Characters: Sam and Dean (Gen), a story in two chapters.
Summary: Some arguments are never finished, especially those between Winchesters.
Author’s Notes: Written for my Oregon entry to spn_50states. I couldn’t begin to touch on all the parts I wanted to, but I hope a feeling for the state comes through.
x-x-x-x-x Chapter 2: Desert Sky x-x-x-x-x
When morning arrived, Dean opened his eyes to a face looming above him. It was Sam, leaning over the backseat and glaring at him. He’d probably glared Dean awake, come to think of it.
“Uh… hi,” Dean offered.
“Welcome to my day,” Sam said flatly. Dean flinched and Sam’s eyes narrowed. The battle lines were drawn.
Sam opened the car door and dragged himself upright, shaking out his legs as he moved in stiff circles across the asphalt. He stretched and leaned the kinks out of his back on his way to the park’s restroom. Minutes later, he was in the front seat ready to torment Dean.
“Coffee now,” Sam said. “And real food.”
They drove past a coffee hut in Redmond, but by then Sam had fallen asleep. Dean kept going, pleased with the prospect of at least a half-hour of bitch-free traveling, though it meant the music had to wait as well.
Dean’s stomach was growling fiercely by the time Sam revived at a traffic light in Burns. Dean used the opportunity to detour into McDonald’s while the getting was good.
“I said real food, Dean.”
“So order a salad to go with your breakfast.”
“The coffee here is terrible.” Sam wasn’t in the mood to give up ground.
“Look around, Sam. It’s always terrible in these dried-up rural towns. But if you see something good, point it out and we’ll stop.” Sam could hear Princess at the end of that comment, and he capped it off by slugging Dean in the arm.
“Dude, I’m driving,” was all Dean said.
The food was predictably mediocre, and the coffee far worse. Dean had bought Sam a Coke as well, to lessen the sting of their morning.
“Don’t spill it in my car,” he warned.
“You’re sweet, Dean,” Sam said. Dean blushed and hit the turn signal by accident, and Sam smiled his revenge into his straw.
The sun blazed through the windshield as they turned down 205 to the South. The desert light had shifted from yellow to white, and tumbleweeds drifted along the highway.
A half-hour passed in silence, other than Sam blowing bubbles into his soda until it was gone.
“Are you sure this is a Chupacabra we’re after?” Sam finally asked. “Don’t they attack goats instead of cows?”
“I doubt they’re purists about it. The U.S. isn’t a major goat-herding country anyway. And they’ll pretty much go after anything.”
“So it’s killing cows, though—so what? Is it really worth our time?” It was bad enough being out in the middle of nowhere. Being there for no good reason was worse.
“It’s cows now. What if it gets a taste of humans instead? Then we’ll just be driving back here all over again. Or what if some local psycho gets the idea to start attacking people?”
“So, what then—we’re law enforcement now?” Sam said in acid tones.
“No, just… we work toward the greater good. And sometimes, you need to think outside the box a little.”
“Wow,” Sam said. “I never thought I’d hear you of all people talk about thinking outside the box.”
Dean frowned. Sam could be such a jackass when he was short on sleep. “Who exactly do you think came up with the idea to use vinegar on swamp wraiths? It wasn’t Dad.”
“Well, when did we run across a swamp wraith? I don’t remember that.”
“While you were gone,” Dean said, for the second time in as many days. “And a guy who runs away to do what everyone else is doing isn’t exactly a master at thinking outside the box,” he added.
“The box is whatever you’re used to Dean. I got out of the Winchester box.”
“You call it a box, I call it family.”
“I’m not having this discussion again,” Sam said.
“You never are Sam,” Dean said heavily. “You never are.”
They passed a cattle-warning sign, typical near rural grazing land. Around a corner of the highway, Dean was astonished at having to actually stop. Cows stood in clumps on the roadway while others grazed along the edges of nearby fences.
