it's supernatural fic, again, some more, but now! god willing! i can write about baseball again!
By Candle Beck
Several months later, Dean wakes up in the back of his car when it’s still dark out.
His leather jacket is pulled over his shoulder in place of a blanket, and the seatbelt has left a numb silvered line on his face. His back is killing him, bones like fiberglass, and his mouth tastes thick and stale, his tongue slow against his teeth.
It takes him a minute to remember where he is. Two-lane country highway cut like a tear track through the forests of Oregon. Chasing something that he hasn’t been able to put a name to yet, something that moves like a wind-made knife and leaves hikers flayed, hanging by their ankles from the trees.
Dean has been hunting it for a week now, or he thinks so, anyway. He lost his watch trying to hustle pool (distracted, the red felt on the tables kept jarring him, reminding him of someplace he’d been with his brother long ago) a couple jobs back, and since then he’s got no real sense of the passage of time.
He sleeps when he’s tired, wakes up a few hours later breathing hard and clutching at his chest. It’s been like this for a long time. He thinks it’s still June.
But Dean gets it all in place in his head and he sits up gingerly because you never know what might have happened in the night. It’s still night, of course, and it’s blacker than fresh tar, shadows as thick as asphalt and no moon.
Dean reaches for his bag on the floor and digs around blindly until he unearths a power bar and the little yellow bottle of caffeine pills that he substitutes for coffee when he’s this far out. He drinks half a bottle of flat coke from yesterday and he’s waking up, the dream forced down and fading.
He gets out of the car and the air is thirty degrees cooler than by day, but still heavy. Dean cracks his back and stretches and yawns. He’s drained, beaten down thin as gold, and maybe it’s only exhaustion but he can hear a malignant hum in the trees, smell murder on the wind.
He opens the front door, settles back in with his hand stroking across the top of the wheel, a little nervous tic that he’s trying to get better about. For a long moment, he just sits there in the dark.
Then Dean lets out a careful breath and starts the car, says out loud, “Okay, Sammy, quit your whining, I’m ready. Let’s go.”
The headlights obliterate the darkness. Dean has always loved that.
The creature responsible for the skinnings is some kind of black demon-bird thing like Dean’s never seen. Huge leathery wings thin enough that the sunlight bleeds through murky and broken by soot-colored veins, the curving talons rust-stained and serrated, long knifelike beak open and cawing in a terrible register, screaming as it circles.
It’s got Dean pinned. Dean doesn’t know how this happened. Following spoor and shattered branches, the sick rotted smell of the thing, Dean was on foot when it came howling down from behind. That shriek like a bolt of undiluted horror, and Dean chose hide over fight instantly.
This tree was struck by lightning years ago, felled and lying like a giant’s immense club across the anarchic forest floor. Dean is crouched in the seared split in the wood, both hands on his gun, charcoal smearing in his hair, on the back of his neck. The bird thing plunges at him, beak stretched open and glittering with teeth, and Dean squeezes off two shots, aiming at the dark hole of the thing’s throat.
A row of jagged teeth disintegrates into shrapnel, a short gout of tarry blood, and the thing screeches even louder and Dean’s head is going to explode. He wants to claw at his ears until they’re works of gore and he won’t have to hear it anymore. It’s going to kill him.
It might be part of the thing’s attack. Dean might have come prepared for this, wax in his ears like in that Greek story Sam told him once, the sirens. But Dean has never been very good at figuring out the whats and wherefores. He’s a man of action.
Enraged, the bird thing divebombs again, vengeance on hell’s own wings, but Dean’s waiting for it this time because give him three minutes under fire and he’ll always come up with some kind of plan.
He swings his bag up over his head and the thing goes for it automatically, glassine jaws snapping shut on the worn canvas and the squeal of the metal inside, and Dean jams his knife straight up into the thing’s throat.
A flood of black ichor drenches over him, hot as fresh-paved asphalt, and Dean cries out in disgust, throws himself back into the lightning split. The bird thing writhes, its great wings tearing out smaller trees, blood spraying out like swatches of night flung across day, and then it collapses, clouds of dust rising briefly before settling as grave dirt.
“Ew ew ew,” Dean is muttering, scrubbing his face with rough handfuls of leaves and char and dirt, better dirty than covered in demon blood. His second-favorite jacket too, dripping and obscene, and Dean squirms out of it, tossing it onto the bird thing’s corpse.
He crawls out of the tree and approaches the thing carefully, gun raised, but it’s deader’n disco, its opaque milk-colored eyes darkening as he watches. Retrieving his bag from between the thing’s jaws, he takes a quick inventory: the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun and a machete are bent like a pair of parentheses, but that’s all. The gas can, astonishingly, is unpunctured and sloshing full.
Dean takes ten minutes to clear a firebreak around the humped creature, and then douses it. He says a quiet prayer for his jacket, tosses a match and watches the conflagration as it leaps and rises and consumes.
“I have slain a dragon,” Dean says, and finds his voice rough and torn. “Bet you’ve never done that.”
He glances to his right, and then bows his head. He’s filthy and exhausted and his eyes are burning, but Dean knows it’s just the smoke.
In Idaho, Dean sits for hours in a booth meant for two people at a bar meant for cowboys. Everyone leaves money at the end of the table when they want another round, damp soft bills flopping over the lip, weighted by an empty pint. Dean should have just bought a pitcher but instead he’s done it one at a time.
This is the time between cases and this is really not Dean’s strong point right now. The highways are swift and effortless when he’s going somewhere, moving ahead bearing malicious purpose, but without destination they’re more like prison: you can only go straight ahead. Only stop at the same truckstops and motels and bars, same towns scattered like driftwood all over the west.
If you’re not going anywhere, you’re trapped—this makes perfect sense to Dean.
So tonight he’ll drink himself asleep and that makes it no different from last night or the one before. Soon enough he’s gonna be broke again.
His father’s journal is centered in front of him on the scarred table. Dean has one hand on it, absently running his fingers down the edges of the uneven pages. Dean thinks that he should add a flyleaf for the demon bird, attempt a childish sketch and write down everything he remembers, how he hunted it and how it died.
