Title: There Be Monsters
By: mcee
Pairing: gen
Rating: PG
Summary: He's been saying goodbye since he could speak, since he found out about free will and asked you why you didn't have any.


Of all the ways you've imagined losing him, watching him walk away from you never featured amongst the most likely of them. The rule is: you're not supposed to bow out till you're done, not supposed to quit when the going gets rough or because the life is getting to you. Your father didn't raise you that way; your kid brother just got there on his own.

He's gone, but that's all right; you've been taught to be self-sufficient. You live out of your trunk, you can go three weeks on twenty dollars, you need nothing but fresh water and yellow lines leading you somewhere. Basic creature comforts are: warm leather, sharp edges, miles of road behind you. The miles ahead offer only expectations, but you've also been taught to meet those blow for blow. You've always been good at this; you've always been good at a lot of things. Your father is proud of you.

You can fight most foes with a hand tied behind your back, but somewhere out there is a bubble bursting with your name on it. Some things to consider: the problem, the solution, you. The greatest sleight of hand you know is to pretend the magic isn't gone. You've written letters, all of them on grainy motel stationery, none of them sent. To whom it may concern, you left. Hey kid, how's California? Dear Sammy, you fucking ingrate.

He's been saying goodbye since he could speak, since he found out about free will and asked you why you didn't have any. Your father, who was proud of you even then but certainly not at that precise moment, told you never to hit your brother again, ever. You just wanted to know why those miles you craved, your kid brother wanted to put them between you and him. He spent the next decade huddled next to you on the expanse of backseat, warm little hands tucked into yours, knocking knees with you as he breathed his soft threats the way only siblings can, slicing right into the soft parts of you you kept hidden from everyone else. How were you supposed to know this was the one thing he'd follow through with?

He left his coat on the backseat when you dropped him off at the Greyhound station, left it along with the envelope you'd given him that contained four twenties, all you had on you when he'd sprung the surprise with bags already packed. He should have known better than to sneak up on Winchesters: you startle easy. Coming back, you drove (too fast and in silence) two hundred miles before skidding to a stop at a roadside tackle shop where you took out one of the bills and bought: a coffee, a pack of gum, a couple HoHos. You tell yourself you'll send Sam the change in a Christmas card, along with the classic how-we've-been guilt trip, and a big ol' picture of you and Dad smiling.

It might be best not to think about: that box of letters, the death of childhood things, the lifestyles of starving students, or anything to do with ceilings. Someone, somewhere, forgot to tell you where the finish line is, and you can't see the dots connecting your destinations. Just like, conversely, Sam could never see the forest for the trees. You think he'd love the fact that you're drowning in a sea of your own fucking metaphors.

You haven't felt like a kid in too many years, but when you're finally cut loose, set adrift like jetsam to your father's sturdier flotsam, your panicked grip on the steering wheel only begins to loosen some eight hundred miles later. Now that Dad too is gone, you remember things you were going to say to impress him.

New Orleans is thick heat and thicker accents; you can feel both in your mouth as you meld with your new surroundings, a chimera of tricks you've learned, tricks played on you, and things you have no clue about. Girls are softer around the waist here, but all the more insubstantial for it, none of them leaving any imprint on you once they've slipped through your fingers. Your mind is: 5 the first person you ever kissed, 95 other stuff.

You collect goodbyes. Your mother's (fabricated), Sammy's (unspoken), Cassie's (irrelevant), and now Dad's (temporary). There's a piece of paper wedged into your wallet, folded into eighths, its creases about to give. Black marker bleeds through the page listing every person who ripped you off and everything they took. It is: a grocery list of dear-johns, a salute to self-made misery, your own personal agony column. One day you'll throw it out with a handful of receipts, with breakfast empties, with nothing at all but a lighter heart. One day you know it won't matter as much.

But there's another scrap of paper tucked away with the first, this one newer and freshly stamped with a woman's spindly script. You wonder how she tracked you down; she doesn't know you, but the words she uses almost make it sound like she might. You get annoyed at Sam all over again for finding a girl as tenacious as he is, and then you forgive him because she's reaching out when Sam's too obstinate to do it for himself. The return address doesn't look familiar, but then again there's no reason it should. You never did send that Christmas card.

There is no plan you can't pretend to be following. Your night, though longer than it needs to be, is no worse than the night before it, and your morning is the same, only brighter. You know, as absolutely as you know that there are two thousand miles between you and California, that there are choices you don't make:

They make you.