“You’re kidding,” Dean said out loud. He’d always figured those cattle warnings were for some random cow wandering on the road. He didn’t expect to find an entire herd standing on the highway. “Don’t these people believe in fences?” Dean honked and crept forward, until the throng ambled to the sides to let him pass.
They arrived in Frenchglen at two o’clock, and scouted around for a place to spend the night. The choices amounted to a Bed and Breakfast (“Expensive,” whistled Dean) and the historic Frenchglen Hotel.
“I guess this is it,” Sam said. The prices were higher than what they were used to, and it was lucky they’d arrived midweek.
“One room left,” the desk clerk said as they approached.
“Seriously?” Dean asked. “It’s Wednesday.”
“And it’s summer,” the clerk replied. “The Steens is a big attraction in this part of the state. We’re usually full-up unless you book ahead.”
“I guess we’ll take it,” Sam said. “What are the Steens?”
“This mountain that runs along the other side of the highway. Beautiful views and valleys down inside. Some call them the Little Alps.”
“Maybe we could visit them while we’re here,” Sam murmured.
“What’re you driving?” The clerk ran Dean’s card, luckily still good.
“An Impala,” Dean said proudly. “Classic ’67.”
“Ah—no, then. You need a four-wheel drive, or something awfully sturdy unless you want to risk it. The road runs across a lot of boulders. Might get stuck if you hit the wrong spot."
Dean scowled. Whether it was the implied insult to his car, or the idea of getting it hung up on a rock, he was clearly displeased.
“Here you go, Mr. Watson,” the clerk said. “You can take your stuff up now, if you like—the room’s already been cleaned.”
They hauled their duffle bags up the stairs, passing rows of regular doors and a bathroom with a tub.
“Why’s there a bathroom in the hall?” Dean asked.
“Probably everyone has to share,” Sam said.
“Oh Hell no!” Dean protested. “That’s just wrong!”
“You promised,” Sam pointed out. “It is what it is.”
Their room was at the end of the hall, next to a fire-escape exit that Dean eyed thoughtfully. They opened the door, and just stood there as it swung open into the room.
“That… is the smallest bed I’ve ever seen.”
“In every possible way,” Sam agreed, measuring it with his eyes. “Do you remember that trip through Illinois years ago, where we stopped by Abraham Lincoln’s house? His bed was as short as this one.”
“We could flip for the floor.”
“Nothing doing. You like that idea, you sleep on the floor. I will take the side next to the wall, though.”
“Why?” Dean asked suspiciously.
“Less of a chance of falling out. And if anyone’s going to fall out, it’s likely to be me.”
Dean looked over the room, such as it was. “Where’s the closet?”
“Like we ever use the closet anyway. We barely even use hangers,” Sam said. “Any closet in here would have to be the size of a cupboard, if there was one.”
Dean shrugged, and put down his duffle under the hooks to the side of the door. “What’s that picture on the wall?”
He got up on the bed for a closer look, Sam peering in from the side. The picture was actually a long-ago supply list for a wagon train journey following the Oregon Trail in from the East. The list was quite detailed—how many barrels of flour and sugar to bring, how much bacon, what things could be bought along the way. It was broken down into exactly what a family would need to survive the journey without weighing down the wagon so much that it over-taxed the animals pulling it. There were warnings about furniture abandoned along the length of the trail, about families caught at the wrong time by raging rivers or drought.
“Coming West was serious business,” Sam said.
“You’re not kidding,” Dean agreed. “Our biggest problem most of the time is the air-conditioning going out in the Impala, or the engine overheating.”
“Speaking of which, we’d better renew the wards and charms on the car soon. The desert is no place to break down.”
“First we need food, and then we drive on further down the road. If we’re lucky, we can take care of this thing before dark.”
They picked up pre-made sandwiches at the town’s tiny grocery store, and some fruit and food for later just in case. The drive down the highway was peaceful, with few farms or houses along the way.
