Word Count: 24,500
Summary: It is three or so days since Dean made his deal with the crossroads demon. As angry as he might be, Sam still loves his brother and decides that they need to take a break from hunting, so he plans one. Dean, on the other hand, thinks they are on their way to hunt a chubacapra down and has no idea where they are really going. This only works because Sam controls the maps and Dean is on auto-pilot.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, because if I did, this story would be true.
Dean had both hands on the wheel as he guided the Impala over Wolf Creek Pass, some distance out of Durango, Colorado, and wondered, as he listened to the Eagles on the radio, what colitas was and if he’d know if he chanced to smell it on some dark, desert highway. Which this most certainly was not. It was a mountain highway, with mostly well-placed passing lanes, and plenty of markings about grades and recommended use of brakes, and the slightly whacky looking runaway truck lanes, which didn’t look like they’d be of use to anyone, let alone a rampant 18-wheeler. The sun was well set, with the high-altitude darkness coming on at an alarming rate. He looked over at Sam, who was buried in his map, but who didn’t quite need a flashlight yet. He wanted to ask, what is colitas, do you know, but then didn’t. He should know. It was in an Eagles song from the seventies, and probably had to do with something illegal. That or a plant commonly found in California. He didn’t know; didn’t want to broadcast his ignorance. So he drove on, he and Sam, in silence.
Which wasn’t unusual normally; he and Sammy could go for hours on the roads, the only communication between them being grunts and points, all undercut by the hum of the Impala’s engine. The way of marking time was at rest stops, which, if Dean needed the use of, he would pull over. Or if they needed gas, he would pull over. If Sam needed to stop, he would say it, “Next stop,” and Dean would pull over at the next turn or ramp or exit where they could see a gas station from the highway. If you could see it, you could get in and out fast, and not have to deal with the not very reliable off highway signs, the ones that always seemed to list lodging and food, but not gas.
But now, after what Sam had once referred to as Dean’s Dumbass Deal, what would normally be the occasion for Sam to lay into him, but good, had become more silence than laying into. The devil, or one of his minions actually, was going to take Dean in a year. Less than a year now. Three days less, or was it four, the number of days it had taken them to get their shit together and leave Wyoming for Arizona, hot on the tail of a chubacapra. Chubacapras weren’t real of course, and both he and Sam knew that. But Sam had found some evidence that something else on the outskirts of Tucson had been using the chubacapra as a duck blind of sorts, killing local livestock under the cover of night. It was when a local rancher and his horse had been brought down, that the newspapers had picked up the story and added enough detail for the Winchesters to know that something else might be walking the desert at night. There was enough of a road trip involved, and what sounded like some mighty interesting hunting at the end of it to almost make Dean forget what he’d gotten himself into. Almost. Not that he regretted it, having Sam safe and warm beside him was worth any price. Any.
Alongside him, a big rig was pulling past the Impala, so Dean kept well over to the side of the road, and wondered why the rig couldn’t wait till the next passing lane. Or maybe the driver hadn’t seen the sign that said the next one was only a mile up the road. Didn’t matter. The driver was picking up a clip, seemed to know the road, so Dean took his foot off the gas and let the truck move ahead. Then, when the truck had pulled up far enough and looked ready to pull back into the lane, Dean reached down and flicked his brights. One, two, three. The truck zipped in front of him with the ease of a sports car, and then Dean heard Sam hold his breath.
Sure enough. Blink, blink, blink. This from the rig’s tiny taillights, as a thank you for the space and for the signal that it was okay to move in. Then the truck zoomed on.
“Good, “said Sam. “I always hate it when I don’t see those fairy lights.”
“You gotta call ‘em that?”
“That’s what they look like to me,” said Sam.
“But fairy lights?”
Sam sighed. “Look, you got this huge, ugly monster thing, chuffing out black smoke and howling every time one of those guys changes gears.” He waved at the disappearing back end of the 18-wheeler, and Dean figured that Sam had extra reason to hate big trucks so he kept his mouth shut and let Sam continue. “And then, when you let ‘em in like that, they tap their break lights.”
“Yeah,” said Dean. “So?”
“You got this dirty, smelly ass of a truck, and then you get these…little, I dunno, delicate little lights.”
“Delicate lights. On a semi.”
Sam waved his hands at the dash, and Dean could hardly see his face now in the mountain darkness.
“It’s the contrast, Dean,” he said at last. Dean knew Sam was rankled at having to explain it all, having it come out stupid like it did. He tried not to laugh and failed.
“Okay, listen, smart ass,” snapped Sam, “and see if you can concentrate on what it means metaphorically.”
“Meta-four-what?” He knew what it meant, of course, but there was nothing, no, nothing that made Sam madder than Dean acting dense.
“Metaphorically, Dean. Big truck. Scary, mean, monster thing. Little lights. Little soft thank yous, like, you can see inside the monster and see that it has a heart. Feelings, even.”