But most of the way through the journal, Dad’s handwriting switches over to Sam’s, neat entries with little college-boy headers that Dean would make fun of him for, lists of references that even included the publishers because Stanford had made Sam kinda crazy.
Dean doesn’t like looking at the back of the journal much. Doesn’t like the idea of his handwriting pressed against Sam’s and blearing ink between the pages. It’s weird and he knows it’s stupid because it’s information they’ll—he’ll probably need again, but it doesn’t matter.
Dean’s his own boss now. He does what he wants.
He drinks for awhile longer, trying to think of other things. There are girls over there by the pinball machine, fresh-faced and capable-looking and usually just Dean’s speed, but this weariness isn’t going to leave him long enough for him to make it across the room. He keeps postponing dealing with the fact that he hasn’t had sex with anyone in four months, four freakin’ months and he’s half-stunned he’s still alive. He’s really not the type to go without, and eventually it’s gonna start to eat at him.
That’s not tonight, though, and Dean orders two shots of whatever’s highest proof and the waitress doesn’t want to bring it to him.
“Really think you oughta quit, hon,” she tells him not unkindly, empty tray shelved against her hip. “Been a long night already.”
Dean shakes his head, ups the wattage on his smile, and holds his hands out to show that he’s no threat. “You’re a doll for worrying, but I’ll be jus’ fine. Get my brother to come pick me up, ain’t gonna risk driving my baby, no ma’am.”
She hikes an eyebrow. “You got a brother why’re you drinking alone?”
Dean’s grin feels brittle but he holds it, he holds on.
“My kid brother, only seventeen. Best kid you ever met, he’ll take care of me.”
One last lie and that’s the one that takes, and Dean gets his two drinks, his head spinning, thoughts fragmented and clogged with factual errors, and he’s glad because it’s better when he’s not able to remember specific things.
He learns the carvings in the tabletop with the tips of his fingers, not looking down and trying to guess the linked sets of initials inside their lopsided hearts, Bible quotes rendered in chapter and verse, rough-hewn angels and only one swastika that Dean can find, scratched over by so many who came after that it’s very nearly indecipherable. Dean’s slightly encouraged, a thousand right-making knives against one evil-minded blade, and he thinks there might be hope for this wicked world after all.
But then Dean’s fingers stumble across letters paired with numbers and when he looks down, he reads in the cup of his hand, JWL ’62-’96 brother + friend, and his throat slams shut, heart choked off.
Misplaced panic jerks through him, his hand clawing briefly at the inscription before his fingers press down flat over the word brother. He forces his eyes shut and sits back and focuses on not freaking the fuck out quite so much.
After a moment, Dean leans his elbows on the table and covers his face with his hands, bending forward hard and letting his mouth wrench open in a silent rictus against his palms. Then he scrubs fiercely over his face and through his hair, and gets up, fights the dizzying rush of blood to make it across the bar. He slouches down in the pay phone booth, rolling his head on the wall and clutching at the little shelf.
Dean hates this so much. He can never be cool when he wants to anymore, never a straight face with everything so close to the surface. Every day he sets a new record for the worst he’s ever felt. He’s honestly not sure how much longer this can go on.
He takes down the phone, dense black plastic weight on his shoulder as he digs for the wrinkled phone card in his jeans pocket, punches in the required bazillion numbers. He doesn’t even know where he lost his cell phone; it hadn’t been working for awhile prior because Dean hadn’t bothered to pay for it. He waits, breathing shallowly, counting the rings.
Dean hasn’t expected anyone to actually pick up in a really long time.
Sam’s voicemail clicks on, sparse and clear and toneless, Sam, and Dean closes his eyes, slumps a little bit.
“Hey Sammy I need you to be alive right now okay. I swear I won’t answer but please. It’s, I’m. Pretty drunk. Um. 208 883 3147. I’m gonna sit right here and wait.”
He pauses, his breath catching. There’s a hundred other things he wants to say but he’s not allowed. “I’ll stay as long as I can.”
Dean hangs up quickly. His face is heating and he thinks he might have just made a complete idiot out of himself but he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know fucking anything.
A minute passes and then two, three, and the song overhead switches from country to western and Dean is staring at the dried wads of gum stuck in irregular polka dots on the booth wall. Dean’s hands are clenched in fists and pressed between his knees, and he’s not counting the minutes, he’s not wondering how long it’s been.
The phone rings. It comes bursting at him, sudden and so much louder than he might have expected, and Dean’s whole body jumps, his elbow cracking into the weak wood behind him. The phone rings again, shrill and cut off halfway through, and Dean grabs at the receiver, curls his hand around without removing it from the hook.
He holds it like he holds weapons, with reverence and deadly intent, and he bends forward until his forehead rests against the minor ridges of his knuckles and he stays like that for several minutes. He breathes out for the first time in however long it’s been since he last confirmed that his little brother is still of this earth.
Dean has the dream again a few nights later, and it’s always the same.
He and Sam are in some basement somewhere and they’re supposed to be hunting, Dean knows this in a diffuse sort of way: there is something down here they need to kill.
But his mind’s not in it and neither is his heart because Sam has him pressed up against the wall, and Sam’s body is laid along his own so there’s no place where they’re not touching. Sam’s breath hot on Dean’s cheek, under the edge of his jaw and jesus, teeth like a warning, making Dean choke on a gasp. Sam’s mouth is open against Dean’s throat, changing a thousand definitions.
Hands tied up in his brother’s shirts, Dean is trying to move but there’s nowhere to go. The cement at his back must be three feet thick. Dean has made his peace with Sam turning out taller than him, but he’s never really understood it like he does now, Sam’s long long leg slipping between his own, the breadth of his shoulders under Dean’s clutching hands, the way Dean is surrounded by him, locked up too tight for light to reach.
It’s so amazing. Dean’s hips are pushing forward because it’s the only leverage he’s got left and Sam is moaning in his ear and rocking back and it’s just ruining him. Dean sucks at the triphammer of Sam’s pulse, slides a hand into Sam’s hair so he can get his head back, get a better angle, and there, there.
