Authors: Mink & Jink
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
There was something a little pleasant about thinking you've really seen it all and then discovering that in fact, you haven't. Even if what you've never seen happened to be kind of unpleasant.
It was that positive and negative that cancelled each other out sometimes. In this case it was just the place they had to call home for the next 24 hours. Everything in their room, the headboard, the picture frames, the chairs and even the wastebasket sitting by the door was made from the dried remains of saguaro cactus. Faded, pitted and resembling some kind of mutant hard sea sponge, Sam had wondered at the artist's obsessive aesthetic in a place that was supposed to exude comfort. Or, as the years had shown, some kind of beige neutrality that just faded into your own background.
It made the room smell strange too.
Like the desert outside but nothing clean, just aged and dusty. Assembling the bones of what stood for near a hundred years in one spot into some cheap ill fitting lampshade seemed a little disrespectful to him.
"There's a legend…” Dean began, winking at Sam with the gravity he’d put into his voice.
Sam smiled a little, just because it was something they heard all the time. The great introductions into the fables and myths that someone they interviewed would swear was nothing but fact and truth.
Dean continued as he tossed his duffel on his bed.
“They say, down further south, that when the tribes that were there started to be slaughtered by the Spanish soldiers taking their land… they would hide." Dean paused to make a mockery of dramatic emphasis. "By turning into the cactus.”
It seemed like his brother was thinking the same thing about the décor and its meaning.
“And they say that they are all still out there, just you know, standing and waiting until the invaders are gone."
Sam's thoughts turned to the landscape as they'd drove, open desert and the lone stand of the tall plants that they constantly passed, in every manner of shapes and sizes. Thick branches like reaching limbs that didn't sway in any wind.
It was like everything out here was made to be still.
As he drifted off to sleep he thought of the old park they would return to the next night. Use their day to do a little bit more searching into the what and why of its secrets. The things that were never kept in any libraries but instead in the local lore. It was the very heart of their father's tome, what he had spent years recording and analyzing. Pages overflowing with the word of mouth, the same threats called by a multitude of names. When, whys and hows changed constantly. But he, like his father, knew he could rely on one thing.
Stories, like the old souls of the men that may lay deep in the skeletons of each looming saguaro, took a long time to fade away.
The next day was long and frustrating.
They had actually thought they had struck gold when they had managed to track down the trailer that belonged to the former owner of the place. One look at them and their questions about the park and the door slammed in their faces. Apparently it had been shut down due to some accidents on the unregistered rides and after all these years the old man was still running from lawsuits and jail time.
They thought they had at least made some head way when they found the address of a teen aged girl who supposedly had gone loco within a day of visiting the park with a group of her trespassing friends. The story was that promptly after their foray she had taken a shotgun and killed her parents and younger brother. The woman with the right last name that answered the door appeared very much alive. As did her husband who came to the door to see why two police officers were at their home.
Was this about their daughter? Because she was off to Arizona University and if something's happened then-- They assured them that their daughter was in all likelihood, just fine, and they made their leave.
You had to dig deep to find even a hint of real under the make believe.
When night came, they returned to their motel filled with its bizarre furniture and reevaluated the situation. Not one single lead had panned out to anything remotely true and the park itself had delivered not one sign of activity. It looked the part but then so did they most of the time. Sometimes a creepy old park was just a creepy old park.
"I'm starving." Dean muttered.
"Yeah me too."
When neither one of them made any move to gather themselves to head out again, Sam knew that whatever food they were going to be eating was going to be the kind that required a tip.
"With extra everything on it." Dean confirmed.
Sam flipped open the small local phone book that sat by the telephone while his brother completed the usual ritual of their routine by making the trip to the ice machine. Grabbing up the plastic bucket he paused at the door.
"You wanna soda?"
Flipping to the P section in the yellow pages, Sam shrugged. "Sure."
The selection of pizza places he found weren't all that promising. In fact, as soon as he had clicked off his phone he wished they had fought their weariness and just went out and found some place to eat that had something decent to chow on.
