It was moments like this when the world stopped turning for a little while. He could feel the sun in his face, the sound of the Impala under him eating away the street, mile after mile. The music coming from the radio and Dean's voice singing slightly off-tune. It felt peaceful, contented . His mind blank and empty. Not thinking about anything, caught in a state somewhere between sleep and vigil. He felt safe and at home, the smell of oil and greasy French fries in his nostrils. The steady beating of Dean's fingers on the steering wheel. Still far away but close enough to be there.
These moments, though, didn't last long and the closer he got to being awake the more he remembered. Everything.
It all came back like a sudden monsoon crashing down on him with a force that would have made his knees buckle if he weren't sitting already. He felt dizzy, disoriented. His mind raced until it could sort out every single thought and put it in its right place. It was an almost painful process that left him breathless and immensely sorry for waking up in the first place.
"Rise and shine, little princess," Dean said good-naturedly, throwing him a quick glance, and Sam blinked a few times before trusting his vision. "You looked so peaceful," Dean teased and Sam knew what it meant. Feel free to sleep on. You sure need it.
But Sam was awake now and even though he couldn't remember his dream, he knew it hadn't been exactly pleasant. Which meant he had no intention of repeating it.
"Where are we?" he asked with his tongue still not working properly. It sounded more like, "Whererwe?"
The sun was standing low at the horizon, only barely peaking over the distant tree line and the sky was bathed into an explosion of red, yellow and orange. A fantastic view, albeit a little cheesy.
Jess probably would've liked it.
The warm light drew long shadows on the ground and Sam flinched.
I can't even appreciate sunsets anymore. What comes next? Torturing puppies and stomping on flowerbeds?
"Close," Dean answered, taking his foot off the gas to slow the car and take the next turn off the highway. "We'll be there in about ten minutes, give or take," he informed rather reluctantly, casually leaning back into his seat and throwing Sam another wary glance. "So, this is our last chance to bail. You wanna take it?"
"Naah." Sam sighed and rubbed his face viciously to get rid of the last signs of sleep on his face. "Ellen will nail our asses to the bar the next time she sees us if we don't show up now. Might as well get it over with."
"Whatever you say, man." Dean replied, concentrating back on the street.
Sam regretted coming here already but he knew there was no way to change his mind. Not now. They had promised.
Well, actually, they had said We'll see, which Ellen had translated into Of course we will. We'll bring presents. They had not brought presents.
They took the last turn, now heading straight towards the rebuilt building standing at the end of a short, dirty road. Visible from a far distance by the large neon sign on the front.
"Home sweet home," Dean said, grinning, and slowly rolling over the gravel to park between a large pickup and a dirty BMW Touring. Turning of the ignition, they listened to the ticking of the motor cooling down, silence between them.
"You know, we could..."
"No, we couldn't," Sam decided finally and made an attempt to give Dean a confident grin. "I don't want to be nailed to the bar."
They got out of the car, staring for a moment at the building. It seemed larger but that could have been just imagination. The wooden walls were not painted, which gave it a rustic appearance. The white-framed windows were new and friendly-looking. The neon sign, though smaller than the old version, looked brighter which was probably because it wasn't covered with thirty layers of dust and grime...yet.
"Neat," Dean complimented, nodding.
The sun had vanished entirely and dusk started to settle when Dean opened the door and entered, closely followed by Sam who looked around, taking in as much input as possible. It was a habit born of many years of visiting filthy bars to gain information as fast as possible.
The tables near the door were all empty. A clear sign that the guests were hunters. Therefore, most groups were gathered around the tables in the back of the room. Twelve men, Sam counted quickly. Most were sitting around a large table next to the pool table, all with either a bottle of beer or a gun in hand. Even though the latter were either pointed at the ceiling or taken apart for cleaning Sam felt immediately uncomfortable. Others were sitting in smaller groups, their heads close together. One man, a priest, whose brilliant white collar stood out sharply in the company of dirty clothes, unwashed faces and three-day beards sat in the farthest corner, nursing the only glass in use, the bottle standing next to it.
The noise died down as all eyes rested on Sam and his brother. An uncomfortable silence rose and Sam was close to turning on his heels to leave when Ellen's voice greeted them.
"Sam, Dean. So good to see you," she said effusively. Sam had the feeling she did it on purpose to cover the tension.
Slowly but surely, the guests turned around and their talking returned to a constant background noise like in any other bar.