“Sweet Jesus,” said Dean. “Can I pull over and barf now?”
“If you like,” said Sam, and Dean knew that Sam was done trying. Thank goodness.
They drove in silence the rest of the way to Durango, through the dark pines and tumbled grey rocks, which surrounded the highway so completely that it almost seemed like the mountains would swallow it up once the Impala had passed over it. But such thoughts were for dreamers, which Dean was not, so he kept his hands at the ten and two, listened to the radio, and followed Sam’s directions to the EconoLodge once they reached Durango. The EconoLodge had no pool, but that was okay, since they had no swim trunks. Luckily the room (on the ground floor) had two queen beds, and Dean snagged the one by the door and the window by throwing his duffle on it. Then he opened the window to let the mountain air in, and nodded at Sam that he could have the first stab at the shower. Dean would take his shower in the morning and they would hit the road as soon as they could after that. It was a full day’s drive, ten to twelve hours to Tucson, and they were taking the back roads through Colorado and Arizona because, according to Sam, I-25 had major construction all the way down to Las Cruces.
“Pizza, Sam?” shouted Dean from his perch on the edge of the bed. He had the clicker in his hand and was roaming channels as fast as he could. If there was free porn available, he would find it.
“Yeah,” came the reply as the water was turned on.
Pizza was the easiest of meals, especially in a strange town, as the food could come to them, and leftovers made a good breakfast. Dean leaned over to snag the phone book from the stand between the beds, and dug his cell phone from his pocket. It was easy enough to order the big pizza with extra cheese, sausage, mushroom, and onions. They did not, alas, have garlic as an option. He ordered two liters of soda, too, for good measure, then tossed the phone book on the floor. Perhaps once in Arizona they could find some of that Indian fry bread people always talked about. Or some dive taco stand with tacos good enough to order more of.
Picking up the clicker, he discovered no porn, and that only the weather channel really came in very well. The suit and tie man talked about the trend across Iowa (flooding), the trend across Washington State (rain), and the trend across the Southwest, including Arizona (blue skies). Well, at one hundred degrees, that’s what they ought to have. He looked at the map on the screen. The weather guy was pointing out temperatures across the area, right where the Impala would be taking them in the morning, along Highway 160 and 89 to Flagstaff. She could handle the upper-ninety degree temperatures, and she could handle the roads well enough, but he would make sure, at the very next gas station, that her belts and tubes were all in working order. Sam would holler (silently, most likely) at the delay, but where the Impala was concerned, Dean took no shortcuts and Sam knew it. The car had gotten them out of more than a few unfriendly towns, and was worth looking after.
Sam came out of the shower just as the pizza came, dressed in the same clothes, hair dripping a dark ring around the neckline of his t-shirt. As Dean paid with cash from his wallet, Sam pulled the box out of the delivery guy’s hand and started eating a slice, standing up. With the bottle of soda in one hand, Dean shut the door after the delivery guy, and looked at his brother.
“If you wanted somethin’ to eat, you shoulda said so, I woulda stopped for something before now.”
“Didn’t know I did, till now,” replied Sam, his mouth full. “Got any ice for that?”
He was looking at the soda, and then at Dean. Then at the TV, where the weatherman was still talking.
“Why you watching that for?” he asked, taking another large mouthful of pizza.
“It’s the only thing I could get,” said Dean, putting the soda on top of the TV. “Find somethin’ else if you wanna.”
He tossed the clicker on the bed and grabbed the ice bucket. A hungry Sam was liable to take your head off as well as your arm and eat them both, and then demand seconds. Not slamming the door after him, he walked out into the mountain’s darkness to find the ice machine. Easy enough, if you followed the rattle and hum. He found it at the end of the line of doorways, just as the walkway turned into parking lot. He filled the bucket, walked back, and knocked for Sam to open the door.
Which Sam did, after a pause. He’d managed to find the TV Time channel with reruns of everything old that had ever been on TV. They sat on the edge of the beds, ate pizza, drank soda on ice, and snickered at Sgt. Bilko’s antics. It was a good evening, companionable. Normal. Like hundreds, if not thousands of evenings like it. Dumb TV show, just-about-crappy road food, strange new room that would feel like theirs come morning when they left it. And the silence, which usually developed from fighting the road hum that echoed in your ears, or the heat, or the distance they had come. But tonight, it felt more like a weight. A weight Dean wasn’t sure which one of them was carrying. Nor what it was made up of. Not exactly.
His deal with the devil, his dumbass deal, was probably part of it, along with the fact that they (he) had actually killed the demon that had killed mom. That Dad had traded his soul to for Dean’s was another part of it, along with the fact that neither Sam nor he had any right to the air they were breathing. Or did they? The philosophical problem was more Sam’s deal than his, and it might have been a heck of a lot easier to deal with if Sam would just yell at him about it. Or even talk, which Sam always wanted to do. But except for some terse comments in Wyoming, no one was saying anything.
