Author: victoria p. [musesfool]
Summary: Sam gets the atlas on his twelfth birthday.
Characters/Pairings; Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester, Jessica Moore; Sam Winchester/Jessica Moore
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to their respective owners. I own nothing.
Original story: Red Lines and Black Crosses of the American Road Atlas by amchara
Notes: Thanks to laurificus for betaing.
All the Roads That Lead You There (Mile by Mile Extended Dance Mix)
from 37n27, 122w09 to 34n01, 118w29
Steve barrels into the room and starts throwing stuff into a backpack while Sam is trying to nap.
"Road trip," he says, like it's supposed to be fun, something Sam should want to do, instead of the thing he's spent his whole life trying to get away from, trying to find a place to stop tripping and land and stay a while, maybe even long enough to put down roots.
"I've got papers--" Sam starts, but Steve shakes his head.
"That hot blonde you've been pining for, what's her name? Jenn?"
Sam feels his ears burn. He hadn't thought he'd been that obvious. "Jess."
"That's the one. Jess. She was asking about you. Hoping you'd come."
Steve's probably lying, but Sam's been trying to work up the nerve to ask her out for weeks now, and he can't not take this chance.
Jess is there, all long legs and blonde hair, wide pink mouth laughing with two other girls when he and Steve come out of the dorm and start packing the trunk.
"Glad you could make it," she says, smiling up at him. She smells like suntan lotion and spearmint gum, and it makes his mouth water.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he answers, his voice a little rough, and Steve slaps his back in encouragement.
It's Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend, so of course they get stuck in traffic; it's the one aspect of California Sam can't ever love--the feeling of being trapped on all sides, no escape possible in any direction. A car should mean freedom and the open road, not being stuck with nowhere to go.
They're stop-starting at five miles an hour when he says, "Steve, you've gotta get off the Five, or we're gonna grow old and die in this car."
"Where are we gonna go?" Steve asks, belligerent.
But Jess says, "You got a better idea, Winchester?"
"Chinese fire drill," he says, grinning, and they all scramble to rearrange themselves before the next hiccup of movement from the cars in front of them.
He and Jess end up in the front, and Steve ends up in the back sandwiched between Jess's friends, but he's not complaining, and neither is Sam.
He's achy when they finally arrive, legs cramped and back sore from driving for so many hours in a row (he tries not to think of his father and Dean, of the long nights when he'd fall asleep curled up in the backseat and wake up in a new world), and okay, his route took a while longer, but they kept moving, pushing forward, Steve's secondhand Toyota eating the miles smoothly and quietly under the music Jess put on. She sang along softly, off-key, I'm gonna clear my head, I'm gonna drink that sun, I'm gonna love you good and strong, while our love is good and young, and it immediately became Sam's new favorite song.
When he kisses her for the first time, later that night, after a couple of beers and the handful of Swedish fish that passes for dinner, her mouth is hot and sticky sweet beneath his, and he thinks being stuck in a car with her for seven hours could be the best thing that's ever happened to him.
Sam gets the atlas on his twelfth birthday. He's riding shotgun, Dean's concession to the day, and Dad slides the heavy, wrapped package across the seat with a grin.
"Come on, Sammy, open it," Dean says, eager as if he's six instead of sixteen.
He pulls the paper open carefully, ears burning a little under the combined scrutiny of his father and brother. "An atlas?" he says as the title--The 58th Edition of the American Road Atlas--becomes visible. "Cool."
"Geek," Dean mutters affectionately, ruffling Sam's hair, and Sam doesn't complain.
He flips through the book, taking in the wide variety of maps, the columns of statistics that back them, the lined pages left blank for notes. "Thanks, Dad."
"You're welcome. Now, you've got the maps, and you're riding shotgun--that makes you the navigator." He lays his arm across the back of the seat. "It's an important job, Sammy, but you're a smart and capable kid, so I think you'll do fine."
Dean grins at him, and Sam beams, feeling like part of the team for once, instead of the baby they still sometimes treat him like.
After school lets out that spring, they drive across the country, back roads and byways, and Sam marks down all the places they go, writes about the people they meet and the friends he makes, the way Dad writes about hunting in his journal.
They're in South Dakota, hunting an unhcegila, and the hunt goes bad; the thing sinks its teeth into Dean's leg before Dad can kill it, and then Dad's dragging Dean back to the car, yelling at Sam to figure out the fastest route back to Bobby's, and can they swing by a church on the way? It's going to take more holy water than they've got to clean out Dean's wounds.