Still mildly suspicious, Sam and Dean made their way over to the counter where both men sat down. A beer appeared in each of their hands and Ellen was grinning wildly. "Glad you could make it, boys."
"We're not working on a case right now." Dean shrugged and pointed his head to his brother. "And Sammy needed his portion of milk."
"Anyway, we thought you might have a case for us. Something worth looking into?" He sounded almost hopeful.
"Sorry." Ellen shook her head. "If I had, these hunters..." Her eyes turned to the other hunters in the room."...would've been long gong and gotten busy with some manly killings."
"Oh... in that case..." Dean attempted to get up and leave. "Nice seeing you, Ellen."
"Hey," she replied, but laughed when Dean grinned at her. "So, how are you? Haven't heard from you for a while." She stopped, obviously thinking about what she was about to say. "I... got a call from Bobby..."
Sam flinched, shrinking on his stool.
"We're fine!" Dean said, emphasizing the We to distract her from Sam, who probably to her looked like he would crawl under the counter any second.
Ellen watched them for a few moments, then her face brightened, a sincere smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "Really, it's great to see you." Her eyes rested on Sam just a little bit longer. "Are you two okay? You've had a couple of rough days, I heard."
Dean studied Sam, shrugging. "We're fine. The usual." His took a sip of his beer, let it linger in his mouth and pulled in a breath between his clenched teeth. "Niiiice!"
"It's beer." Sam frowned.
"It's good beer."
"So what? No reason to be a beer racist, Sammy." Dean grinned at Sam, then turned back to Ellen, who had started to sort a few glasses standing on one of the shelves. "Looks really nice. The bar, I mean."
"Thanks, Dean." She finished re-arranging the utensils. "It wasn't easy and most of the walls are merely standing because of spit and prayers..." She laughed at Sam's appalled face. "Just kidding. It's here and it's stable. It won't be easy to blow it away this time." She looked at them sharply, imitating a strict mother who warned her kids not to do anything stupid. "So I don't want any explosions or funny things going on in my place, got it?"
This time, Sam's shock was real and he recoiled visibly whereas Dean's face darkened, revealing a Was that really necessary? without saying the actual words.
It made Ellen blush and she apologized with a sad sigh. "Sorry, it wasn't meant to come out like that. This can be your home, boys, if you want it to and I didn't want to make you feel unwelcome."
"It's okay, Ellen, we under—"
Dean stopped and tensed when someone appeared next to him, leaning over the counter. "Hey Ellen, gimme another beer, would ya?" Then, looking at Dean. "Long time no see, Winchester. Heard you've gotten us in a deep shit." He motioned to his buddies, who were staring with leery gazes in their direction. "We barely have time to get a break between cases. Wonder why's that?" he taunted, his lips curled in a sneer, his grey eyes squinted with hate and anger.
"Looks like you got all the time in the world, Sears, counting the hours you spend at that table, drinking beer," Ellen replied before Dean could say something even less diplomatic. "I don't want no fights in this bar, Sears. Got it?" She unceremoniously put the bottle on the bar, the liquid sloshing over the rim.
Sears snarled, actually showing yellow teeth, and with a long hateful stare at Sam he turned around, not saying another word.
"Just ignore him," Ellen offered, her voice now a little lower than before. "You know how hunters are. They know how to kill with a spoon but they can't control what crap comes out of their own mouths."
Dean grinned, though a little reserved. "You're a hunter, too, Ellen. As are we. Trivialization is a nasty habit," he scolded and Sam managed a half-grin, taking a sip of his own beer.
The regret was still there, somewhere in the clenched regions of his stomach. We shouldn't have come here, Sam thought but felt ashamed immediately because Ellen looked seriously happy about their visit. As happy as Ellen could look, at least. She hovered close to them for the next hours, offering beer and later milk for Sam, which made Dean roar with laughter. Sam almost enjoyed it. Just sitting and sipping on his beer every few minutes. At one point he joined their laughter and his brother clapped his back, in urgent need of breath because the laughing made his ribs ache.
He didn't really know when it happened but all of a sudden he felt himself tense. Dean and Ellen were engrossed in a discussion about the pro and cons of guns and sharp knives when his mind decided to take a stroll on its own.
