Rating: PG - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: Dean asks Sam an unexpected question.
Dean had a tendency to pronounce foreign chow like someone’s formal name.
Sam glanced over an entire menu of spareribs, reliable sandwiches and the holy trinity of hot wings, cheese sticks and calamari. The selection of a mildly exotic fish easily bordered on the fascinating.
“You sure you want that?”
“I am.” Dean declared. “It sounds kinda like a funky date rape drug.”
He dimly wondered if Dean even knew what type of animal would be arriving on his plate. But sometimes he just forgot that unfamiliar words could be just as interesting to his brother as they were to him. The inconsequential wonder of a species of wildlife was as safe a place as any to toss your dice. It occurred to him that Dean had probably ordered it just for the sake of the minor mystery. The harmless unknown wasn’t something they got to experiment with very often.
Sam stopped playing with the frayed label of his beer bottle and turned his gaze back on the winding line of the shore.
The water lapped in a steady rolling undulation against a string of sea kayaks tied up just beneath them. The pier looked about as substantial as the larger fishing boat moored right off its dock. Weather worn wood and chipped paint flaked down to several different shades of pale to navy blue up and down her sides. It was kind of a tourist thing around here to eat what ended up on the hook that afternoon while the fishermen caught a buzz. It was even more touristy to do it in view of the Indialantic river that stood between them and a thin strip of sand. Beyond that it was all a whole bunch of wide open ocean until you found the next continent.
It all seemed like a huge cliché but Sam was having trouble finding anything wrong with being a part of a pretty picture for just one evening. The little restaurant they found got just enough trickle of commerce from the fancier establishments that could offer a closer view of the crashing surf and linen on the tables. The shoddy porch that made up the place sat right over its own bay, strings of colored Christmas lights wrapped around the splintered railings and up the rough trunks of palm trees that leaned down over the water from the sandy banks.
The sun had set but the sky wasn’t done with it yet, the southern stretch of clouds layered up with dying pink met the purple twilight that had begun to seep downwards. The splatter of stars was arriving too quickly for the day’s decline, bright pinpoints appearing on the orange and red horizon far before the sliver of moon would rise.
“You know how to tell when a guy is really pathetic?”
His brother was waiting for him to take the bait of the question. But Dean was being patient. Waiting was an easy thing to do with a cold one and a salty breeze breathing off the water languid as body temperature. The unobtrusive dim glow of light made all sensations muted and undisturbed to a dreamlike state. A home made wind chime made of glossy shells and sea glass clacked and tinged as someone moved past it. Sam noticed for the first time since they had sat down that there was no music playing. Just the content murmur of other people around them and the bray of the seabirds trying to find some dinner of their own.
“Nope.” Sam finally admitted. “How’s that?”
Dean smiled a little and gestured over his shoulder with a nod.
“When he ends up in an enchanting joint like this one with his fuckin’ little brother.”
Sam’s unanticipated laugh made him choke on his beer. He inconspicuously came to realize that every other table was indeed filled with couples of some sort or another. Everyone lounging around them were in sets of amorous two sharing an obvious intimacy that existed outside of family or simple friendship. He hadn’t thought much about the ambiance of where they were going to get their next allotment of food. He had just been happy to sit down and get something frosty to drink.
“We should tell them it’s our anniversary.” Sam suggested. “Maybe we’ll get a couple free pieces of key lime pie.”
He watched a woman thank the waiter for some wine and then turn her attention right back to the man seated opposite her. Her sudden laugh at an unheard joke was pleasant and happy. His own smile fading, the grip on his bottle turned tight. With all the miles of sky, soft chairs and the heaps good food he knew were on the way, all Sam suddenly wanted to do more than anything else was get up and get the hell out of there.
“Hey.” Dean ventured. “Can I ask ya something?”
Sam felt his tension go as quickly as it had come. Trying to let the beer do its work, he decided to ignore the pangs of insignificance he felt mounting in the presence of average human beings out on a Friday night. Self pity had always been an easy road and he was pretty sick of reading the mile markers. Besides, Dean never seemed to care. So why should he?
“Something about, you know, her?”