“The guy at the grocery store said the last dead steer was near Catlow Rim—a few miles further along the road that forks off toward Fields.” Dean slowed down as the sign for the road appeared. They were within two miles of the turnoff now.
“How long ago was that?” Sam looked through the newspaper articles from the Burns Times Herald they’d gathered up over the Internet a few days back.
Dean grinned over at him. “Yesterday,” he said. “We may get this thing yet.”
The low part of the other road was shaded, and Dean drove at a near crawl as they scanned the sides in passing.
“Lots of cave-like areas under that grove of trees,” Dean remarked. A herd of cattle along the grassy slope nearby looked like a meal in waiting.
“Let’s go further up a ways, in case there’s something obvious. And if not, we can double back here and wait.”
The hillsides got sunnier and more exposed further up the road, and finally Dean turned around and headed back. He pulled off to the side under some trees where they could see the herd and its surroundings. Pulling a pair of shotguns out of the backseat, he handed one to Sam. Then the process of waiting began.
“What’s it doing so far North anyway?” Sam finally asked.
“I have no freakin’ idea. But it wouldn’t be the first thing we run into that’s out of its normal locale. This is a great spot for it, actually. All this potential food roaming around out here for months at a time with no-one keeping watch on it. It’s a smorgasbord.”
Sam peered up at the sun from inside the car. “God, it’s roasting in here. Can we open a window?” He took off his outer shirt and fanned himself with the journal, stopping when Dean’s eyes became slits.
“We can’t let it get wind of us, or we’re wasting our time,” Dean said. He took his jacket off and put it in the back.
“Tell me again why we never wear shorts,” Sam said. “Aside from Dad, because Dad isn’t here right now.”
Dean sighed. “There’s the thing about protecting our skin during a hunt. But right now, I really couldn’t care less about it either. This part of the state is desert everywhere you turn.”
Sam looked out the window again, his eyes sweeping and scanning the hill and the surrounding trees. Something moved in the shadows, edging forward toward the light.
“Man, that is the ugliest hyena I’ve ever seen,” Sam said. “No wait—that’s it, isn’t it? God, the drawings in Dad’s journal suck.”
Dean cocked his shotgun in response, and both brothers eased open their doors. The hinges barely creaked, an undeserved miracle, as they slid out and brought the shotguns to bear.
They waited, blending in with the shadows while the beast wound into the herd and picked its mark. Fangs bared, it leaped at the steer’s throat, biting down in a single, swift motion. The steer’s legs crumpled underneath it, and it went down with an impact that shook the ground.
In seconds, the chupacabra was in position, its muzzle locked onto the animal’s neck as it settled in to feed.
Sam’s eyes flicked over to Dean’s, and Dean nodded his head. Aiming the shotguns, Dean mouthed the beginning of the count to three. At “three” they fired into the beast, its body jerking up into the air with the jolt of the blast.
Immediately they moved in on it, firing again as they got in closer. It didn’t stir after the first volley, and by the time they came upon it the ground was red with its blood. Its eyes were glazed, its fangs exposed. The elongated limbs stretching out from its arching body created an effect that was otherworldly and freakish.
Sam let out the breath he’d been holding. “So what do we do with it now?” He caught sight of a manic grin forming on Dean’s face, and overrode him immediately. “We’re not burning it. The grass is too dry, and we’d wind up setting off a fire.”
Dean’s disappointment was palpable. “I guess we’ll have to bury it then. Killjoy.”
One thankless hour later they were back on the road to Frenchglen.
“You want to chance the drive over the Steens for the view?” Sam asked.
“Nah. I’m not that much into scenery. I know you’d like it, but… we’d be better off in Dad’s truck for something like that.”
“Dad’s truck is bitchin’,” Sam agreed.
Dean whapped him in the leg. “Don’t be dissing my ride, Dude. Or you can walk.”
“I’m just saying,” Sam pointed out.