Since they had arrived at the roadhouse, no one else had entered or left. The mob of hunters still sat in the far corner and the priest was still holding the glass in his hand like he wanted to crawl inside. Still, something in the room made the hairs on his neck stand up and he shivered. Qualms began to make the beer on his tongue taste bitter and repeatedly he looked over his shoulder to watch the men closely. He started to feel his blood flowing, could hear the pulsing in his ears and tried to quell the bad feelings. This was supposed to be a relaxing evening with Dean, Ellen and beer.
"Hey!" someone yelled angrily and before he even turned around, Sam could feel the eyes of most of the men resting on him between his shoulders. Half a dozen men had gotten up to take their stance behind Sears, who stood glaring at them with fury in his eyes. He didn't wear a weapon--not yet-- but others did. Even though nothing was pointed at the brothers, their message was clear.
"Sears, now what?" Ellen boomed and walked around the corner to put herself between the hunters and the brothers. "I told you I don't want no trouble in my bar. Back off and cool down before I kick your sorry ass outta my bar!"
Sears didn't look impressed and stared past Ellen at Sam, whose fingers closed hard around the smooth surface of his bottle. He held his breath, willing himself to stay calm. He could feel Dean's hand on his lower arm, squeezing comfortingly.
"We don't want trouble with you, Harvelle. It's the two Winchesters we want."
The tension in the bar was palpable. The air felt thick and hot and Sam wouldn't have been surprised to see wafts of mist rising from the floor like steam in a sauna.
"Dammit, Sears," Ellen boomed and Sam stood up, put the bottle of beer on the counter and murmured. "It's okay, Ellen. We're leaving..." But he was interrupted by an angry outburst from Dean, who had gotten up from his stool, though a little shaky on his legs. At least one beer too many, Sam thought with growing apprehension.
"Are you insane? Of course we're not leaving," his brother remarked and Sam had a bad feeling, the roadhouse was in for its premier brawl. This was not what he had wanted to find here.
"Please, Dean... can't we just...?"
Ellen looked half helplessly and half apologetic between him and Dean and he was feeling painfully sorry for her.
"We just heard a few things and wondered if you could clear things up for us, Winchester," Sears mocked, his voice hard.
"Sure, Sears. I can help you with that," Dean began and Sam knew from experience that his brother's words would not be spoken in a very helpful manner. "First, you make a loop with one lace. Then with the other... With me so far?" Dean smirked, but behind his amused expression Sam could see his brother's blood boiling.
"Dean..." Ellen tried to intervene but the ball had started rolling.
"We lost a few good men in the last few weeks."
"So what?" Dean replied. "'t's not our fault you can't take care of your goonies."
Yes, that was exactly the kind of thing Sam had expected his brother to say. He groaned inwardly. "Dean, maybe..."
"Maybe what?" Dean was obviously pissed and the humor was gone, increasing the tension and the heat like stirring a pot over an open fire. "Maybe we can run with our tails between our legs? That's not what we're going to do, Sammy."
"Right, Sammy," Sears mocked and his buddies guffawed stupidly.
Sam felt himself blush, not out of embarrassment but panic. This situation was getting out of his hands faster than he had feared. Reaching for Dean's shoulder he tried to hold him back, could feel the tension in his brother's muscles. "Dean, come on, man..."
His hand was pushed away and Dean took another step towards Sears.
"Look, buddy, is there anything specific you want to talk about or is this just your mouth overstraining your brain?"
"You bet your ass there's something specific in there, Winchester," Sears spit out the name with disgust. "Maybe you haven't heard yet but there're a few rumors going around about you and your brother..."
"Stop reading all that housewife glamour shit when you go have a manicure. Does not help your intelligence."
Sears only kept staring at him. Obviously, this was not about letting off some bunkered steam and Dean knew it.
"Why don’t you just give us some insight on your point of view? You only let loose about a hundred demons."
"It was an accident," Ellen yelled, addressing Sears.
"You don't accidentally open the gates of hell," Sears replied. "And we're wondering why you and your brother are always right in the middle. Makes us curious, that's all." The way his friends caressed their guns it looked like they were anything but curious. More like biased. "And you see, there have been some interesting rumors about your little brother..." Sears added. "...who, as should be clarified, shouldn't even be here anymore."
Sam froze in terror, feeling sick to his stomach and he could feel his fingers trembling. Blinking, he opened his mouth but no words came out.
"In our line of work, what's dead should stay dead," Sears concluded, staring at him. His voice deep in his throat.