When it was time to shift gears out of conversational bullshit, Dean’s tone always subtly changed. His brother wasn’t exactly a creature of a thousand nuances but it could vary quite a bit if Sam was paying close enough attention. Anything of any seriousness tended to carry a weight just like most everything that came out of his brother’s mouth. But this question was different. It was subdued and hesitant. Sam was vaguely reminded of the demeanor Dean assumed for what was considered an authority figure. Clergy men. Veterans. Their father. There were individuals that his brother for some reason had deemed superior to himself in one way or another. Looking at Dean’s gaze flicker up and down from the table and Sam’s face, he realized it was a voice also used when there was no assurance of what kind of reaction would be received. The question was fragile, fleeting and willing to be taken back in an instant if there was a suspicion it would be mocked or worse, ignored.
Sam didn’t find himself on the other end of that cautious attempt at trust very often. He felt himself sitting up a little straighter, slightly nervous that some form of unintentional negative body language would make Dean shut down and the words would suddenly be gone. He didn’t want it to be swiftly removed from the place between them as if it had never been spoken at all. Settling deeper into his sprawl in the roomy chair, he kept his voice carefully relaxed and neutral.
Taking another gulp of beer, Dean looked over at him again with something that looked like doubt.
“How did you know?”
“H-How did I know what?”
Dean’s uncertain posture shifted into agitation as he realized he would have to further explain himself. It was obvious that he had been hoping that spelling out exactly what was on his mind wouldn’t be necessary.
“How did you know when it was... it?”
There were a few things Sam knew that they both thought about every day but had never once discussed with one another. It had become comfortable, like living side by side with the outrageous pink elephant in the room instead of ignoring it like anyone else would. There had been an understanding that some conversations would tear at wounds that might not be meant for healing. Their constant exposure to one another had been made safe by a sum of mutual assumptions for a common state of mind. Sam didn’t have to ask what Dean was referring to. He didn’t have to ask why this slow death of day had drawn out this piece of pain that was usually kept quiet down in their dark. Sam didn’t have to wonder why the sight of normal men and women living out one night within reaching distance of each other had made his brother think about loneliness.
“Right.” He tipped his head back with a sigh. “It.”
Sam had actually found a hand that wanted to hold his for a short time. He hadn’t gone out to the west coast just to find it but it happened anyway. He supposed he should now be the owner to the astonishing secret that everyone hoped like hell there was a real answer to. A part of him vividly remembered having barely climbed into his teens before the deluge of frustration upon being a member of the universe had finally struck. How many nights had he spent whispering and crying in the only private sanctity of the car. How many times had he’d lain there praying that his older brother had answers for him too? The questions had been a little bit more simple back then. But they had all been quandaries that Sam knew his brother had explanations for even if there were no decent solutions.
It was strange to sit at this table so many years later and not be the one with the question this time. It was strange to see that faint hope in his brother’s gaze that now maybe Sam could perform some of the same magic back.
“I don’t know, man.” Sam shrugged. “She made me laugh.”
He could see the disappointment in Dean’s eyes as he took up his beer again. He knew what his brother’s practical mind was processing of the statement even if he didn’t say any of it out loud. There were about one million women on the planet that could make you laugh. Maybe two million of them could at least make you smile. The rest could do anything else a guy needed to get through the night. Sam wanted to explain that that there was no formula. No rhyme or reason. He wanted to tell his brother that there was nothing to reveal because there wasn’t even a secret. There wasn’t even luck. Secrets were for people who wanted mystery to exist. Fortunate coincidence was for the lottery. The only lovers ordained by the stars were creations of men who wanted to sell theater tickets. Life was just a billion souls all caught up in one billion strands of synchronicity.
As far as Sam was concerned, finding it was the only purely miraculous thing he’d ever experienced in his life. Looking at his brother’s face, he knew that Dean hadn’t even come close to finding that bonafide miracle yet.
He watched the disillusionment fade along with the entire notion as his brother left the inquiry behind like a road sign. Dean’s expression slid easily back into the present when steaming plates of fried fish arrived. Bottles of beer were replaced and the young man that waited tables to house his surf board assured them there was homemade bread pudding back in the kitchen.
The crispy skin of a fresh catch tasted just as good as it smelled. Dean’s bizarre selection received no complaints other than there wasn’t enough of it. Sam noted that their table was just as loud and full as anyone else’s there. He knew there were rarer joys to be found in the great scheme of things and he’d be a fool if he thought that the ability to make his brother laugh wasn’t one of them. But it made him feel good to know that Dean believed there was some distinction out there, that there were a few souls somewhere in the handful of sand that you held onto until the years made it dwindle.
A man like Dean always knew a sure thing when he saw it.
And if he somehow missed it, Sam had faith that the right woman would let him know.