With a sigh, he lay back on his bed and turned on the television. He cycled past commercials until he found the local news station. Half hoping the poorly lit and chipper studio reporter would suddenly reveal something that they had been looking for, he instead listened to a weather forecast and about a high school football victory.
The local news was about as useful as the local rag.
Despite himself he kept the channel on the resident station, half amused by the low budget self promotions of a car dealer and then even lower budget cooking show that was hosted by the oldest woman Sam thought he'd ever seen. The slow drone of her voice started to make his already heavy eyelids start to slip and close.
He blinked and cleared his throat.
The show was over.
Sam glanced at his watch. He had managed to doze off for almost a good fifteen minutes. Pizza should be here any second now. He felt around in his jean pocket for his wallet to make sure he had some cash for the guy when he suddenly stopped. Alone in the room, he glanced at the table and saw no ice bucket.
Sam stood up and stretched.
With a small frown he walked to the motel door and stepped outside into the strange crisp night air that the desert made after sun down. He had seen the ice machine just down behind the stairs sitting right next to the glowing soda machine. He had walked half way there when he spotted Dean standing on the opposite side of the parking lot.
"Hey!" Sam called out to get his attention.
His brother turned at the sound of his voice and started to briskly walk towards him.
Sam gave him a puzzled half smile when he got closer. "What? You get lost or something?"
Dean smiled back but it looked strange. Forced. Uncomfortable.
"No, I just uh, I had to find another machine." Dean explained. "That other one was busted."
Sam saw it just like he saw anything else. It was for no reason he could pinpoint and explain. It was a lifetime of having grown up around him. It was miles on the road listening to him talk to others. Every nuance and every veil had its own look and sound to it.
Sam knew when his older brother was lying.
He looked down at the ice bucket filled with ice that was almost completely turned to water and then back at his brother's face. Dean was looking around like he was trying to find someone in a crowd. Sam glanced around in the direction he was looking in. There was no one around. It was just the rows upon rows of identical shut motel doors and windows. Sam studied Dean for a moment longer. But why would his brother lie about a stupid ice machine? He probably had just run into some girl that was staying here and didn’t want any flack from his little brother. Rubbing at his eyes he decided that maybe he was just a little more tired than he thought he was.
He turned to find the room and his bed again.
Dean immediately followed behind him. As Sam opened their door, he noticed something else.
"Soda machine broke too?"
Sam watched Dean look hard at the number on their door before shutting it behind him.
"Soda. You said you were going to get some-- hey are you--"
Dean suddenly sat down hard on the edge of his bed and was holding the ice bucket under his face. He had started throwing up.
"Whoa." Sam stepped back when his brother half missed the small plastic container.
Dean stumbled to a stand and went into the bathroom. Sam followed him and watched him fall into a kneel in front of the toilet.
"Geeze dude, where the hell did that come from?" Sam's alarmed confusion quickly settled into wary concern.
"Gimme-- a sec would ya?" Dean gasped irritably.
Sam started when a sharp knock on their door announced their pizza had arrived.
His previous tentative acceptance of questionable heaps of melted cheese as a means to an end was suddenly now the most objectionable thing he could think of. He was also compassionate enough to think what the mere sight and smell of it could inflict on his brother who at the moment, was apparently not feeling so hot.
Sam quickly paid the delivery guy and waited for him to jump back into his pick up before deciding to just toss the grease soaked box right into the nearest garbage can. He grimaced at the feel of the box’s contents heavily sliding all into one end as he dumped it. By the time he had come back into the room, Dean was out of the bathroom and lying very still on the bed closest to its door. His forearm was draped over his eyes, his other hand pressed down on the mattress at his side as if he was bracing himself.
“You okay?” Sam asked.
Dean nodded under his arm.
“Guess we aren’t goin’ huntin’ tonight.” Sam concluded.
Dean shook his head in affirmation under his arm. Sam looked down at what had ended up on the carpet and decided he should probably clean that up.
As soon as possible.
The smell of the spray bleach cleaner Sam had discovered under the sink actually improved the stale smell permeating the walls.