Ellen looked like she was as frozen as he was and her eyes shone with shock. She looked at Sam, apologizing without words as if it was her fault that Sears was a giant douchebag.
Finally, Dean replied, his tone vibrating. "You stop right now or you're going to regret this, pal." Anger was rolling off of him in waves and it would have taken just a miniscule dab, just a cough actually, and Dean would have exploded.
"Dean, please, I don't want..." Sam whispered again, hoping against hope that his brother would realize that they weren't worth it, anyhow. Not these idiots who had more alcohol in their blood than cleaning oil on their guns.
This whole situation felt unreal, even bizarre and Sam had no idea why. Sure, they had been in bar fights before. They had even gotten a shiner or two at the Roadhouse but never before had he felt that personally attacked. The rage of these men was almost like a smell and he needed fresh air. His throat constricted painfully and he wheezed, keeping himself upright only with the help of the bar stool. The blood was rushing in his ears, as loud as if he were standing right next to a waterfall. He could see people's lips moving, could see them fighting with words and taunts and Dean's fists were forming tight balls, that Sam had no doubt would be breaking noses and bones in a second.
Yet the walls were coming closer and a wave of vertigo threatened to pull him under. His fingers gripped the edge of the counter tightly. He needed to calm down. Needed to get a grip. The base of his neck was itching and his powers yearned for a release. This was too much pressure and had no idea how to...
Next to him, a bottle of beer exploded. Broken pieces of glass and stale beer were raining down on him and he held his arm in front of his face for protection.
"Sam?" Someone yelled into his ear but it sounded far away. Looking up, he saw Dean standing directly in front of him. His brother's hands were pressed against his chest, moving with it when he tried to take a deep breath. "Breathe, Sammy."
"I'm...trying." Sam croaked. "Need...air."
He felt himself being led towards the door and seconds later, the air of the night felt cold on his heated skin. Immediately, it was easier to breathe and he leaned against the wall next to the entrance.
"Sam?" Dean enquired in a worried tone. "You okay?"
Sam nodded, his eyes still closed. The noise from inside the roadhouse was muffled. The voices weren’t as heated as before and Sam almost panicked when he realized that they had left Ellen behind with a mob of pissed off hunters. "Ellen...!"
"She's a tough girl." To make sure, Dean glanced through the window inside. "She can deal with it." His hand was a comforting weight on Sam's shoulder. "Dammit, Sammy," Dean burst out. "What the hell just happened? Did you just make the beer bottle explode?"
"No!" Quickly, Sam shook his head, regretting the motion since it made the world spin once more. "Well, maybe. I don't think so...Dean. I don't know what happened. I feel...strange. I can't really pinpoint it but I think...something is wrong."
"With you? Of course something is wrong with you. You made a beer bottle explode even though there was still beer in it," Dean joked half-heartedly.
"No, this is something else. This feels like...like when you're standing close to a magnetic field, you know?"
"Magnetic field? This is not Star Trek, Ensign."
Sam managed a small chuckle. It was bad enough Dean was watching the late night reruns of Star Trek when he couldn't sleep but did he have to use them on him?
Breath after breath, he felt stronger, more himself, and a few seconds later Ellen joined them, her cheeks red with agitation.
"Is everything okay with the both of you?" she wanted to know. "I have no idea how they know..."
"It's okay, Ellen. Thanks for the help." Dean thanked her. "Maybe Sam is right. We should just...go."
"No way," Ellen negated his suggestion with a wave of her hand. "That's out of the question. You can't drive anyway after five beers and Sam looks like he can barely keep himself upright, let alone drive off in the middle of the night. You are staying, understood?"
"We could..." Dean started to protest.
"What part of That's out of the question didn't you get?"
"Look, Ellen. You know this is a bad idea with the pack of them staying here." He referred to the other guests of the roadhouse, wondering how Ellen had managed to keep them inside after the random display of Sam's power. "We'd be inviting trouble if we stayed. And I can't promise not to cause trouble in reverse, if you know what I mean."
Sam could imagine very well what Dean meant with that and he almost felt sorry for the guys who had the nerves to go up against his brother.
"Dean," Ellen looked at him, her left eyebrow raised. "This is Harvelle's Roadhouse, after all. It's the trouble's headquarters."
It wasn't supposed to sound like a bad omen but, in Sam's ears, it did.