There across the room, surging out of the black, something indefinable and unholy with wet red eyes and a horrific gaping maw and Dean shouts, tries to push Sam off but Sam won’t go, Sam won’t go, hot as a star and saying please.
Sam is torn off him, one moment when his retreating face is sheer with surprise and fear and pain, his eyes white and growing huge. His mouth makes the shape of Dean’s name but no sound comes out, a crimson trickle inching out of the corner of his lip, and the creature flings him aside like a bloody rag.
Dean draws and fires his clip empty inside three seconds. He doesn’t realize he’s screaming for the longest time, until his ears are ringing and his voice is gone, because he can see the monster draining its life into a spill of dusty moonlight, and it’s got his face.
Dean slams awake. He tries to bolt upright but he’s sleeping in the car again and only manages to ram his head into the door.
Groaning, Dean weaves his hands on the top of his head and scrunches down half-fetal. His heart is going so fast. Waking up always feels like he’s about to die.
Waiting to calm down and stop shaking, Dean doesn’t need a degree to interpret the dream. He’s aware that he’s seen The Empire Strikes Back too many times, and he can fill in the rest of his own mythology.
As it turns out, there are ways in which Dean is willing to hurt Sam.
If it gets Dean back to that one moment, that senseless frantic thing that happened between them up against a motel room wall four months again, if Dean gets another shot at that, he’s pretty sure he’ll take it. Abandon his lifetime of vigilance, nevermore swear on his brother’s safety, but instead live madly, corrupt and joyful and hopeless and never mind what it would do to Sam, never mind that. Dean would take it all.
It’s a terrible thing to know about himself. It’s why he let Sam leave.
There’s a poltergeist in an old church on the California-Nevada border, and that’s child’s play, a thoughtless exercise, so Dean heads out. A hundred miles an hour through the desert and he drives by touch, by smell. He could close his eyes and never swerve.
Dean has a psychic link with his car that he never told Sam about because he doesn’t set himself up for ridicule like that, but it’s true. The Impala’s always half a beat ahead of him, headlights flaring brighter on the signs he should pay special attention to, leading him through the webbed backroads when he’s not even sure which state he’s in. She’s the only map he needs, out here in the American West where he has been living like a fugitive for however long it’s been.
He’s seventy miles out of Carson City when he gets a sinus headache and runs out of gas. The headache was her trying to warn him, Dean knows now. He’ll pay heed next time.
She barely makes it off the highway, coughing and clattering and coasting with the clutch popped down the off-ramp, and comes to a juddering stop a mile from the truckstop. A tired guilty little sigh from the engine, the tires melting on the scorched asphalt.
“Aw, baby, that’s not your fault,” Dean tells her comfortingly with his hand petting across the steering wheel. “We’ll fix it up no problem.”
He’s sweat-stuck to the seat and makes a soft tearing sound when he levers up to get his wallet out of his back pocket. He has two wrinkled ones and the buffalo nickel that he’s had pocketed since he was eight, and that’s all.
Dean huffs. “Fine state of affairs,” he says to the passenger seat. “Middle of nowhere and broke and stuck and I swear to god this heat is not natural.”
Nobody answers. Dean drops his head onto the steering wheel for just a second, just gathering his strength to face the weather, and then he rolls up each window one at a time and throws some stuff in his backpack and writes a threatening note to leave under the windshield wiper. He walks along the side of the road with his backpack slung on one shoulder, whistling the sad walking away music from The Incredible Hulk in a mostly futile effort to keep his spirits up.
He’s drenched with sweat by the time he gets to the truckstop, and drinks half a pitcher of water while sitting under the air conditioner before he’s close to okay again. The waitress hovers and Dean weaves a sob story for her, driving away from this broken heart of mine, and holds open his wallet forlornly so that she can tut and sneak him a side of gravy-covered fries on the house.
He strips to the waist in the bathroom and washes up quickly, cursing the powdered soap as it rashes under his arms. Dean changes his shirt and presses down his hair with wet fingers and goes to ask his waitress where the nearest pool table is.
Pretty close, as it turns out, and when Dean walks in every head notches in his direction, a roomful of curious glances that turn indifferent almost immediately. Always walk in like you own the place, he thinks, and smiles slightly. He’d told Sam that in a parking lot once, when Sam was all jumpy and paranoid and freshly nineteen, fiddling with his shirt hem and clutching the brand-new fake ID Dean had gotten him for his birthday.
Dean orders a whiskey and doesn’t let it touch the bar, orders another. As of yet, he has no way of paying.
It’s an okay night and the bar’s fairly well-populated, all locals. None of the men are all the way clean-shaven, and none of the women are sitting alone. There are two pool tables in the back, worn felt and chipped stout legs, two-man capsules of light under the colored glass lamps.
Dean watches from the bar for a little while, then takes his third whiskey over closer. He keeps his expression mostly blank, tinge of casual interest as his eyes flick over the angles and banks of each possible shot, the grip each player has on his cue, the folded money on the rail.
He puts an alias on the list on the blackboard once he decides he can take all these motherfuckers. With only two dollars, he can’t take any dives first—it’ll be a straight hustle.
It works for awhile. Winner keeps the table and Dean’s two dollars becomes four then eight and then a double or nothing gets him a minted twenty dollar bill and he’s on for real.
These guys, marks he picks off one after another like skeet, they’re interchangeable with slabs of shoulder stretching out shirts, buckled motorcycle boots, one cheek popped out around a plug of chaw. Dean plays apologetically, not showing off and always offering the break, and the guys only get more pissed off, sneering at him from the shadows and wiping their chalk-dusty fingers hard on their jeans.
Dean has to quit buying drinks in order not to destroy his profit margin, but he gets spotted a few by his opponents, who want to see his eye falter and his hands lose their grace. It’s not going to work because Dean has finished whole jars of moonshine without going blind, but he appreciates the effort.