Throwing the last rag into the wastebasket, Sam flung himself on the bed with a sigh. Dean, still taking long deep breaths, was looking better. Like, in a ‘not about to hurl anymore for the time being’ better kind of way. He was still in no state to go crawling around a run down theme park. Sam turned the situation over in his mind.
He could always go himself? Take the Impala down to the site for one last combing. But what would be the point? A waste of gas based on a gut reaction and lies. Speaking of gut reactions, Dean was undoubtedly getting some kind of sick that he was plainly not up to addressing. If it was something in the water or what little they had consumed of the local grub, a change of scene would be the best course of action they'd taken in a long time.
"What say tomorrow we get the hell outta here?" Sam asked, twisting round to switch off the lamp next to his bed.
"Yeah." Dean did not open his eyes.
"Here we come." Dean's voice, half asleep and raw, was barely audible in the sudden wash of darkness.
Sam downed the last of his lukewarm coffee as he waited in the car for his brother to walk out of the grimy roadside convenient store.
He'd hoped the caffeine would help but all it had done was make him on edge. The haze of fatigue had made his surroundings vague and dreamlike, the rush of passing cars on the highway seeming distant and faraway. Exhaustion distorted his focus, making him lost in the echo of his own thoughts so that when he looked up again the amber glow of the sun had already died and it was now somehow dark. The heat had been relentless, leaving the rocks and everything around them washed out and tired. Sam was beginning to understand how that felt. People are allowed some daily margin of error, details lost in the hectic blur of constantly shifting routines. He realized, too, that a majority of his concern was a messy amalgamation of ‘that one time’ and ‘come to think of its’.
But those times had begun to escalate.
Sure it could have been the job. For every mislead, every second guess, every life lost there were periods when the work became more than wearying. Where if he did not consign himself to the ultimate goal of this obsession, this duty ingrained since the day he could talk, he would never pick up another salt-loaded shotgun again. Frustration and despair went with the game. Most times they simply had no alternative but to move on. Besides, even he had to admit that the job was not without its payoffs. There were aspects that Dean, shabby superhero that he was, ultimately enjoyed. The types of things your average citizen considered dangerous being one of them.
So since when had everything become a chore for his older brother?
The monotony had long since stopped being surreal, every small town the same story, different paint job. False leads were always a let down. He could attribute Dean's uncharacteristic lethargy to a number of things. Sam crumpled the empty styrofoam coffee cup in his fist and flung it outside into the mouth of a nearby trashcan. He had no time to stew over things. Anyway who was he to talk?
"So do we have any dirt on that case in San Anselmo?" Sam asked.
"Huh?" Dean jerked, recognition delayed in his dull eyes. "Oh. Yeah um .... the missing kid?"
Sam paused, exasperated. "Dean. You with me now or what, man?"
"Wha--? Yeah!" Confusion then irritation shot through the huskiness in Dean's voice. "I just...just got a headache or something." He rubbed his temples.
"Or something? Dude, I've been pulling teeth all week just trying to keep you on the same page!"
Dean's short sigh indicated that he was through talking.
"Need an aspirin or what?"
"Nah." He said quietly, eyes focusing on the road. "It'll pass."
That had been two weeks ago.
Sam was glad to be out of Nevada.
Not that California would be any cooler, but something a little less desolate would be a welcome change. It would help, probably. Not that Dean had ever been forthcoming about illness. Usually, the only time Sam could tell for sure was when he ended up on the floor.
At any rate, he seemed better for all intents and purposes.
Well enough to keep on going anyway. Even down these long stretches with no end of their day in sight. Sam couldn’t even remember when they’d seen another car pass them going in the opposite direction. And those three bottles of water he’d sucked down were really kicking in. When no rest stop conveniently presented itself, his brother had pulled over and made his own. The brown dry plants that surrounded either side of the road were brittle and in bad need of some rain that wasn’t coming any time soon.
Sam returned back to the car first, sitting down in his seat with a long exhale, his body finally rid of the urgency for some relief. Just in the nick of time too, any longer and his body would have done it for him, still in the car or no. Unconsciously, he felt his hand slide into his jeans pocket, fingers touching the square of stiff paper he reserved for times of no particular reason. Slowly, he pulled it out and placed it in the palm of his hand.