He put the pizza box on the floor. Morning would come soon enough, with a drive unusual enough to make him feel like a pony stretching its legs in the first field of spring. He’d never been along 160 as it crossed through the desert. Nor 89 as it tucked itself into Flagstaff. He knew I-40 well enough, having crossed it back and forth a few times to get to California.
“Hey, Sam,” he said, lifting his head, “where’s that map.”
Sam stopped chewing long enough to take a breath. “It’s in the car, why do you need it.”
“I just wanna see where we’re going tomorrow. Besides you always bring in the maps, so you can mope over them.”
Sam put his pizza down on the bedspread and wiped his hands on his jeans. Looking at the TV, he said, “I told you. 160 to 89, then we hit Flagstaff, and follow I-17 and then I-10 at Phoenix, all the way to Tucson, I told you. It’s simple, what do you need a map for.”
“I just wanna look,” said Dean.
“You wanna look, you go out and get ‘em.”
Sam was not moving. He was watching the TV intently, and Dean began to wonder if this was how he was going to be punished for being weak enough to want his brother around for as long as he could, by Sam being the most uncooperative, unhelpful, stubborn asshole that he could possibly manage to be. Alright then. Fuck the map. Sam would direct, and Dean would drive. And the chupacabra they met up with it at the end of the trail would bear as many lead-lined holes as Dean could drill into it.
“Fine,” he said, shucking off his sneakers.
“Fine,” said Sam, still looking at the TV.
He grabbed his shaving kit and headed into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Brushing his teeth was almost soothing, though the dampness from Sam’s shower was making him sweat. He looked at the shower, at the one towel still hanging unused, and shook his head. His reflection in the mirror shook its head too, looking tired at having to think at all, let alone about the problem of figuring how to turn on the shower in a strange place. Some idiot somewhere had determined that every motel shower was turned on different, and it was seldom that the boys encountered the same type of mechanism twice. That’s why Dean liked to take his showers in the morning. When he was sharp and could figure it out. Bending to spit, he turned on the taps to sluice water over his face. That helped cool him down, but as he stood up again, his reflection looked like it had tears on its face. Dean wiped them away and opened the door, using the corner of his sleeve to wipe his chin.
“You were in there long enough. Thought you were going to take a shower in the morning.”
“I am, cause I’m sure you used up all the hot water, and there won’t be any more till the morning.”
There was no answer to this, but there didn’t have to be. It was an old joke, an old dumb joke, because for all the shitty dumps they’d stayed in, only one had run out of hot water. And that was because the hot water heater had exploded. Hot water was to be found in abundance from coast to coast. What was missing was why Sam was being so distant. Wasn’t talking to him, wasn’t even looking at him.
Dean stood there, staring at his younger brother, feeling the darkness and the weight that loomed all around. It was killing him, but he was going to have to say something.
That much from him was tantamount to a sonnet from Shakespeare and both of them knew it. Sam placed his hands on his thighs and turned to look at Dean, his wet hair drying into a band of swirls around his ears. His expression was quiet, the mouth a firm line. He had something to say, that was obvious, but for some reason he wasn’t saying it.
“I just wanna make sure, is all,” said Dean, shrugging.
“Yeah,” said Sam, finally. “We’re okay. I’m just buzzed from the road and…well, and everything.”
The everything that Sam wasn’t talking about would come spilling out of him sooner, rather than later, but in spite of that, in spite of the unusual fact that it wasn’t spilling out of him now, Dean felt satisfied. Sam’s we’re okay had been honest, and maybe Dean wasn’t up to having any deep conversations anyway. Never, truth be told, but Sam tended to insist on them, every so often. More often than not.
Morning loomed, the road beckoned, and beyond that, beyond shooting and killing something that deserved it, Dean would not make himself think. He stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt, pulled off his socks to tuck them into his sneakers, and pulled down the tightly tucked covers and sheets. The polyester bedspread he pulled back far enough so it would fall on the floor. The suckers made him itch. He threw his extra pillow over to Sam, and slid under the sheets. Sam took the clicker and turned the volume on the TV down, and Dean closed his eyes. Lying on his back, if nothing else happened to keep him awake, he would be asleep in five. Four if he was lucky, if Sam didn’t start laughing out loud at Lucy or anyone. Three if he held real still. And then, beyond that, sleep.
A crackerjack mechanic by the name of Russ at a grotty gas station just outside of Durango let Dean use his rolling pallet to check under the engine. He even loaned Dean the little bulb to check the levels in his radiator. They pulled on belts together and poked at the fan while Russ admired the Impala, and then convinced them to take extra bottles of water as they crossed into Arizona.
“You won’t mind the water once it gets so hot, even if it will be warm by the time you get there.”
“Get where?” asked Dean, wondering by Russ’s tone whether Russ had some idea of where they were going.
“Hey, Dean,” said Sam, leaning out of the window on the passenger side, “you gonna fill up or what? Daylight’s burning.”