It's dark, and Dean is bleeding, feverish, twitching occasionally as he lies in the backseat, uninjured leg kicking out, thumping against Sam's back in an uncoordinated rhythm Sam finds terrifying. Sam hunches over the atlas, flashlight in one hand, pen in the other, tracing the route with his finger. He gives Dad the directions in a clear voice that hardly shakes at all, and makes a small black cross on the map to mark the church.
After that, it becomes a habit to scout out churches ahead of time and mark the atlas, little black crosses proliferating over the years, an endless trail of sanctuary looping in on itself like a rosary, each mark of the pen a silent declaration of the safety Sam craves like air.
Whenever he has to write the inevitable "What I did on my summer vacation" essay at the start of each new school year, Sam pulls memories from the notes he's taken, writes neatly edited versions of his life in which Dean is never bleeding out in the back seat, Dad is never yelling at him to shoot, goddammit, Sam, what are you waiting for? while monsters bear down on them, and the little black marks ticking off churches are nothing more than symbols of his father's odd penchant for gothic architecture.
"Gothic architecture?" Jess asks, skepticism plain on her face, fingers tracing the scattering of crosses marking the page.
"You know--" Sam shrugs "--flying buttresses and gargoyles." He probably should have come up with a better lie, but he didn't expect the question, didn't think she'd even notice the damn atlas (doesn't know why he even kept it, except that's a lie, too, and one he's not buying) among all their other books, and he's stuck with this one now, so he sells it as best he can. "Possibly neo-Gothic. I never really paid much attention."
"Only enough attention to mark them all on the map?" He doesn't answer. "Are there really that many neo-Gothic cathedrals in--" Jess leans in close to read the map "--Norman, Oklahoma?"
"Okay, some of them weren't cathedrals. Dad also has a thing for old church cemeteries." And holy water, and consecrated ground, he thinks. He shakes his head, gently tugs the atlas out of her hands, drops it onto the couch. "It was just another weird family tradition." And though they've only been together for six months, she already understands that's code for, I don't want to talk about it, Jess. Please don't make me.
"It must have been awesome to see so much of the country," she says, and he feels a little of the tension in his shoulders ease. Eventually, he'll tell her a less sanitized version of the Winchester family history, but she's been good about not pressing him, and he's taken advantage of that. His father's son, after all. "I've only ever been to Disneyland and Vegas, and skiing in Boulder once."
He pulls her down into his lap, presses kisses to her cheek, her temple, the crown of her head. "We can go wherever you like this summer. Get on a plane and go."
"Not in a car and drive?" She taps the atlas. "I know you've got some freaky GPS thing going on, Sam, and could probably get us anywhere we wanted to go without even looking at the map. I remember the first weekend we went down to Santa Monica."
"That was a good weekend," he murmurs, nosing at her hair, breathing in the scent of sweat and dust and shampoo--they'd set up the new bookshelves earlier, and she got ambitious, started unsealing boxes and shelving books, making their new apartment into a home.
"Mmm," she says, warm and soft against him.
He twists, leans forward, pressing her down into the cushions of their new second-hand couch that still smells like Febreze and cat, and kisses his way up the smooth, white curve of her throat.
They're both tired from the move, and his muscles ache from lugging boxes and furniture up and down the stairs all day, so it's a slow, languorous fuck, his fingers teasing her until she's almost crying with need, his tongue tracing long lines on her soft, lotion-scented skin, open roads to the rest of his life. Her body is the atlas of his new world, to be explored and annotated with careful attention to every detail, every sound and shiver she makes, her love and trust the compass pointing him in the right direction after years of running in place.
He holds himself up on his elbows, frames her face with his hands as he kisses her, hips rocking in a languid rhythm, pleasure a slow-burning fuse up his spine. She rises to meet him, long legs curling around his hips, erasing all the boundaries between them. Their shared momentum holds them together even as she comes undone in his arms, cunt tightening around him and tumbling him headlong after her into the bright white flare of satisfaction.
He cradles her close afterward, fingers rubbing lazily at the small of her back as they slip off into sleep.
Sam spends hours that last summer before Stanford plotting out routes to Palo Alto--the fastest way, the shortest way, the longest way, the way that will take him past Bobby's or Caleb's, or through Kansas to see the house he didn't grow up in. He plans the trip with multiple starting points, because he never knows where they'll be from one week to the next: Oneonta, Milwaukee, Lincoln, Butte.
He thinks about hitchhiking out to California on Route 66, realizes that's what Dean would do (he can practically hear Dean saying, get your kicks), and decides to do the opposite--Greyhound bus all the way, nothing romantic or epic about a bus full of tired people trying to get from one place to another. Nobody writes songs about them. He saves his money, gives up buying books and candy and the hope of a new pair of dress shoes before he leaves.