He was suddenly embarrassed having been caught at it. He didn’t do it often. It hurt too bad to look at a photo that had been taken when he had been really truly content. Maybe even happy. It hurt to look at her smile and know that all smiles came to a close in every photo ever taken. It made him want to sometimes rip the picture up so he couldn’t ever look and try to remember what had happened moments after the camera’s shutter flickered and closed.
Had she laughed because the flash had blinded her?
Did she insist that she looked bad in every picture she’d ever been in?
He honestly couldn’t remember.
But he always tucked the picture back away safely where he kept it. He had always thought it had been a little morbid that their father had never stopped wearing his wedding ring. Sam never mentioned his thoughts about it out loud because he more than knew better. But all these years later he thought he might actually understand just exactly why the old man did it.
“Nothin’.” Sam finally answered his question. “Just looking.”
Dean glanced down at the photograph in Sam’s hand.
“Can I see?”
Sam swallowed, for some reason uncomfortable with handing the picture over. But he did anyway. Dean took it oddly carefully at its corner and took a good look. He made a low whistle like he did when he saw some girl he really thought was at least a ten or better.
It was a strange reaction and inappropriate even for Dean. Sam might have even found it somewhere inside of him to be angry if he didn’t quite know his brother as well as he did. The intentions that seeped through from his mind and how they ended up sounding coming out of his mouth tended to be a little askew.
“Nice.” Dean grinned at him. “This back at school?”
Sam felt himself grin a little back.
“She some ex of yours?”
Sam felt his grin die.
“That’s not fucking funny Dean.”
Dean’s easy manner quickly evaporated.
His brother hastily shoved the picture back towards Sam.
Sam snatched it out of his hand. “I don’t know what the hell your problem is but—“
Dean swung his car door open.
Sam thought at first that his brother was about to storm off. Or maybe invite Sam out of the car so they could have a regular good old shouting match right in the middle of the road. After how this month was going and how his brother had been acting he was ready and willing to do just that.
But instead Dean just staggered a few feet away and leaned over.
He was sick again.
His ire forgotten, Sam quickly got out of the car and walked swiftly to his brother’s side.
“Hey? What’s a matter?”
Still bent over with his hands on his knees, Dean spit and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
“I-I don’t know...”
Sam tugged out the clean bandana he knew his brother always had tucked in his back pocket and handed it to him.
“Look, just relax okay? Why don’t you sit down for a sec.”
“Who is she Sam?”
“Who is who?”
“The chick.” Dean said numbly. “In the picture.”
Sam blinked at him.
“Because I swear to Hendrix I have never seen her before in my life.”
“Jess.” Dean said it like it was a foreign word that took some thought to pronounce.
Sam went cold.
“Last week…” His brother was talking down to the yellow bent grass under his boots. “Last week I wasn’t sure… I had to…”
Sam didn’t like how Dean’s tone had shifted into some strange pained confessional.
“I had to check my license.” He finally said.
“F-For what?” Sam asked with a creeping sensation that felt as if it was started to constrict his throat.
"I...I was--" Dean struggled with the answer, rubbing his temples as though something pained him.
Sam felt his heart thud in his chest, his anxiety flaring at Dean's hesitation. Suddenly Dean gave up.
"Nah, fuck it." Dean's lips curled into an agitated snarl, hand slamming on the denim of his knee.
“I think… I think I’m going fucking crazy.”
Sam heard the keen edge of panic in a voice he’d never heard it in before. The last several weeks flashed through his head like a rapid and sickening slide show. Dean in each and every parking lot never quite sure just exactly where they had left the car. Dean in every diner asking when the waitress would be around even though she’d just left. The constant checks to his watch. The hesitant halting questions towards Sam about small random details.
Well worn aliases.
Motel room numbers.
He flinched when the driver door slammed shut. The engine turned over and the accelerator pumped a few times as a warning that if Sam didn’t get in he was liable to be left behind. No, this wasn’t insanity. His brother was in touch with reality.
Sam just wasn’t sure which parts.