Sequel to Removed
Author: Mink & Jink
Rating: R - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Sam knew the trip back over the borders to South Dakota would be long and quiet.
He offered to drive every time he found himself awake again, the time seeming to have not magically slipped by for hours each occasion he made to rest his eyes. Bobby always said no with a shake of his head. Sam supposed it was something ingrained in their kind, like bad backs on nurses and trick knees on athletes. If they knew how to do anything, it was drive straight through whether they felt wide awake or not.
The cab of the truck didn’t feel all that crowded. Its bench seat was deeper and wider than the one he was used to, give or take a few stray coiled springs working their way up through the worn padding under the leather. For some reason he couldn’t wait to see the weed choked start at the wind of Bobby’s dirt road. He wanted to settle down within the dim cool inside of a carefully warded house and just quietly take stock of what had all happened.
He wanted to take a shower and change his clothes that he’d been traveling in for days. There were certain remedies he could mix up himself that would finally take away most of the nauseating stick and feel of another mind that had nestled tight into his own. Rubbing absently at his temples, he couldn’t shake the sensation of someone shooting through his memories and every thought like his brain had been a cheap yard sale. Everything Noqoìlpi had touched had been deemed as useless as second hand garbage that was of value to only the person who had had the audacity to put a price on it.
He didn’t want to keep drifting off up against the dusty window. It was so hard to fight his eyes that wanted to send his body into the oblivion it had been denied for much too long. Using his fingers, he started pinching himself hard on the soft skin of his inner arm. When that stopped working, he covertly dipped those same fingers in the scalding hot coffee handed to him after he’d paced the small parking lot of a rest stop.
Bobby as usual, didn’t miss a whole lot.
“It’s another six hours at least.” He murmured. “Why don’t you just go ahead and get some shut eye.”
Sam looked between them, his blurry gaze falling on his brother who hadn’t woken up once to ask if he should take a turn behind the wheel. They had checked him all over before they started moving. Bobby had said things like: ‘superficial wounds’; ‘pattern bruising’ and ‘needs a few good meals’. It had all been a hectic blur then. But now that Sam could take a good long look at his brother, he could really see the kind of damage that had been done.
Dean was noticeably thinner, his skin paler from lack of sunlight and what was plainly malnourishment. His hands twitched, even in the deep sleep he’d fallen into as soon as the engine turned. It wasn’t the kind of twitch a person did naturally when they were caught up in some REM cycle of dreaming, it was something physical, some kind of nervous reaction. The dark round marks that started at his wrists and disappeared up under his jacket sleeves made Sam’s jaw clench.
The first thing he was going to do when they got to a safe place was take all these clothes from his brother. The green shiny jacket and the camouflage trousers. The scuffed dirty boots and whatever else those men had forced Dean to wear. He was going to pour gasoline on it all in a pile and set it on fire until there was nothing left. Sam swallowed as he watched Dean continue to sleep undisturbed even after Bobby swerved in a jagged line to avoid a meandering semi that couldn’t choose which lane to stay in. He couldn’t torch everything that had been left on his brother.
He wasn’t even sure what exactly he’d find when Dean finally opened his eyes and was for the first time in months, right back at home.
The first few days were as silent and still as the ride back to Bobby’s place had been.
Sam had been anxious at first despite the older man’s explanation of just how much of the good stuff Yueller and Keens had made sure went into Dean’s system for their last hurrah. The mildest form of recreational psychotropic stayed in the blood stream for up to 12 or 15 hours after use. They had both guessed that Dean hadn’t been dosed just once and however many times it had occurred, it hadn't been small reasonable amounts.
"Just be glad he’s not seeing things on the walls and talking nonsense.” Bobby told him with a pat on Sam’s shoulder. “That stuff can make you crazy.”
He watched Dean’s sleep turn less restful as time wore on. He knew while his brother might not be awake, there was still some trip the drugs had sent him on still running in his own head. It was nothing blissfully serene either considering the strange sounds he’d make that would jar Sam awake from his sprawl in the seat by the window. Other drugs helped at times like that, just like they helped the hapless fools out there in the real world that took copious amounts of the stuff on purpose and got just as lost.
Sam settled himself back in the large old chair he’d moved into his brother’s room on the first night. It was falling apart but was about as comfortable as any bed and suited his frame when most furniture didn’t. When he couldn’t take the silence anymore he’d wander down the stairs, obsessively reading and rereading everything Bobby had on the desert god. Convincing himself over and over that everything that needed to be done had been done. The thing wouldn’t come looking for them now. Sam might have cheated, but he’d won the wager fair and square according to the celestial rule books.
When he finally left Dean alone on the third night to find a bed of his own, he lay down with a heavy sigh. Despite everything that had happened and the shit those men had dragged him and his brother through, he couldn’t help but wonder just exactly where they were now.
Wagers lost to Gods didn’t usually come out very well. Unfortunately, Sam’s imagination was just vivid enough that even though he yearned for some decent rest, he didn’t find any until dawn started to glow softly on the window panes.
It was a relief to stumble down the hall in the middle of the hot afternoon and see Dean’s empty unmade bed.
Noting the open bathroom door as he moved quickly down the stairs, he could hear the steady low voice of their host back there in the kitchen. Sam slowed his pace a little knowing the sound of him on the steps had already announced his presence but a little wary of interrupting whatever conversation that might be taking place. He also realized he didn’t know what to say when it came time for him to open his mouth. His brother had never taken to blatant concern very well.