“Yeah, well—don’t.” Dean’s surliness lasted until they pulled back into town.
Eight-o-clock. They’d missed the one-seating dinner, but they had food to take to the room. They ate, then took turns in the shower cleaning up. It was mostly dirt from the digging this time—they’d been careful handling the creature’s remains.
Sam went to bed at nine, while Dean headed downstairs to the screened porch to enjoy the quiet. He went outside after awhile, walking up the highway to a darker part of town. Stars scattered the sky, made clear by the darkness and the desert air. Dean blinked as a shooting star shot overhead. For all the things they’d seen over the years, shooting stars were surprisingly rare.
He turned back, stopping some twenty yards later when he heard a warning rattle off to the side. He rotated his head slowly, placing the sound. It was coming from the highway, where he could just make out the slurred shape of a snake warming itself on the cooling pavement. Moving out of range, he returned to the hotel.
Dean got ready for bed then, brushing his teeth and downing some Advil. He slipped in next to Sam, nudging him over so he could stretch out on his back. Bit by bit, Dean let his bones sink into the mattress, drifting off as the ache finally melted from his shoulders.
Hours went by, the desert quiet and the air growing chill. Sam woke up in the middle of the night, bothered by the tickling in his nose. Everything was all furry and itchy and—Oh. It was Dean’s hair, right up next to Sam's face. Dean had wormed him back up against the wall as the night went on, until there was barely room to move.
This wasn’t new, though they never discussed it. For years Sam had clung to Dean—his friend, his only real source of comfort. It stopped in Sam’s teens, when he rejected all signs of dependence on other people, when he’d been mad at the world and his father in particular. After he came back from college, when things were still so prickly between him and Dean, they’d wound up in a one-bed room. In the morning, Sam had woken up with Dean practically squeezing the air out of his lungs, and Dean had been embarrassed as all get-out. No amount of reassurance had helped, and finally Sam just dropped it. But every time they got into this situation Dean would crowd next to him in the middle of the night, like he wanted to make sure Sam hadn’t left again.
It made Sam feel guilty, even now that things were better. Those years at college were more than necessary—he still felt he’d made the right decision. But they’d come at a price, to Dean more than anyone else. So Sam did the only thing he could think of now, because he couldn’t undo the past. He put his arm around Dean, letting him know it was okay—both that he was here, and that Dean was allowed to miss him.
In their postage-stamp of a bed, Sam took the opportunity to wriggle up a little higher to a diagonal position. He loomed over Dean now (and that would never stop being funny), but at least the bottom of the bed hit him mid-calf instead of under his knees.
History is the domain of short people, Sam thought, settling back into the restfulness of sleep. And frankly, he liked history better in theory than in practice.
Hours later, it was the light cutting through the windows that woke Dean up. He groaned as he checked his watch. Low-cost chain motels were awful, but at least those places had black-out curtains most of the time. Sleeping through any part of the day or night was an option Dean valued like food or a working set of wheels.
He was a little squashed, and he realized he’d wedged Sam back into the wall. Courtesy told him to move, but Dean rarely listened to courtesy if he could help it. Instead, he pulled the unused pillow across his eyes and tried to go back to sleep. He so rarely let himself be lazy, and it was dozy and peaceful right here. He slipped back down into dreaming, comfortably warm and head filled with thoughts of fireplaces, and pancakes with bacon.
They packed up in the morning, joining the communal breakfast in the dining room downstairs. Dean ate three pancakes the size of his head, while Sam went for eggs and a basket of muffins and bread. There were families, hunters, and tourists mixed together, and Sam struck up a conversation with a rancher while Dean avoided the lovestruck gaze of a teenager with eyes like a raccoon.
They stuffed themselves until it bordered on pain, then used the bathroom one last time before checking out.
“How’d you boys like the room?” the desk clerk needled them.
“I hit my head on the doorframe.” Sam showed off a red mark under his hair.
