If Dean had to pick his least favorite kind of job, he’d say it was cursed objects. There wasn’t much to do when one encountered a cursed object, simply figure out how to get rid of it or lock it up and make it a problem for the future. Now, Dean hadn’t hated them before when he hunted with John. With his father, they’d track the lore and ask around—guess at patterns until they knew the cause and its cure. John didn’t even bother involving him much if Dean was busy with another hunt or was just back at the motel with Sam, keeping an eye over his almost college-aged brother.
But with Sam, hunting for cursed objects was… Well, it was easier but it was unnerving. Sam was good at this, Dean realized as Sam shoved the cursed watch into a box. It wasn’t even an expensive-looking watch, just leather straps held together with a lot of reworking. But well, everyone who wore it did end up with a heart attack so there was that.
At first, Dean hadn’t even seen the connection. The three men who had died were all related—a father, a son, and an uncle—so, Dean chalked it up to a family being haunted. He even salted and burned the corpse of the family’s eldest daughter, who had mysteriously died about ten years ago. Probably, murdered. So, the math had said vengeful spirit.
“I still think we should stick around,” Sam had said, and Dean took that as a sign that they should. School was tomorrow, and if Sam was okay with it… Then, he truly meant it.
Now, as Dean put the watch into a small iron box, all sigil-ed up, he was glad for Sam’s sixth sense about these things. He was good at seeing curses, it was almost like Sam had a built-in curse detector. Dean didn’t like it much honestly, considering that shouldn’t be a thing. The lore about cursed objects never mentioned that humans could be perceptive to said curses.
He never mentioned it to Sam though. Dean didn’t know what he’d even say. With time, he forgot about how much it used to unnerve him because they didn’t deal with cursed objects that much anymore. Between shapeshifters and poltergeists, it was the least of his concern. But he remembered it now as soon as Sam had begun speaking.
“Do you think about cursed objects? How would one come to be?”
Dean didn’t know what had brought this on, because their last cursed object had been a year before Sam left for Stanford. He didn’t even think the kid would remember it, considering Dean barely did.
“Did we catch a new case?”
Sam didn’t answer. His tall figure was leaning against the car so still that Dean thought perhaps Sam was thinking about something important. Wait, did he think Jessica’s death was somehow related to a cursed object?
“Sammy, you know, “ Dean didn’t want to say what he thought Sam was thinking. Their mom and Jessica’s death did happen around Sam, but that wasn’t because of Sam, instead of saying any of those things, he just said, “Cursed objects are usually objects, not people.”
Sam laughed at that. A hollow laugh, as if he could read Dean’s mind but didn’t want to acknowledge what Dean was trying to leave unsaid. Dean waited for some bitter words to spill out, as they tended to these days, but Sam just turned to him and said, “Dude.. I think our car is a bit weird.”
Now, it was Dean’s turn to laugh.
“What do you even mean? Just because it’s an old make doesn’t mean you can make fun of it.”
“No, that’s not what I,” Sam paused for a moment, and then he sighed. His hand was still stiffly thrown over the car, and Dean wasn’t sure what else Sam could’ve meant.
Dean looked at Sam expectantly and hoped that Sam could see that he was waiting for more. Their faces were barely visible, just silhouettes glowing yellow and red as the street lights dimmed and fluttered. It was about midnight and Dean had wanted to stretch his legs and catch a beer before he had to drive for 3 hours straight, so they’d stopped before they hit the freeway.
Beside him, Sam was just as quiet as before, but Dean could see that he was holding back something. And, it irked him that Sam wouldn’t tell him. It was like his nightmares all over again, and Dean didn’t like being in the dark about these things, especially not now that Sam had reminded him of the whole cursed object radar thing.
He shifted and took a long gulp of his beer. Hoping that Sam would pick up on his silence as an invitation to speak up, and he did.
“Listen, Dean. Sometimes, I think your car is watching us… Like it’s got something in it? I don’t know how to explain it,”
“Sammy, I think you’ve been watching too many horror movies,” Dean said, grinning.