“Yeah, okay, Captain Impatient,” said Dean. “Get your lazy ass out here and fill her up while I pay.”
Without another word, Sam unfolded himself from the passenger seat and did as requested. Which was quite odd; Sam balked when it came to the Impala, either because he didn’t know a wrench from a spanner, or because he was leery of messing with Dean’s best girl. Dean watched him out of the corner of his eye as he went inside the crumbling white building and paid Russ for the gas, and then tipped him a fiver for being so helpful, one car lover to another.
By the time he got out, Sam was in place, the windows had been washed and the tank filled with gas, two liter bottles of water behind the driver’s seat. They were ready to go. Dean was more than ready to go. A Sam willing to lay hands on the Impala made him jittery. It just wasn’t normal.
“So, which way?”
“Go…right.” Sam unfolded the map to lay it out on his lap. “Yeah, it looks like….follow 160 west to where it ends at 89 and then turn left. Uh, south.” He folded the map and tucked it under his thigh. “Pretty straightforward.”
“Can I see the map?”
“You don’t need to see the map.’
“And why not?”
“You just don’t, okay?” Sam gave him a narrow-eyed glare and a silent scoff. “Don’t you trust me with directions anymore?”
Pushing Sam another inch would only bring an explosion. Dean gave himself one second to think about this. While Sam should explode, or at least start talking, which would be better than the current wall of silence, he, Dean, would probably enjoy a long quiet drive. He told himself he would.
“So,” he said, putting the Impala into drive and pushing her onto the blacktop that was 160, “the area we’re going over is what again?”
“John Wayne filmed his movies here,” said Sam, without a second’s hesitation. “As did Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I think Back to the Future was filmed out here too, but don’t quote me on that one.”
Dean let himself be impressed. While old Westerns weren’t his favorite, the movies always contained a whole lot of wide-open sky, which suited him just fine. He eased the car up to 65 and felt her open up. She always did like going fast.
Once outside of Durango completely, the highway narrowed to two lanes of rumbly concrete with painted lines that looked worn and blistered by the constant sun. Towns they passed through had names like Tec Nos Pos and Red Mesa and were made up of bundles and blips of singlewide trailers and pens of goats. Tec Nez Lah was hidden in a cool hollow in the red stone carved out by a little river, but after that it was just miles and miles of open. Way, way open. The kind of country Dean would expect to see in a movie about a guy stranded in the desert. Or about one of those pioneer idiots who had gotten separated from his wagon train. Or, better yet, about one of those guys who had gotten staked out in the desert on an ant pile, who had managed to claw his way free, and was now stumbling across the desert towards home. Yeah, that was what kind of country it was. Nothing but sky, and stone, and light. Sometimes they had bluffs on the left of them, sometimes the bluffs were on the right of them, stretching from the horizon ahead to the horizon behind.
“Is that a buzzard?” asked Sam at one point.
Dean craned his neck to look up through the windshield. He couldn’t really look for long, the Impala had taken herself up to 70 without him seeing it, but there was a large black shape with wings making circles against the blue. “I dunno,” he said. “Could be a vulture.”
Neither one of them really knew what either bird looked like.
“Isn’t there something called a condor?” asked Sam. He leaned behind Dean’s seat to grab one of the bottles of water. “They’re supposed to be ugly.”
“Well, I can’t tell from here whether I’d want to date it or not,” said Dean. Sam handed him the water, he took it, took a slug, and then handed the bottle back. “Could be anything.”
“Yeah,” said Sam. He was silent, drinking some water as the bird flew out of eyeshot. Then he said, “I don’t see any cactus, do you? Isn’t there supposed to be cactus in Arizona.”
“You mean the kind like in the cartoons? With the arms?” Dean gave the passing scenery a harder look. “You’re right. I don’t see anything like that. Further south, near Tucson, I know there’s some.”
The miles of open country sped past their windows as they watched. At one point they both saw a pair of dogs racing through the scrub towards a herd of black cows. Dean wondered where the dogs had come from, and then saw, about ten miles ahead, a small group of houses, and figured the dogs had come from there. Mighty big back yard when two dogs could roam for ten miles and not have any shade. Then the land flattened out as they neared Kayenta, and they both began to sit up as a large, ship-sized rock rose out of the sand.
“Shit, check that out,” said Dean, pointing through the windshield.
“It’s huge,” said Sam.
“And right out of a John Wayne movie.”
Then, there was another, blocky like a building. And then, after that, another. And another. There must have been fifteen or twenty, stretching out to the horizon, some chimney shaped and rose colored, others buff and tan, shaped like the sails of a square-masted rig. All of them tall, and hard edged, as though someone had carved them with a blade and spaced them apart on purpose. And between each formation, the land was as flat as a flour-dusted countertop.
“Can we stop and take a look?” asked Sam.
“I dunno, I think the shoulder is too soft. It looks like sand. I’ll wait till there’s a turnoff, then we can stop.”
