At night, neither of them sleeps. Dean keeps the window open, watching the ratty curtain sway a little, and listening to the noise the dust blowing across the lot doesn’t make. Instead, he hears the floorboards creaking with every step John paces in the next room; he hears the bedsprings squeak when John sits, again when he stands, and the floorboards once more when the pacing starts up all over again. Sometimes, Dean holds the Colt his that John keeps safe, hidden and secret, running his fingers over it, wishing he’d just get one chance to use it on that son of a bitch that tore up his family, but most nights Dean just lays there, eyes open, staring at the ceiling because there isn’t much else to do because he can’t sleep.
As hard as this is, Dean thinks, as hard as it has to be for his father to lose a son, he thinks this is harder on him. He doesn’t know how to do grief; he didn’t know how to do it when he was four, and that hasn’t changed, so he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. He knows he can’t sit here, doing nothing, sitting here every night thinking about what they should have done different, thinking about the way Sam looked when there wasn’t any life left in him. So he does what he knows how and finds work, finds jobs; he lines them up and doesn’t ask John if he’s ready, and John never says if he is or isn’t but he goes anyway. John nods, says he’s got an old friend around here, and maybe they can use a little help. Dean doesn’t argue; Sam was always better at that.
And maybe he shouldn’t be, but Dean’s surprised when he meets Ellen; maybe it’s because she’s a woman, or maybe it’s because his father kept their acquaintance from him, he doesn’t know, but he doesn’t get an explanation first and doesn’t complain, because that’s just how John does things.
Ellen says to John “I’m sorry about your boy.” Dean doesn’t want to notice the way she looks at John, the way her eyes say she knows their pain – one way or another - and Dean walks away then, sits at a table in the empty Roadhouse by himself. Her daughter must not get it because she’s suddenly there in front of him, setting a beer down.
“Sorry about your brother,” she says and he doesn’t say anything at all. He picks at the gouged table top and takes a long pull from the bottle. The beer isn’t good, but it’s strong, and he supposes that’s good enough.
“Yeah,” he finally says. “Me too.”
He thinks she’s probably smart because she gets the point and walks away; he watches her, looks at the way her jeans fit against her ass, and it’s not as thrilling as it used to be when Sam gave him dirty looks for checking out girls’ asses in bars. He glances in the direction of the bar and sees John and Ellen sitting close, heads bowed together while they talked; there was another guy with them and John was pushing his folder towards him, journal too, all the information, and for a minute Dean tenses but doesn’t move. They don’t share things like this with strangers, and then he remembers they aren’t. He’s not sure what a guy with a mullet adds to this whole thing, and he means to smirk, but it never really makes it to his lips. So he gets up and goes to the bar, finds out what they’re even doing here.
When they leave Dean looks over at John and says “So… You and Ellen had a thing?” He knows it’s stupid the second it leaves his mouth. John was nothing if he wasn’t devoted to his wife – dead or not – and there was never any other woman, ever.
“No,” John says, keeping his eyes on the road.
“How’d you meet her?”
He watches John for a minute, watches him blinking at the road and steering one of Bobby’s old junkers effortlessly. “I knew her husband, Bill. We hunted together once.”
Dean catches the fact that John knew her husband, and he doesn’t ask how he died. Instead, he asks about Ash. “He’s a genius,” John says with half a laugh.
“Are you kiddin’ me? He’s a Lynyrd Skynrd roadie.” He sees John smirk, and it’s a shock in itself because Dean realizes it’s been a while since he’s seen that, and it looks a lot like Sam’s grin.
“Yeah, maybe,” he says, “but he’s an expert in finding the kind of things we need to find. He don’t look the part but…” John shakes his head a little. “Trust me.”
Dean says okay, and trusts him, because that’s just how he does things.