One man keeps signing up again and again, passing a string of twenty dollar bills across the felt to Dean, and his eyes get narrower every time they play, his mouth in a small knot. Dean gets a bad feeling from him, a formerly broken nose squashed flat across the bridge, white scars like salt scatters on his knuckles, eyes cold as steel, but Dean is richer by the minute and doesn’t give a shit who he takes it from. He’s playing fair. He’s just better than they are.
It’s unassailable logic and Dean foolishly thinks it will keep him safe as he folds the thick pad of money and graciously gives up the table. Tipping an invisible cap at the scowling men with their lightened pockets, Dean allows himself the first smirk of the night, saying in a sing-song:
“Thanks for a lovely time, fellas,” and that’s his big mistake.
He cuts through the parking lot, eyes fixed on the white-lit gas station glowing down the dark road. One hand secured over the wad in his pocket, Dean is humming and moving swiftly, itching for the pound of the wind when the windows are down and he’s going a hundred.
He’s thinking about his car and he’s thinking about Sam and he’s not paying the requisite attention to his surroundings. Weighted footsteps behind him, crunching on the gravel and Dean doesn’t hear it, replaying that one time when Sam told him, there’s no one in this world you can’t con.
Someone grabs his throat from behind and slings him to the ground. Dean’s cheek scrapes open on the pavement and he’s wheezing, his throat on fire, fighting to get a knee under himself. His backpack tumbles beside him with a clink, and that’s important, there’s something about that that Dean should remember.
“Fuckin’ hustler,” comes a jagged disembodied voice from above, and Dean tries to shout that he’s not, he didn’t, not this time, but all that comes out is a croak.
His wrist is grabbed and hauled up behind his back and Dean rises to his knees at the pressure, keening as his shoulder is twisted. “Fuck,” he says, his voice whistling with pain, and looks up to see Flat Nose, back for his eighty dollars and twice that taken out of Dean’s hide. “Motherfucker,” Dean gasps, how unfair, and he sounds like he’s dying.
Flat Nose tightens his grip on Dean’s wrist, bones crunching and squealing, and asks almost conversationally, “You know how many bones there are in your hand, cocksucker?”
“No.” Dean wrenches his head back and shows an insane grin, blood on his face and teeth bared at the sky and his free hand scrambling and shoving into his backpack. “Sam would know.”
And Dean sets his gun against Flat Nose’s kneecap, centered like a target, looks up wide-eyed and tells him, “Let me go or never fucking walk again.”
Dean tracks Flat Nose’s massive form down the length of his arm and the gun barrel until he disappears into the bar, and then Dean spins, hell-bent for leather with air scraping in and out of his lungs. His arm is aching and swollen-heavy and he cradles it against his stomach, running off-balance with his mind jerking through contingency plans for when the rest of the bar catches up to him.
But whether or not Flat Nose returned with reinforcements, Dean is able to get his gas and get back to the Impala without incident. Back in the driver’s seat a little past midnight, his girl purring around him, Dean can breathe again, his bruised throat opening up.
Dean could kill a poltergeist stone drunk and blindfolded, a muscle memory kind of thing, but he’s distracted today and he’s learned not to take that lightly.
He lies low, scrub desert town in the point of Nevada, a hundred and twelve degrees in the shade of the drive-in movie screen where Dean has the Impala parked. The place has been shut down for god knows how long, bare metal posts sticking out of the ground with the chunky metal speakers decapitated.
Dean has a Styrofoam cooler filled with ice and beers, and he keeps his hands in there, buried wrist-deep. Melting so fast and his hands are numb and it’s like he’s dissolving too, one piece at a time. The skin of his arms is confused with the air as hot as soup, the cold shivering up, and he’s riddled with goosebumps.
Earlier, it was McDonald’s and Dean was hungover, closer to asleep, shuffling and sweating in his sunglasses and thin undershirt. He ordered three egg mcmuffins and five things of hashbrowns and the cashier, wrecked martian landscape of a teenaged face under a yellow-red paper cap, gave him a put-upon look, sunken eyes rolling.
“It’s one o’clock in the afternoon,” the kid told him.
And Dean said out loud, “Fuck, dude, you should have told me,” and the kid looked faintly surprised amidst his general discontent, dark eyebrows hunching down, but Dean was talking to Sam.
Dean was talking to Sam, who could really only qualify as his fucking invisible friend at this point, and he was doing it in public and he hadn’t even thought about it, and he spun, got the hell out of there.
He walked around in the unimaginable heat until he barely felt human, found a taco truck where he kept glancing at the shiny silver side, his reflection warped worse than a funhouse mirror. Nothing was going his way, his flip-flops sticking like gum to the asphalt and even his car had turned against him, blistering hot to the touch.
And his throat ached for missing Sam; it was a bad day for that. Sometimes Dean did okay and stayed on the job all day, drunk all night and woke up without remembering his dreams, but other times it was like this.
Dean decided not to go after the poltergeist just yet, retreated to the drive-in and set about getting himself methodically loaded. And so he remains, the bottles slipping between his deadened fingers and rolling through the dry red dirt.
He closes his eyes and he can see Sam that night, the night before the morning after, some stupid moment when Dean passed Sam the bottle across the gap between the beds, and Sam had grinned at him and grabbed his wrist, tipping his head back and guiding Dean to feed him a shot. Before anything else had happened, Dean remembers the circle of Sam’s fingers around his wrist and his mouth against the bottle, the slow slick move of his throat as he swallowed.
Dean would like to believe that he never realized about Sam before that moment, never knew that Sam could look like that and cause this kind of domino fall, but he suspects it’s bullshit. He thinks a lot about the summer of Sam’s fifteenth year, when he kept getting taller and taller and his hair was always heavy with salt and hanging in his eyes. Dean remembers sparring with him and wrestling and feeling punch-drunk, skidding and slamming his hands on Sam’s suddenly real body. He remembers the banked power in Sam’s arms when he had Dean in a hold, and the two of them obsessed with each other in a vague simmering way, all jealousy and impatience, and sometimes he was worried about that but he didn’t know why.
So. Dean thinks it wasn’t entirely unprecedented.