They both were looking for a good spot. Up ahead on the left, Dean could see a large, red shape that looked like it was made out of stacked bricks in the shape of a slice of red cake. In front of it was a group of tan-colored buildings. As the Impala got closer, he could see the whole area was deserted and that the red cliffs that rose up behind the buildings gave a kind of shelter from the sun. Maybe it had been an old trading post or something. The parking lot looked like jumbled black gravel, but it was solid, at least, and would give them a chance to get out and have a real look. He looked for anything spiky that might snag his tires, and then pulled in. Hell, they could have parked on the road if they’d wanted to; the length of blacktop was deserted in both directions. Parking and turning off the engine, he looked at Sam.
“There you go,” he said. He swung open his door and stepped out of the car, shutting it gently behind him. The desert air echoed the sound around them and bounced if off the rocks. There was almost no wind and the heat grabbed his head. As Sam got out, Dean could see he felt it too, the long, empty silence, the scurry of dry air only a vague wish, and the soft glimmer of heat shimmer as the road thinned on its way into the unseen distance.
“Dude,” said Sam.
“Seriously,” said Dean.
It was a vista view of rocks and strange formations and sky that some would have paid millions for, and many millions more had seen on the big screen. Dean thought he could recognize some of it, but whatever movies he’d seen, far too many really, had jumbled the images in his head. It was one of the few times he wished they had a real camera, though no lense could probably do it justice. The camera in his cell phone wouldn’t even come close. So he had to content himself in the looking, as he always did.
“Who knew?” said Sam into the quiet.
“Not me,” said Dean. Never in his whole life had he imagined it would look like this.
The wind picked up a bit, and a funnel cloud of red dust started up and grew tall, whisked its way across the road only feet from them, and swept itself into ghost bits as it swung past the red rock.
“Did you see that?” asked Dean.
“Yeah,” said Sam. He was smiling now, probably for the first time in days. “A real dust devil.”
“Real up close,” said Dean. He smiled too, and looked at Sam to share it with. But Sam was looking away, off towards the north where the dust devil had come from.
“Okay, then,” said Dean, the coolness of the moment being sucked out of him by the heat and Sam’s distance. “Let’s get a move on if we want to make Tucson before tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” said Sam. His voice sounded hollow. “Time to get a move on.”
It was only around ten o’clock, though by the heat, it could just as well have been high noon. There were no bank thermometers handy, and they did not have one in the car, but it was hot. Climbing to well past ninety degrees, he figured. By the time they got to Tucson, what with no air conditioning in the car, they would be well baked and well frazzled by the wind coming through their open windows. Which was not really different than any other drive, really. Just a little more extreme. He hoped, at the very least, that they would get to see some of those cactuses with arms.
They got back in the car, Dean started up the engine, and the Impala continued down the road. Part of his mind worried about getting a flat tire, as he only had one spare, the other part of his mind worried about the Impala overheating, though Russ had assured him that because of the flat terrain and the fact that they had no air conditioner, the Impala wouldn’t be any more worked than if she’d been crossing over the hills of Missouri. The other part of his mind tried to ignore the fact that Sam was not talking to him at all, even less than usual, and was staring hard out of the passenger window. Past Kayenta there was only flat, sandy land dappled with scrub to look at with the occasional odd looking gravel piles. There were almost no other cars, and certainly no one was walking by the roadside, looking for a lift. He couldn’t figure for the life of him what Sam was staring at so intently.
Presently, after an hour or so of monotonous brown, Sam said, “89’s coming up, and 160 will end. Take a left.”
They entered the limits of Tulba City, and Dean pulled into a gas station.
“Why are we stopping?” asked Sam.
“I need to pee,” said Dean, getting out. “And my baby needs gas, do you mind?”
Sam stayed in the car, silent. Was silent when Dean had finished and got back in.
“What’s your problem?” he asked.
“Don’t have a problem,” said Sam, not moving his mouth hardly at all.
Dean shrugged. He could drive, or they could argue, he wasn’t up to both. Tucson was too far away and they had too far to go for any of Sam’s dumb snits. He pointed the Impala in the right direction, and away they went. At the end of 160, they came to a T in the road. Only the 160 highway had the stop sign, cars, all three of them, zoomed past on 89 going south. He turned left and followed them. The road began to rise and fall a bit, which was more interesting than the flatness of the desert pan they’d been in. The rocks were smaller, as well, though closer to the road, and layered with different colored ribbons of gravel.
After some miles of roly-poly brown hills, they passed a sign that said Cameron City Limits, and shortly after that, a little brown sign with an arrow pointing to the right. Just as Dean realized what the sign said, Sam said, “Turn at the next right.”
“But,” he said, the gears in his mind clicking as they slipped, “that’s the way to the Grand Canyon.”
He turned the wheel at the next right, his feet working the pedals by rote, his hands numb blocks, his stomach doing a quizzical dance. It was almost as if he couldn’t get enough air.