He packs light because he'll have to carry whatever he takes with him; for once, he's glad of his father's training, his insistence on leaving all unnecessary baggage behind, because Sam's good at packing light, and strong enough to carry what he packs.
They're in Amarillo when he sneaks out, pack on his back, duffel in his left hand, pre-dawn light gray through the ugly polyester motel drapes, and Dad's words--If you leave, don't come back--still ringing in his ears. He sets the atlas on the desk--he doesn't need it where he's going, and it's weight he can't afford--and tries to feel like he's not abandoning it, and everything it represents.
He's three cars past their room when he hears a door open behind him.
"You forgot this," Dean says, walking towards him, barefoot and in his pajamas, holding out the atlas.
Sam shakes his head, not willing to go another round, not when he's packed and ready to go. "Dean--"
"You'll be lost without it."
"I don't want you to get lost, Sammy." He holds the atlas out again. "Take it, and go."
He takes the book, the worn cover soft under his fingers, the weight of it like a brick in his hands. "How--"
"Dude, you're not that stealthy." Dean ducks his head. "Now, go on, get out of here before I change my mind."
"Be careful, Sammy. Do good. Call when you get there."
Sam nods and licks his lips, mouth suddenly dry and full of the copper taste of fear. He pulls Dean into a rough, one-armed hug and pulls away before Dean can do more than look startled and pat his back.
"Take care of yourself, Dean."
"Always do," Dean answers, and Sam lets it lie.
Eight hundred miles away, huddled in the narrow seat, legs cramping from lack of space, Sam finds the first twenty, marking the map of New Mexico. It's soft and creased, green ink wearing away from the touch of hundreds of hands over the years, and he blinks back the sting of tears as he flips through the atlas and finds Dean's parting gifts tucked between its pages, his future wrapped in the past.
It feels like they've been driving forever. Sam stares out the window, unseeing; he knows this road like the back of his hand, the veins of the continent scrolling out in asphalt and endless white dashes that slip by in a blur under the steady rolling of the wheels.
Dean keeps shooting concerned glances over at him, and he appreciates it, but it's kind of suffocating; Sam had forgotten, in their years apart, what a mother hen Dean can be, and how disconcerting it can be to be on the receiving end of that intense, clear-eyed scrutiny.
Before Dean can ask again if he wants to eat or sleep or piss, he says, "I'm fine. We don't need to stop on my account."
"Nobody likes a martyr, Sammy," Dean says, and then stops, the silence heavy with the awareness of what he's just said. Dean's not the most tactful guy in the world, but he's rarely deliberately insensitive about the important things.
"That's rich, coming from you," Sam answers without thinking, anything to ease the tension, and get that haunted expression off Dean's face.
Dean looks over at him, surprised. "What the hell does that mean?"
"You. You just--" Sam waves a hand, then rubs his forehead, pinches the bridge of his nose. He hasn't slept more than three hours a night in the past week; every time he closes his eyes, all he sees is Jess above him, in flames. "Never mind."
They're just over the border into Utah, and flashing lights and a big orange detour sign occupy Dean's attention for the next few minutes. Nighttime road work makes even this empty stretch of the interstate jam up and slow down, SUVs and eighteen-wheelers crowding around them as they all get rerouted off of I-15 and onto local roads.
Dean waves a hand at the glove compartment. "Figure out where the hell we are."
Sam peers out the window at the signs and flips through the atlas. The pages are crinkly with coffee stains and well-marked with Dean's blocky handwriting, black ink like tiny insects crawling over the heavy paper--short-cuts, areas of rumored paranormal activity, phone numbers of girls whose names he'll pretend he doesn't remember, but can rattle off like his multiplication tables after a few shots of tequila, along with their hair color and outstanding physical attributes. It's an odd brand of romanticism that makes Sam sad for Dean in a way he'd never be able to explain in a million years.
Dean glances over again, down at the map and then up to meet Sam's gaze. "We can get you a new one," he says.
"A new atlas."
Sam thinks about it for a few minutes--where he's been and where he's going, interstates and county roads unfolding in his head like the story of his life--and he realizes he doesn't need a map to tell him how to get where he's got to go.
"No, it's okay," he finally says, letting go of one more piece of his future, one more chunk of his past. "This one's fine."
"You sure? 'Cause we can stop at the next rest area. I'm sure they got a Rand McNally or something."
"I'm sure." And he is. They'll chase Dad like he's true north, and Dean will keep them on track with sure hands and smart remarks. No map could get him there faster.
"Okay," Dean says, shrugging. He reaches out and turns up the radio, taps out the backbeat on the steering wheel, singing softly.
The sound of Jimmy Page's guitar wailing and Robert Plant promising every inch of his love fills the silence, and it's all so familiar, Sam thinks this must be what it feels like to come home.