But he does wish he’d managed to put it together earlier. If he’d figured out on his own that it wasn’t just codependency, but fucked-up gay incestuous codependency, he might have dealt with it. Scoured it right out of his mind with some kind of aversion therapy, some kind of deprogramming, he could have held back from Sam and taken all the care in the world and never let on, and it probably would have gone away eventually. Dean can accomplish a lot when he sets his mind to it.
But maybe all his teachers were right and he’s just not that smart, because instead it took his legs out from under him in a motel room in the Northeast. Drunk and Sam was smiling so big, goofy kid’s grin that Sam almost never wears anymore. Drunk and Sam was right there with his messy hair and his half-covered eyes flickering and all at once it was like nothing was familiar about him, everything was new and Dean finally got it.
It hit him like a two-by-four, wanting to get his hands under Sam’s shirt, press them flat with the fabric bunched around his wrists and he could see it, he could almost taste it. And he got wobbling to his feet, had to get away from Sam because that was crazy, it was impossible. It was the worst idea that Dean had ever had, and he couldn’t get it out of his head.
From that moment forward through all the miles and months and miseries to this moment, Dean has been unable to get it out of his head.
He thinks he might have been trying to leave when he got up, stumbling for the door, but where were they (Jersey, Sam could have told him, outside Trenton) and where was he gonna go? Sam said his name and said what’re you doing and came over and pulled Dean away from the door, pushed him lightly against the wall and said, what, what did Sam say?
“Did you get lost?”
There was no hope for Dean, his back hit the wall and it was over. Sam was still only joking, just fucking around but when he pushed his hair back, Dean could see his eyes and Dean could see that Sam was staring at his mouth. Dean squeezed his eyes shut and pressed back even though there was nowhere to go. This couldn’t be happening to him, no way.
He said Sam’s name hoarse and stricken, but he didn’t think Sam was listening. Sam’s hand curved over his shoulder and Dean felt him leaning in, and he turned his head quick, gasping between his teeth. Sam didn’t care, kissing Dean’s cheek and ducking to his throat and Dean was shaking, hands flat on the wall but that didn’t last.
Dean couldn’t explain it, still can’t. Sam’s so much smarter than he is; maybe Dean can be taken in by the worst idea of the century, but Sam’s supposed to know better. Sam can’t be the same type of crazy as Dean is, otherwise they’re both dead.
But Sam was crazy at least that one time, mouthing Dean’s jaw and telling him in a heartbreaking slur:
“Move, Dean, please,” and as if he’d suddenly been freed Dean’s arms were around Sam’s neck and his face was hot against Sam’s. He felt the grin when it broke, felt Sam’s hands fall to work on his belt and Dean knotted his fingers into Sam’s hair, held on.
Against the wall like that, pushing against each other fast and desperate as high schoolers, Dean kept saying his brother’s name almost like a question, trying to be sure, and Sam would laugh breathlessly, yeah, yeah. Belts and flies hanging open, hips pressed flush, and Sam bit at Dean’s ear, let Dean fist his hands hard in his hair and growl and say the strangest things.
Drunk and crazy and drunk some more and it was an awful thing that happened between them that night. Up against the wall with no path of escape and no real awareness in Sam’s eyes, slurring and gripping Dean’s hips without care, hard enough to leave bruises for the whole length of the excruciating week that followed. It wasn’t at all like it should have been, because it shouldn’t have been.
Just that one time, maybe ten minutes all told because Dean couldn’t help it and Sam was no better. Desperate was a good word, and reckless too, rubbing up against his kid brother mindless and frenzied with all that power flowing through him, the great weight of destruction gathering like a black cloud above, because Dean knew even in the moment that this was going to be the end of them.
Dean dispatches the poltergeist before lunch the next morning, drives six hundred and fifty miles north to Green River, Wyoming, and treats himself to a motel room.
After sleeping in the car for so long, Dean can’t sleep stretched out. It feels too vulnerable, the bed offering him up like a sacrifice on an altar, and he draws his legs up, tucks his hands under his cheek. He’s tossed the pillows onto the floor. He’s left the window open to hear the enormous trucks trundling past like freight trains, smell the faint holocaustic smell of diesel.
The rumor Dean followed up here is of your garden-variety wagon-train-turned-cannibal, now haunting the Boy Scout camp on the far side of Castle Rock. It’s really only a rumor of a rumor, unreliably exaggerated like a campfire story, but Dean had nowhere else to go after Searchlight. Green River at least kept him moving.
Dean hasn’t been east of the Mississippi River since Sam left. Too many people in too many buildings, not enough space or sky, and those are not the real reasons.
Dean’s pretty sure Sam’s still back east. No real evidence to support that, other than that he feels if Sam were within a thousand miles Dean would be able to sense him.
In the morning, Dean checks his camping gear, and finds two parallel foot-long tears in the side of his tent. Rain is plainly imminent in the suffocating loom of the purple-black clouds over the mesas that sparkle with shards of lightning, so Dean asks around for a sporting goods store, steered in the proper direction.
Tents are hella expensive. Dean makes a mental note to keep the machetes on the other side of the trunk going forward, and pays with crumpled handfuls of fives and tens, he and the clerk working together to smooth them out for the drawer.
Already kinda exhausted from not sleeping well (even by his standards) and still with a five-mile hike to the Boy Scout camp to look forward to, Dean asks, “Can I use your phone?”
“’s over there.” The kid points to the register at the end of the counter, and Dean hauls his tent in its giant box over.
Tapping his fingers on the cardboard in a modified drum riff, Dean counts down the rings until Sam’s voicemail picks up, idly watching two blonde-haired boys play wiffle ball at the far end of the store. He probably won’t even leave a message, or maybe something random and dumb like how much ramen he’s gonna have to eat to pay off this new tent, but then Sam’s recorded voice tells him:
“Dean, I need you to come meet me in Ohio. Outside Dayton, place called New Lebanon. I, I’m not messing around, I need some help.” There’s a pause and Dean’s heart stops beating for exactly as long. “When you get here, I mean, if you come, just, just keep calling until I answer. I’ll answer. Okay.”
And it ends right there, the strident beep slicing through Dean’s ear.