“It is,” said Sam, in a voice that sounded as though it were coming from miles away, “and we have reservations.”
That was it. Dean pulled the Impala off to the side of the road, just in front of the huge sign that said Grand Canyon National Park.
“It’s the Grand Canyon,” he said. Beyond turning off the engine, he couldn’t move.
“I know it is, Dean,” said Sam. There was a smile in his voice.
“What about the chubacapra?”
“It can wait. And in fact it will have to wait. We’re here for two nights.”
A large truck went past, rocketing the Impala with its wake of air. Dean could hear the click of the engine as it cooled, the slamming of his heart against his breastbone, and beyond that, the slight creak as Sam shifted in his seat.
Getting out of the Impala was done without thought, without, even, any regard to the fact that he was barely off the road itself, and that there might be traffic coming. He only had eyes for the sign, could only taste the dust as his throat closed up. Something was filling his lungs like a shout, and all of the twisted, wretched thoughts he’d had about Sam for the past four days slid away, leaving only the bright, shining bone of why he’d gone to the crossroads in the first place.
Sam had taken great pains to hide this from him, and it could not have been easy, either to come up with it or not to give it up as they got closer. Thus was explained the lack of map sharing. And the urgency to get a move on at the gas station, for even Russ had known where they were going, and Sam had not wanted Dean to find out. It also explained Sam’s constant staring the other way; Dean had known his brother all his life, and would have seen the glimmer of the surprise in his eyes.
He only vaguely heard the passenger door open and close, and knew by the crunch of gravel that Sam was walking up to stand beside him. But he could not look at his brother, could only stare at the sign, feeling his chest hitch, feeling his eyes grow hot.
The fucking Grand Canyon.
And Sam. Brother Sam.
He tried to clamp his mouth against any movement, any sign that would give away what it all was doing to him. Tried not to swallow. No one could know. Not even Sam.
But then Sam did as he always did, or at least he tried. Reached out and touched Dean on the shoulder. That long arm could reach far and so the breadth of Sam’s side was out of reach for Dean, but he swung anyway, knocking Sam’s hand high in the air.
“Don’t touch me,” he said, his throat feeling like he’d swallowed gravel.
“The Grand Canyon,” said Sam, and Dean could hear the echo of gravel in Sam’s voice. “We’re staying at the Red Feather Lodge, doesn’t that sound cool?”
“Just like something out of Disney,” said Dean. He scrubbed at his face with his hand, covering his eyes with his fingers. His palm came away damp and he wiped it on the back of his jeans. “I can hear ole Walt now,” he said, trying to swallow the now baseball sized rock in his throat, “going on and on about that freaking Bright Angel Trail.”
“Well, we’re not doing that,” said Sam, and out of the corner of his eyes, Dean could see Sam swiping at his face too. Or maybe he was just pushing his hair out of his eyes. He coughed to clear his throat. “I for one am not riding anything that small down a trail that freaking steep.”
This made Dean laugh, though he didn’t want to, though perhaps that had been Sam’s intention. The thought of Sam’s long legs dragging on either side of a mule was pretty funny.
“What are we doing?” he asked, letting himself cough and swallow at last.
“We are,” said Sam, his voice coming out with more strength, “going to dinner at the most expensive place in town tonight, after which we are watching the sun set over the canyon, and then tomorrow, we are taking a smooth water tour in a pontoon on the Colorado River.”
“At the bottom of the canyon?” Dean felt his whole body open with surprise.
“That’s the best way to see it, I hear.”
He could now look at Sam, at Sam smiling, the green eyes thick with stars, his mouth open, teeth bared, almost laughing out loud, the body unable to contain the joy within it. Dean felt the same.
“How long have you been planning this?” he asked.
“Well,” said Sam, “only since…well, only for a coupla days. I figured, what the hell. You got it coming, and so do I.”
“Yeah,” said Dean. It was all he said, but he knew that Sam knew what he meant.
“Boy,” said Sam, shaking his head. “I sure was tired of keeping it a secret.”
“That I do not doubt,” said Dean.
As they looked at each other, they each gave the silent nod that said, this is okay, everything is okay. But it was almost too much like a chick flick moment, so Dean looked away while Sam coughed.
“Alright,” said Dean, his excitement rising. “Let’s go!”
He rubbed his hands and opened the Impala door. Now when he got in and settled himself behind the wheel, Sam was looking at him. The map was partially folded on the seat between them. His heart thumped in a pleasant way. How many years had it been that they’d driven back and forth and never, ever stopped? Too many. Sam knew it too. Dean started the engine. It was about time.
The road to the gate to the park was just about as nice and tidy a road as he’d ever been on. It was solid, clean blacktop, as clean as if someone had scrubbed it that morning. The white lines and yellow lines were crisp and new, and even the scrub brush growing on either side looked as if it had been tended to recently. Which would have been quite a task, as there were acres and acres of it. He’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon; it was hard to quite fit in those pictures with what he was seeing. The road was rising, but everything was flat.