This was alright. Sam was paranoid… But wasn’t the sign of being a good hunter, being a paranoid one? After so many years of normalcy, Dean could see how Sam would suddenly see things everywhere. But well, this was his car. And he knew her, inside and out, because he’d built her so many times over that it was seared into his head.
He could build her up from scratch in a dream. Dean didn’t think he’d miss anything about her, but to Sam he said, “Listen, if there was something not normal about this car,” he paused and glanced at Sam, hoping Sam wouldn’t get angry about his dismissal and said, “Dad wouldn’t let us touch her if there was anything wrong. Hell, this car is home. He’d never have left us all alone in it if something was up,”
Sam looked at him this time, and Dean could see his shoulders relax, and his posture shifted towards something lazier. Less on edge.
Sam nodded, and then said, “I must be seeing things then,”
Dean didn’t like the way he said it, but he didn’t know what else he could say to that. He took another sip, and then turned towards his car and gestured for Sam to follow, thinking of their next stop already.
Sam’s head shot up, and his neck felt so stiff he had to shake himself up a little. Twisting his neck in rotatory motions, he felt the cramp tighten, and he glanced towards the driver’s side to see that it empty.
They were parked at a gas station. Dean was probably off reloading their on road snack storage. It was almost funny how Dean thought of his stash of snacks like some serious responsibility as if their car wasn’t driving them to another monster hunt but rather as if Dean was restocking the pantry like some suburban father at Walmart.
It was funny. This idea of Dean being some sort of caricature of a father in a sitcom. Until a bitterness seeped in. Familiar on his lips, raw and coarse like dirt. Sam could see it sometimes… It wasn’t just him who longed for normalcy. On some rainy afternoons, Dean would look at families in diners for too long. And Sam could see it, see it so clearly how Dean wasn’t as mindlessly attached to the hunting life as he claimed to be. He would watch as a twelve year old boy slipped into his mother's arms, a strawberry milkshake in hand, with so much longing. Such an immense longing, that Sam could almost see the Mary shaped hole in his brother’s heart.
Sam never brought it up. He knew how those conversations would go. There would be a huff, and a pat on his shoulders. A smile that didn’t hold warmth, and a few words that always sounded hollow. Perhaps, even a mention of a mother who would be here if there were no monsters. A job owed, a duty inherited.
At least that’s how dad had always ended his questions when he was younger. Now, he wondered if there would be a shout or a rebuttal or maybe even no reply from his father. They hadn’t parted as father and son, after all.
Stretching his legs, Sam leaned back in his seat. Sleep already following, drawing closer as the rain outside chimed in repetitive patterns. He shivered, feeling a coldness creep in, and for a minute, his muscles pulled taut. Readying like an arrow perched to fly, his hand was instantly stretching towards the iron rod underneath his seat when his eyes fell on the rearview mirror.
The pool of darkness outside was ever changing with the rain falling through. Dark dredged up shadows, with only the drab yellow of the gas station sign for company. But it wasn’t this emptiness that held him down, freezing him in place. It was a solitary lock of blonde hair, darker than Jessica’s paler curls, that was stuck in waves over old eyes.
Old, young, eyes. Older only because they looked stuck in time, unblinking and watching him for a moment. Younger because he’d seen those eyes before in pictures unmarred by time.
“Mom?” he’d started to say, his throat was filled with sand and he could feel all air leave him.
And as the air left, so did the pale figure in the mirror. In a second, he had blinked and shattered whatever illusion he’d seen. He imagined telling Dean, and his mind supplied his brother’s voice in its confident tone. You were dreaming, Sammy. We dream of things we think about. I dream about Mom sometimes, too, you know?
Dean doesn’t like to think about too many things at once. He doesn’t let his mind drift without direction because if he does… There’s just so much that keeps shifting behind his eyes. There’s a constant chill warming him every time his phone rings. He wonders if perhaps it's Dad. But it never is.
Sam always looks at Dean expectantly when the phone rings, as if he’s waiting for Dean to acknowledge something. What does he want from him? To say that--Dad’s gone? Gone for real? Or stuck in something horrible, and waiting for Dean to come and get him?