“Fuck,” Dean says and then remembers that Sam will be able to hear this. His mouth opens and shuts a few times and the seconds slide by and his mind is clean and then it spills out of him, “Yeah, Sam, on my way, and I.”
Dean stops, swallows past something thick in his throat. “I’ll see you,” he finishes, quickly hanging up the phone and maybe it was an impossibly lame thing to say, but it’s what he’s got, and then he hears it, I’ll see you, and realizes it’s actually a whole fucking lot.
Fifteen hundred miles and Dean thinks he can make it before midnight.
After having to take a rather extensive detour to shake the cop who tried to pull him over in Nebraska (said detour may also have included the tiniest bit of Kansas), Dean reaches New Lebanon at dawn.
Sleepy rockwellian suburb with neat gridded streets and American flags stuck over every garage door, unmoving and hanging limp off the thin backslashed poles. Lots of the houses have red- and green-hatted gnomes in the yard, and Dean remembers how Sammy couldn’t get enough of that shit when he was five or six years old, naming each one and inventing grand gnomish backstories, lining them up like an army on the grass.
He yawns, hearing his jaw pop. Rubs at his eyes with the side of his hand and cracks his neck back and forth. He’s scanning the sidewalks for Sam, the vacant lots and little parks, wondering how the hell Sam ended up here, even though Dean recognizes that this might be what Sam always meant when he was talking about a normal life. So quiet and inconsequential, and maybe Sam has gotten a job in the cramped-looking bookstore Dean passes, maybe he volunteers to umpire Little League games on Saturdays and gets his eggs, waffle, and coffee at that retro diner across the street from town hall.
Dean could definitely see it.
A Quik-Stop approaches, shining red and white and the lines coming into focus. Dean wheels in and skews across three parking spaces, unloads his pockets onto the scratched counter and gets a palmful of change for the pay phone, which is next to the arcade game in the back.
Dean messes up Sam’s number the first couple of times because he was right, he can sense Sam. Somewhere in this town, less than five thousand people here and Sam’s one of them. Dean wants to holler in the parking lot, convinced that Sam is within earshot.
Finally, finally he gets it right, and he’s counting the rings just like always, his other hand fisted and pressed on the side of the Street Fighter machine. One ring, two, and then, oh and then:
Sam directs him to a motel on the Dayton side of town, Dean’s first clue that Sam hasn’t settled down just yet. Or, really, his first clue is Sam’s voice, stilted and worn by highway dust, cracking with weariness, but Dean is stupidly happy to hear it again, he doesn’t mind.
Room 13, and Dean pulls up right in front, lets the headlights wash across the curtained window and the door with the 3 hanging crooked. He pictures Sam inside, looking over as a frame of light comes glowing to life around the window, unfolding himself from off the bed and padding over to the door.
Dean gets out and walks up, stands before the door with his hands in his pockets, just breathing. He glances sideways at the window to see if Sam is peeking, but no. Dean kicks the door, not trusting his hands.
Too fast for him to be standing anywhere but directly on the other side (eye wedged on the glass, no doubt), Sam jerks the door open.
They stare at each other for a long time.
Sam has lost weight that he can in no way spare, collarbones hard and visible through his T-shirt and his cheeks gone slightly hollow. There are brownish contusions under his eyes that fire concern and rage through Dean, thinking Sam’s been brawling and getting beat, but then Sam blinks and Dean realizes they’re just insomniac rings, a pair to match Dean’s own. He looks shocked and unsteady and deeply afraid, some kind of stony Sam thing happening underneath, something glittering in his eyes as he looks at Dean.
He has one hand on the door, the other on the jamb, and he fills the frame, completes the picture and Dean almost tackles him to the floor with a hug but instead hears himself saying roughly:
“Not only do they have a Room 13, you actually let them put you in Room 13?”
Sam blinks again, his mouth slightly open and Dean has to jerk his eyes back up as Sam says, “What?” Sam’s brow furrows, and he looks back at the door, his eyebrows going up. “Oh. Huh.” He shrugs, gives Dean an uncertain look. “You look like shit.”
“Let me in, I’ll look a little better.”
Sam steps back automatically, and Dean’s stomach clenches, biting the inside of his cheek. Sam runs a hand through his lank hair nervously, and maybe tries to smile but it doesn’t take. His stuff is spread out enough that Dean knows he’s been here for a little while. Dean sees Sam’s dirty shoes and the lame stickers on his laptop and the carved handle of his sickle sticking out of his bag, and finds that he’s missed those things something awful, the comforting detritus of Sam’s day-to-day existence.
Dean looks back and Sam has his back to the closed door, his arms crossed on his chest. He’s chewing his lip, watching Dean.
“You’re okay?” Sam asks.
Dean nods. “You?”
Sam shrugs again, but says, “Yeah.”
They fall into a terrible silence. Sam shouldn’t be standing against the door like that, it’s doing bad things to Dean’s head. Sam’s jeans sag loose on his hips and Dean imagines his hands there for a second, locking Sam into his palms, holding him down. His throat goes dry and he licks his lips, hating that his legs are shaking.
“You rang?” Dean manages. Sam twitches, his chin jerking.
Dean waits, but Sam doesn’t add anything, his face pinched. “You said you needed help.”
Nodding, Sam pushes off the door and paces over to the bedside table, picking up an unfamiliar book with a plain black cover and spine. “Yeah. Here.”
Sam leafs a little ways into the book and Dean sees that it’s a blank journal, the first dozen pages scribbled over with Sam’s handwriting. He finds the page he wants and turns the book towards Dean, offering it to him.
Dean crosses to him, weirdly spooked and he doesn’t want to take the journal but Sam’s holding it out and begging him with his eyes.
A fire demon, an ifrit, and Sam has written its true name is painstaking Arabic, the phonetic pronunciation spelled out underneath. It’s going after kids, burning them alive in their beds, and Sam’s handwriting does not falter as he lists the innocent dead, the five year old in a racecar bed, the seven year old with Star Wars sheets.