About halfway up the hill, Sam said, “Holy shit, check that out.”
Dean let his head swivel to the side. There was a huge ravine to their right that seemed to be about as big as any Dean had ever seen. It glowed like it was tinted green. It disappeared behind a formation of rocks and then reappeared again, deeper than ever.
“I think that’s the—” said Sam. He checked his map. “Yeah, that’s the Little Colorado River Gorge.” He put the map back down. “It’s freaking huge.”
“And that’s not even the big daddy,” said Dean. He wanted to put on the gas and go faster, but the speed limit was set at 45, and he didn’t want to risk getting a ticket. Not today.
Finally, after miles and miles of scrub, they rounded a hill and then topped it to find themselves at the gate of the Grand Canyon.
“My palms are sweating,” said Dean, wiping them on his jeans.
Sam just smiled and handed him some cash. “Pay the woman,” he said.
Dean handed over twenty-five dollars, and the woman in the dark brown ranger hat handed him a map.
“Follow this, she said. “It’ll show you where all the major overlooks are.”
“All?” asked Dean. He turned to Sam. “I thought there was just one.”
Shrugging, Sam said, “Me too. Guess I haven’t read up on it enough.”
“At the first shop, is a gift shop and small snack bar, as well as bookstore, and of course, the tower.
Of course, mouthed Dean to Sam. The tower. Whatever the hell that was.
“And be sure,” she continued, “to take advantage of the bus system. It’s free.”
As they passed through the tollbooth, Dean said, “I thought we were going to our hotel first.”
Sam looked at the map again. “Yeah, you have to go through the park to get there from here.” He showed the map to Dean, who followed the squiggle as Sam’s finger traced it.
“Well, that’s not too far. Shouldn’t take us more than half an hour.”
It took them four.
Their first stop was Desert View, and as they pulled into the parking lot and Dean was about to remark that they had yet to see anything resembling a canyon, he caught sight of red rocks in the distance. But then, this was blocked by the pine trees, and he couldn’t see anything. He parked the Impala under as much shade as he could find, silently urged Sam out of the car and quelled the pressing need to run as fast as he could to the canyon’s edge. But then Sam, somehow catching this need, jerked his chin at Dean and so the two them picked up the pace, passed by the shop and the café and the restrooms, and hurried as fast as the path would allow down to the tower they could see rising in the sky. It was made of golden stone, at least two stories high, right on the freaking edge.
And as soon as Dean could make sense of what it was, for he had never heard of any tower at the canyon, he saw the canyon’s edge.
“Son of a bitch,” he said.
Sam sighed. “Yeah. Son of a bitch.”
One of the mothers directing her too-near-the-edge brood gave him a dark look, but Dean ignored this. He couldn’t hear anything anyway, only the rush of blood in his ears and the slough of the wind over the stones. There was a little gravel path leading out to a cement covered point, bound by steel railings that looked rather like the prow of a ship. But no one was doing any king-of-the-world posing there, for on the other side of the railing was a sharp almost one mile drop. Dean walked out as far as he could, with surprisingly few people en route, and took it all in.
The canyon was huge. Freaking huge. It was deep, and there were stones stacked on top of one another as high and as low as they could go. All jagged, all exposed to the air, all giving voice to the silent time that had sliced them open. Red stones, buff, rose colored. Brown. Shades of green in the shadow, the air muting the colors as the distance widened to the other side. And far below, the tiny snake of a river, silent, brown tossed with tan, bending and curling between the rocks.
There was a placard behind them that no doubt gave information such as depth and age and distance and other geeky things like that. He’d expected that Sam would stop to read the placard and would appear beside him eventually to spout off what he’d read. But Sam stopped right beside him, their shoulders touching, and was silent, as if he too could simply not believe what he was seeing.
They stood there for a full five minutes.
“That is about the biggest thing I have ever seen.”
“You and me both,” said Sam. “I mean, will you look at it? It’s huge, Dean.”
“I know, I know.”
Dean took a deep breath, almost feeling the depth of it like he never could with an ocean. Or a mountain either. For all mountains were so huge, they never looked like you could get inside of them. Like you could with the canyon. Like it could swallow you. It was making him dizzy.
“We should get a camera. One of those disposable ones.”
Sam thought about his a moment and then looked at Dean. The rushing of air out of the canyon was pushing his hair back from his forehead. “Any picture we take—” he began.
“Yeah,” said Dean, finishing it for him. “Wouldn’t do it justice.”
It was on the tip of Sam’s tongue, Dean knew, to suggest buying a little photo as a souvenir, although it’s not something any of them ever did. Sure they might buy a shot glass or something, or a shirt that happened to have the name of the local attraction on it, if they needed a shirt. But to buy a souvenir, just to buy one? It was almost unthinkable. And there was no room to store it, really. Not when every inch was needed in the Impala for something that could be put to use.