Sam wants him to say something, anything, but Dean doesn’t think it’ll help either of them. So, no, today he’s going to ring his father up as many times as he can and await a response until sunrise hits.
It’s around 2, and Sam’s sleeping soundly for once and even the night isn’t that chilly. Maybe, tonight will be different. The car seems to agree, somehow. It’s quiet but not unpleasant today. It’s almost like Dean’s pulled to it, after all, he doesn’t think there’s anything in this world left alive that has known his father for as long as this car. If there’s any place where he lingers, it will be here.
So, he dials the number. Not too quick, not too slow. He doesn’t want to jinx himself, but there is an eagerness in him. The car can sense it too because at the moment the familiar dial tone sounds, it creaks lightly… It’s the metal contracting and heaving from the temperature change from the day to night, of course.
But it feels like the car is murmuring to him, telling him it’s alright.
“Please pick up today, dad. Just this once. Tell me you’re busy,” the flip phone in his hand doesn’t seem to listen. It’s singing that annoying dial tone again, and Dean closes his eyes.
It’s in that moment that he thinks that there are things worse than ghosts and spirits. There are things like phones that ring forever. Calls that will never be answered. Answers that he’ll never get.
It’s in these moments that he sees John most clearly. Like an apparition of the man he was all those years ago… How long do you look for someone in places they do not exist? How far and wide do you look for them even if they will never be found?
How long do you look? Perhaps, their father had looked for so long that he’d become lost. He wonders if perhaps someday he’ll fade away after searching forever too.
The hand Dean has left outstretched, falling outside the window of his car like some sort of anchor, feels cold to the touch. But it’s there with him, a reminder of all the things he and his brother can do, and god, in that moment it’s the only thing that makes him feel real.
He wants to shout at his car, tell her about how his insides feel like dust and how his brother sleeps only once in three days. He wants to scream about a father he can’t afford to lose and he wants to break something until his legs stop shaking. Until his voice is crystal clear and not filled with everything that’s spilling out through cracks.
He wants . He wants something to make sense for just this once. He wonders if he whispered the last part out because he thinks he heard himself speak. There’s no one listening, of course. He wants to repeat his words, to pretend that someone will hear him and that someone cares.
But there’s only the quiet darkness of this car and the static buzzing of the radio. There’s no channel on, and even with each turn of the radio’s buttons, he can’t seem to find one. So all he can do is jam the key into ignition and keep the words inside him for another day. It’s not enough.
It goes on like that. A car, and two boys. There are days when they don’t talk all day, and the roar of the engine is the only sound on long stretches of the highway. Sometimes, the radio will chatter along, all static and ringing. Clearer than church bells. Other times, you can hear the trunk rattling. Like there’s a serpent hidden inside, shaking and slithering along the makeshift armory. Sam doesn’t like to think too much about those noises. It’s easy to explain away the rustling as the crunching of plastic water bottles, and Dean doesn’t hear them anyway. He’s either so deep in his head that only the road matters or he’s so loud, singing along like he’s trying to fill the whole highway with his booming voice.
There are other things that take up space in their heads. Sam’s mind is a well, deep and dark. Dean cannot see inside it unless he jumps in, and he would, he’d jump inside in a heartbeat. But there’s a rift between them, and it’s widening every day when Sam wakes up choking on his own tongue and pretends he’s alright. Dean pushes and pushes, but it never amounts to anything. He thinks if he could scream out three words he’d be okay. What haunts you? What haunts you? What haunts you?
There’s no answer because Dean hasn’t ever had the guts to ask. So, Sam has his nightmares and Dean has his own. Sam’s come to him every night, and Dean can’t help. Dean’s come to him less often, only when he’s alone. He doesn’t think anyone even wants to help.
It’s alright though because they have their cases. They are saving people, and it’s worth it. It’s worth it because it’s comfortable and right and the only thing they’ve ever had, a home of sorts.
Well, until Sam dreams of another home. He dreams of a tree, and a woman screaming for help. Her face unfamiliar, but the window she hides behind is too familiar. Torched, burned, abandoned. That home is the starting point of every journey they’ve ever been on and it's waiting for them in Lawrence, Kansas.