulled it over his shoulder.
“Do you want to take me to the Greyhound station out in Charleston?” He paused a beat, shifting minutely on his feet. “I can walk. Hitch hike if it starts raining.”
Not understanding what was going on, but recognizing the look on Sam’s face, knowing exactly what it meant, knowing that he couldn’t keep Sam with him, Dean pushed past him, out of the motel. “Get in the damned car. You aren’t hitching all the way up through the West Virginia mountains, bitch.”
The Impala was silent as Dean drove her down the narrow local roads toward interstate 79. Not even his old standbys of Angus Young and Robert Plant wailed from her speakers. Sam looked anywhere and everywhere but at him. Once they nosed their way out of the thick forests that covered the hills and protected the pixies and other beasts of the Blue Ridge mountains, Sam began to frantically text and e-mail people on his Blackberry, the electronic noises from his keys too sharp and too loud in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the car.
Dean pulled his baby to the curb in Charleston across the street from the dirty, gray Greyhound station. It was as dark as death in the hills, but the city was still alive and full of noise. The bus station was open. Dean didn’t think Greyhound stations ever closed. Sam would be fine. A bus could take him from West Virginia to wherever he wanted, New York, most likely.
Dean pretended it didn’t hurt when Sam left, with his old army-issue duffle in white knuckled hands. No one would know if Dean pulled the Impala into a local garage and came back, waiting and watching until Sam climbed on a bus to New York City, white ear buds already in his ears.