Dean is confused, badly knocked off-balance. He pages through the earlier part of the book and sees more cases, a werewolf, a woman in white, a nest of vampires, marching backwards in time through the four months they’ve been apart.
He looks up, his eyebrows hunched down. “What the fuck is this?”
“It. It’s an ifrit, Dean, didn’t you-”
“No, Sam, what the fuck is this book?” Dean chucks it at him and Sam catches it, baffled, curling his huge hands around it protectively.
“What do you mean?” Sam asks, kinda desperate but a little more angry. “A case journal, it’s my case journal.”
“You’re hunting.” That was supposed to come out as a question, but not so much. “You’ve been hunting this whole time?”
Sam looks down at the book in his hands, looks back up at Dean with his killer eyes flashing. “Of course I’ve been hunting. Haven’t you?”
“Of course, but that’s, that’s me, that’s totally expected.”
“What, you’re good enough to go it alone but I’m not?”
“Don’t fucking pick a fight with me, Sammy,” Dean warns him, and Sam laughs out loud.
“Okay, we’ll just carry on with the fight you picked.”
Dean glares at him. He’s not picking fights. It’s kind of a crucial piece of information that Dean didn’t have, Sam taking on the underworld all by his lonesome. It jars Dean because what if something had happened, what if Dean tried to call Sam’s voicemail some night and the number was disconnected, his brother just that easily eradicated from the world. Dean might never have known how it happened, chasing myth and heresy, straining to find meaning in the static at the end of the line.
“I didn’t know you were, that’s all,” Dean says, forcibly calming himself. Sam’s hell on his better intentions.
“What’d you think I was doing?” Sam sounds genuinely curious, his shoulders still tense.
Dean shrugs. “I dunno. Real job somewhere, I guess. Place of your own. Maybe even a car.”
“I have a car, Dean.”
“Well, good.” He sits down heavily on the edge of the bed, suddenly tired beyond expression. “Not that you’d know what to do with it.”
He stares at the carpet between his feet. He’d really thought that Sam had been glad to get out of this life, that he’d gone and made something of himself. And maybe sometimes Dean thought it was worth it to ruin things forever the way they did, because at least it got Sam out guilt-free. No one would have expected him to stay after recognizing the kind of man Dean turned out to be, and at least now Sam would be safe.
But hunting obviously isn’t any part of why Sam left.
“Dean,” Sam says softly, and Dean’s head snaps up. Their eyes meet with a crack and then Sam’s dart away hastily, his throat ducking. “Thank you for coming.”
Something snags in Dean’s chest, and he makes a strange quiet noise, a sad kinda sigh. He wants to get up and go over to Sam, put his hand on the back of Sam’s neck and pull him down until his mouth is on Dean’s and Dean will be able to breathe then, he’s sure of it.
He looks away. “It’s not a problem.”
Silence falls again, and Dean thinks that this would be the moment to bring it up, for Sam to say, “and about that other thing,” blushing hot-red and staring at his feet, telling Dean haltingly that it’s too weird and it can’t happen again, both things that he has told Dean before.
But instead he says, “You can get some sleep, if you want. I can, I’ll finish up some of this research stuff and fill you in later and then we can go tonight.”
Sam’s talking fast, anxious, and Dean nods along, watching Sam’s hands flit and stammer in the air. Dean thinks he should volunteer to sleep in his car, just to let Sam have a little peace of mind, and the very idea of it makes him want to curl up into a ball and cry, but then Sam says:
“I can just move this stuff-” and he’s grabbing his laptop and some papers from off the bed, clearing a place for Dean.
Dean stares at Sam’s hair falling across his face as he leans down near where Dean is sitting, the clean line of his jaw and his lower lip looking bitten and perfect, his long neck and Dean clutches his leg as tightly as he can, determinedly not remembering the warm give of Sam’s throat under his mouth.
Sam backs off, dumps his junk on the little table and takes the single chair, blinking down at his book with distant incomprehension. Dean realizes he’s gazing all moonstruck and shit, and yanks his boots off, irritated with himself. Dean lies down and rolls over on his side, his back to Sam, and closes his eyes.
Sam needs help on a case. That’s why he left that message for Dean, why Dean came flying across the Midwest without thought to possible jail time. Sam hasn’t found life to be a pale and friendless trudge without Dean, hasn’t grown to regret the admittedly true things he said on the morning after, and he hasn’t brought Dean here to offer him anything.
Sam had told him, “You’re my brother and I love you but I can’t,” and left.
Dean lets that play in his head over and over again until he drifts off, trying to engrave it on his mind like a law carved in stone.
The dream is different this time.
This time they’re in a motel room and the walls are on fire. It’s Sam’s fault; every time he touches something it goes up in flames.
Dean can hear his hair crackling and he jerks his head, watching the sparks fly. Sam’s close enough that Dean can see the firework reflection in his eyes. He flattens his hand next to Dean’s head and an outline of fire flares around his fingers.
“You gotta stop,” Dean says, barely able to breathe. These motel rooms are as flimsy as cardboard; if one part burns the whole thing will go.
And Sam’s laughing and shaking his head, licking at Dean’s throat and it’s hotter than fire could ever hope to be.
“I was made for this,” Sam tells him. “So were you.”
Dean’s eyes are raw and torn and wet but it might be blood. His shirt is smoldering and growing holes like black-edged tumors that Sam follows with his fingers, smearing soot on the bare skin of Dean’s stomach. Stuff that won’t wash away, like the blisters Sam’s mouth is leaving on Dean, the mad incendiary glee in his eyes.
“You weren’t,” Dean says, insistent with his hands pressing on Sam’s shoulders. The ceiling has caught, charred plaster crumbling and raining around them. “It was never supposed to be like this.”
“What you wanted,” Sam says, sneaky Cheshire grin that Dean wants to bite away. “What you always wanted and me too.”
“No.” Dean shakes his head and ignores the way his whole being is crying out for his brother. “That’s not a good enough reason.”
“Reason?” Sam laughs and his smile is white and joyful. “You don’t want a reason.”