They looked at the view instead of either one suggesting it, and breathed in the dry air, and looked at the smoke drifting up in grayish swirls from the other side of the canyon.
“Looks like a fire.” Sam shaded his eyes to cut back on the glare. “A big one.”
Dean looked around. Surely everyone could see it, but no one was worried. He wasn’t worried because they were on the other side of the canyon than the fire, but, he would have thought, that in a park like this, they’d be putting out fires right quick.
“A controlled burn from a lightning strike,” said a man, walking past them. He was beet red from the sun as if he’d been out in it all day, and didn’t quite have the sense to put a hat on. “They figure it helps cut back on the underbrush, and it’s good for plant grown and stuff.”
Having delivered this missive, the man moved on, and Sam made the frown he made when trying not to laugh out loud.
“Bet he was waiting all day to tell someone that,” he said, his voice thick with it.
Dean let himself laugh. “Yeah. His one factoid, and he hands it out as often as he can.”
They moved back from the point to let other people have a look, and walked up to the tower, which turned out to be half museum and half shop. A set of stairs looped up along one wall, and as Sam and Dean climbed them, they discovered a large landing and another flight of stairs. And then another, and another. They lost count. What had seemed to be a two story tower made of stone was somehow larger on the inside, large enough to hold five floors, each with huge windows and scopes for viewing. The scopes took quarters, which between them they had none, so they contented themselves by climbing to the top and pressing their noses against the glass.
The side of the tower went straight down into the canyon.
“Think this thing will ever collapse?” he asked Sam.
“I don’t think it would dare,” came the answer.
“Think of what Walt would say.”
It was the voice that he’d been hearing in his head every other step, the sonorous tones of Walt Disney narrating every aspect of the park in some tourist movie he’d been subjected too more than once as a kid. It had been an old movie too, with the sound track coming through warbled and the film yellowed with age. Walt had been a big fan of the canyon, he recalled, somehow remembering this, when the remainder of his early school years was a grey void.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “Old Walt would simply not allow it.”
In addition to which, though he did not say it, Walt had not, for all he was such a square, sold the place short.
They climbed down the tower, ignored the stuff for sale, and walked up the trail to the parking lot and got back in the car.
“What’s next?” asked Dean.
Sam consulted his map, sliding it open on his lap with all the love and affection he could give it. “We have…Navajo Point, Lipan Point, Moran Point, Grandview…it goes on and on and on. I’m telling you. This is not going to take us half an hour, Dean.”
Dean started the car, thinking in the back of his mind that they would get tired of the view, mighty quick, that surely each new stop would not show anything very different. But each stop, each view, stepped up to show him exactly how wrong he was. The view changed with the angle, the colors changed with the light. The clouds scudded overhead, more unidentifiable birds flew over on the warm currents of air, and people from all over the world stood in awe of the massive slice in the earth.
Some people stood too long in front of the many placards that Sam was obviously dying to get an eyeful of. Others took too many pictures or talked too loudly in foreign languages. Some were timid and wouldn’t go close to the edge, others posed their women as close to the edge as they could convince them to get. But all in all, people were generous and shared each view with them as if it were theirs and brand new, never before seen miracle. He hated to use such a sentimental word like that, and certainly wouldn’t have done so aloud, but that’s what it was. A freaking miracle. The fact that he was here with Sam was another one, just as freaking huge.
They were at Grandview Point when he thought this. Standing on the edge of one of three cement-covered viewing trails. They could see the other side of where they’d been, could see where the river curved as it went west, could see the North Rim and the almost blue smoke that was puffing its way east.
“Guess there was a hotel here once, or something,” said Sam, returning from the latest placard. “Got tumbled in a fire, it said.”
Dean didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to think about miracles, or deals, or demons. Not so close to the edge as he was, though part of him wanted like crazy to bilk the demon out of what she thought she had coming to her. The demon had said that if he tried to welch out, Sam would drop dead. Of course, clarification was needed for whether this included suicide attempts or accidental death. It would be very cool to trick the demon out of his soul, but any way he did it, he would not be able to control the repercussions. He stayed alive for the next year, Sam stayed alive for a good long life, he had the demon’s word forever.
To distract himself he read one of the little information posts, while the sun beat down and the dense hot wind moved through the pines. A woman, a 24-year old doctor and runner of the Boston Marathon, had gone into the canyon some years past, and died after having made about every mistake in the book. She was healthy as could be, but had not had the correct map, enough food and water, enough gear, had underestimated the temperature inside the canyon, and when things had gone south, she had separated from her companion. The companion had waited out the heat of the day and then made it out of the canyon alive, but the woman’s body, the marathon runner, had been found tumbled on the path.
There might be something to the idea of waiting out the heat of the day, but how could that help him? He couldn’t, metaphorically speaking, find a shade tree and sit there for a year, he had work to do. None of his jobs, especially not his main one, had changed. His head ached. He turned away from the information post. And caught Sam looking at him.
“Ah,” said Dean. “It’s the heat. That’s all.”