The clerk’s face shut down faster than the word “lawsuit” could cross a lawyer’s lips. “Seventy-nine dollars with breakfast. Cash or on your card?”
“The card,” Dean said, without a single eyebrow lift or cocky change in posture. Sometimes he tries, Sam realized. The problem was the impossibility of ever knowing when.
They dumped everything in the back seat, to be sorted out later when no-one could see.
“I kind of like this town,” Dean said. “It’s peaceful, and the quiet’s really nice.”
“Boring, you mean,” Sam put in.
“Two sides of the same coin,” Dean corrected him.
Sam made a face. “I’ll bet they barely have Internet access here.”
“There was a world before the Internet, Sam. And people survived without email for centuries.”
“People I don’t want to be,” Sam muttered. Short people, he thought, though that might have been leftover resentment. “So, where to next?” he asked.
“Dad called. He says there’s trouble across the Idaho border, in the Seven Devils mountains.”
“Seriously? That’s the real name?”
“Yeah. I definitely want to look into that one. So we’ll be heading up to Baker, and then out on 86.”
“I want to stop at the John Day Fossil beds on the way, if we can.”
Dean looked at him sharply. “What’s gotten into you? Everything’s like a tourist brochure these days.”
“This is the only life I have, Dean. I’d like to see some of it while we’re driving on past.”
“What’s next? Hells’ Canyon when we get to the border?”
“I’ve always wanted to go there,” Sam admitted. “Dad never let us stop.”
“I don’t think he’d be too happy about all these detours,” Dean admonished.
“Well I have a radical idea for you then, Dean. Vacation.” And Sam meant it—his face was set on Serious.
“You’re twenty-eight, Dean, and you haven’t had a vacation in over ten years. Just two weeks off, and you’ll feel like a new man. I swear.”
Dean thought about it, rubbing a hand over the back of his head as the conflict played out. “Any ideas on how to ask Dad for that?” he finally said.
“You don’t,” Sam said firmly. “You tell him instead. You say, ‘We need a couple of weeks for R and R, and when would you like that to happen?’ Use the lingo—it’ll remind him why time off is good.”
“When did you learn to work inside Dad’s framework?”
“When I had to stop caring about his approval.” Sam looked over quietly, his eyes filled with years of disappointment. “Letting go gives you the freedom to really live. And setting boundaries can bring you respect that obedience never will.”
Dean stilled beneath that understanding gaze. He used to think he had a handle on Dad, on all the things that made him tick. But distance had given Sam perspective. As much as Dean hated to admit it, there were times when Sam was right.
“So what would we do with this two weeks of freedom?”
“I’m thinking Disneyland and cotton candy, followed by margaritas and a beach with lots of women.”
Dean smiled, a look of genuine optimism. “California is close,” he said wistfully. It was a tone Sam had rarely heard before.
“There’s a pair of Mouse ears waiting with your name on them,” Sam said softly. “And a Star Wars ride that’ll knock you for a loop.”
“He won’t,” Sam answered. “He won’t have the chance. Because I’ll be the one who calls him, and I’ll make sure that he doesn’t say No.”
Dean grinned, like the world had grown brighter. And it had. For a moment, it had.
----- fin -----
Additional Author’s Notes: This was a research-heavy project, even for the things I would have included but which didn’t work out. I’d hoped to reference “Jumpoff Joe Creek” and the history behind it, but after days of looking for its (meager) foundation, its location didn’t fit with the route Sam and Dean needed to drive. I’ve referenced real parts of Eugene’s culture, and would have loved to mention the “Lava Java” huts that used to be in Bend and Redmond, but by now that chain may no longer exist. And apologies if I’ve depicted Burns as too much of a backwater town. There is likely a Starbucks there now, but for the purposes of this story the boys simply don’t find one. Thank goodness I have my ancient map of Oregon—the area around the Steens is under-detailed on mapquest and yahoo.