Dean doesn’t know what to say to that, doesn’t really know what Sam means and anyway, the room is disintegrating around them. Ashes stick like snowflakes to Sam’s eyelashes and his hands are smoothing down Dean’s hair, snuffing the trickles of flame crawling along his shoulders. Sam is trembling like a car pushed too hard, and Dean can see patches of sky now, indigo and smudged with pale smoke.
“See?” Sam says, resting his forehead against Dean’s briefly. “You thought it was gone forever but I’d never do that to you.”
Dean nods. He has no idea what Sam’s talking about and he doesn’t care. He thinks they might both be on fire, but he’s really not sure.
Sam places two fingers under Dean’s chin and lifts his face and Dean’s heart clutches, Sam’s breath warm on his mouth and his easy smile parting, exhaling the sound of Dean’s name and then Dean wakes up.
“No,” he moans automatically, digging his face into the pillow. One more second, that’s all he needed, and the loss of it is crippling.
“Dean?” Sam asks too close, his hand closing suddenly on Dean’s shoulder, and Dean wrenches away in shock, sucking in a breath between his teeth. Sam’s hand stutters against his back and then retreats, and he says, “I’m sorry, I thought,” and then cuts himself off and Dean feels the bed giving up his weight.
He takes a minute to pull himself together and wake up more fully, whitewash his mind of the fire dream and all thought of Sam’s hands, and then he carefully rolls over. Sam is standing over the little table, hands in his pockets and a miserable expression on his face.
“Hi,” Dean says, trying out his voice and mostly recognizing it.
Sam attempts a smile that looks like he’s got a gun to his head. “Afternoon.”
“Shit.” Dean levers up, swinging his legs off the bed and taking his head in his hands. “You shouldn’t have let me sleep so long.”
“Yeah, well. You looked like you needed it.”
Dean glances back over his shoulder and finds Sam staring at him, strangely fixated as if hypnotized, but when Dean meets his eyes Sam sorta shrugs and smirks, looking away. Sam stands like he’s too tired to keep his shoulders up, slouching and hiding his height like he hasn’t done since he was sixteen and kept tripping on everything.
Dean gets up, his stomach aching and his head blood-rushing. He grabs his bag and gestures indistinctly at the bathroom, telling Sam, “Just gonna,” and sees Sam nod. Dean ducks in and it feels like he’s taking cover and it’s the weirdest thing to think, Sam like a threat, an enemy.
Dean takes his time washing up and changing his shorts and T-shirt, trying to get his head on straight. His face in the mirror looks hollow, a week unshaven and rough, eyes sunk down like bullet holes. Dean wonders what Sam sees when he looks at him. If Dean is the picture behind Sam’s eyelids like Sam is Dean’s.
The water’s pounding hot and steam is rising. Fog eats away at the mirror and if Dean stands here long enough he’ll be able to watch his features blur and disappear. It kinda sounds like fun, but there are more important things to worry about.
Sam is seated at the table when Dean comes out, his head snagging up as if involuntarily. He tries that bad smile again and Dean can’t hide his wince. Sam thankfully lets it drop, his face tense and sad again but at least his own.
“So what’s the problem?” Dean asks, sitting on the edge of the bed because there isn’t another chair. “You know all about ifrits, you’ve banished like a dozen.”
Sam looks faintly relieved, one big hand spread out on his opened journal. “Somebody’s summoning it. I have banished it. Three times. Somebody’s bringing it back.”
“Really? That’s a neat trick.”
Sam’s eyes get thin and hard. “The body count is up to four. None of them over ten years old.”
Dean flinches. “Okay, ‘neat’ wasn’t the best word.”
“Not really, no. Here.” Sam passes Dean a handful of newspaper clippings and Dean shuffles through them, grainy freckled faces, little boys with missing teeth and little girls in braids, spit-shined and dressed in nice clothes, each posed the same way because each is a school picture. They’re difficult to look at because none of the children will ever take another.
“I’ve been looking for a pattern, figure out who would want to hurt these kids in particular, but none of them even knew each other. Four kids in two different schools, all different classes. They don’t share a sports team or a babysitter or a fucking pediatrician, nothing.”
Dean looks up from the clippings, sees Sam tear a frustrated hand through his hair. “How long have you been on this job?”
“Three weeks. I didn’t pick it up until Jake and Chrissy were already dead. And I thought I had it, I was sure.”
Sam stops and stares down at the table for a minute. Dean watches him drop his hands to his lap and squeeze one fist into another, knuckles popping.
“I banished it,” Sam says tonelessly. “Thought I did. And I left, I, I thought it was gone so I left. I got to Kentucky before I heard about Taylor McCormack. The mortician’s assistant told me that the fire fused her retainer to her palate and they had to bury her like that.”
Sam shudders, curling into his shoulders. “I know. It’s all kinds of fucked up.”
The shell-like curve of Sam’s back and his bowed head draw Dean’s eyes, his stomach sinking and twisting. Sam holds himself differently, cautious and defensive, and Dean doesn’t know if that’s because of what happened or just how Sam operates when he’s on his own. Dean doesn’t like it. It makes Sam seem scared, which Dean is pretty sure Sam is not.
“Well,” Dean says a little too loud, wishing Sam would look at him again. “I’m here now. So things are obviously looking up.”
Sam snorts quietly. “Obviously.”
“C’mon, Sammy.” Dean gets up and risks a quick smack on Sam’s shoulder, feeling Sam’s body jerk under his hand for a split second. “Show me this so-called car of yours.”
That’s how to play it, Dean decides, like nothing ever happened. He checks his gun and tucks it in his belt at the small of his back. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Sam folding newspaper clippings carefully back into his journal, and Dean bites the inside of his cheek, counting down from ten.
Something is plainly wrong with Sam, and Dean did that. Dean fucked him up and then let him leave and now, four months on, he shouldn’t be surprised to find a shambling mess where he left his brother. He shouldn’t be so shaken by the sight of Sam all uncertain and pissed-off and helpless. Dean can fix this. Pretend it never happened and pretend that he never thinks about it, and maybe someday Sam will actually believe him. Maybe somewhere far down the line, Dean will be able to give Sam back his brother.