In fact, when he turned that corner he bet Dean would be on his third bowl of cereal and asking for a fourth time just exactly where his car was. He’d need a shave real bad and he’d be wearing some dirty black concert T-shirt that he’d maybe left here once when they’d stopped by. He’d see the look on Sam’s face and make some stupid joke to put the brakes on whatever crap his little brother looked like he was about to start reciting.
Feeling the start of a tired smile come to his face, Sam took a deep breath and walked right in.
“Come on Dean, just a little bit.” Bobby urged softly.
Sam paused in the doorway, unprepared for what he saw seated at the uneven wood table. Bobby’s gaze flickered up at him and then back to the plate of toast and some eggs that was sitting untouched in front of Dean.
“I’m not hungry.” Dean mumbled.
Not hungry? Sam swallowed back what he wanted to say knowing it wasn’t anything anyone in this room didn’t know already. Dean had been in bed for almost three days straight and had done nothing but sip water and make trips to the bathroom. Before that, God only knew how often or what those men had been forcing him to subsist on besides massive doses of medication. There was no black T-shirt but one of Bobby’s flannels, hanging on Dean like it was a few sizes too big, the daylight showing the true pallor of his face, and the strange new delicate cant of the overt definition of his collar bones. Sam could see it all more clearly now. The leanness in his features. His arms. Even his hands.
“Just try to eat some of it.” Sam listened to himself say.
He remembered the days he’d been left without food and then tried to reason that experience in terms of weeks and months. He slowly sat down opposite of Dean and nudged the plate closer to his twitching hands.
Dean reluctantly lifted a piece of dry toast and put it in his mouth. The room was weirdly quiet and attentive to his every move, waiting anxiously to see if it would be one bite or hopefully the entire thing.
His brother didn’t make it even half way through.
“It’s okay, it’s all right.” Bobby said when Dean looked up at him apologetically, breathlessly trying to support himself on the table edge as he leaned over and threw up again onto the tile floor. “This place has seen worse, don’t you worry.”
Sam was grateful for the smile that came with Bobby’s remark. He pulled Dean up by his shaking arm, and felt a strange guilt for having asked him to eat when he had already said he didn’t want to. Dean was just trying to make all the nervous people around him at ease. He wanted this all to go away just as badly as they did.
Helping his brother back to bed, Sam wondered why he never realized it just wasn’t going to be that easy.
Sam didn’t like it but he sure as hell hadn’t planned on it.
The nature of their lives, and he suspected those of people in the world in general, tended to have events arise and demand your attention when you had the least time for it. Of course it had been at first a job. One of Bobby’s jobs which wasn't exactly the brand of stuff Sam was particularly used to.
Bobby’s war was waged almost exclusively in the quiet buildings and dusty basements of the undisturbed academic. His passion and focus lay in his knowledge of what and where, who and why. It wasn’t to say the old man didn’t occasionally get some blood or worse on his hands, but on the spectrum of the men that walked in the dark, he was a kind that moved mostly with his weapon loaded but lowered at his side.
But he took calls for his aid extremely seriously, and when he got one at almost dawn on the following Monday, he had his pick up mostly packed before Sam could even figure out what was going on. The details weren’t very forthcoming, but that was another trait of their work that Sam had long since learned to stem his frustration from. He was glad Bobby had no problem with leaving his home to them both. It was less than an issue, one that Bobby didn't even feel the need to address.
The dust hadn’t even cleared from the end of the long winding driveway when Sam’s own cell startled him from his jacket pocket. He’d just tossed it on because of the chill and hadn’t even remembered the phone considering he’d gone for so many days without hearing it.
It had already hit the voice mail by the time he’d gotten to it.
Standing out there in the driveway he heard an old familiar voice speak in a low tense way. It was a message they had repeated over and over, the short sighs, and subdued quiet making it even harder to listen to the date, an address and a hope that Sam would be able to drive out there for the thing. They assured him that they’d understand if he couldn’t.
They really would.
“How’d he die?”
Funny that Dean’s first question was probably exactly what Sam’s should have been too. Weirdly enough he hadn’t thought about it until the moment it came out of Dean’s mouth. He supposed that was what shock did to you. It made your brain stumble and stop so it didn’t work in any linear sense.
“I don’t know.” Sam answered honestly. “He was in a few of my Federal Civil Procedure courses and um, a couple of my Government Litigation.”
“Must have been pretty young.”
Sam looked up at his brother, his elbows at his knees letting him work his hands as if he’d been trying to get them into real knots. The funeral was two states away back at the hometown his ex-classmate had left behind.
“Are-are you sure it’s—“
Sam swallowed at the awkward stuttering tone that Dean’s voice had lowered to. The thought that those men were still somehow out there looking for them hadn’t really been any part of Sam’s logic process since he saw them vanish like ghosts. The idea that Dean didn’t or hadn’t experienced that form of closure made Sam a little surprised. And suddenly, a little worried.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure, Dean.” Sam had called the appropriate parties back. He had said the right things. Well worn phrases he knew better than any physician or Priest when it came for times of loss and fear.
“So when are you going?”
Sam stared hard at the floor, trying to will his right knee from bouncing like it tended to do when he was lost inside his own nervous agitation. He had to do this right or this would end up in some stupid throw down fight he really didn’t feel like having.
“I decided not to go.”
That was easier to say than, there’s no way in hell I’m leaving you here all alone in this house by yourself after I found you like that out in the desert. It's only been two weeks since those fucking lunatics stopped torturing you with God only knows what and I don't even know what else because you won’t open your god damn mouth about it...
In fact, it had only been a week since he'd stopped wearing that damn puke green army surplus crap that they'd forced him to own. Dean hadn't said anything but Sam knew he was wondering where the last of it had gone.
Sam would show him if he wanted. All of it. Burnt up black in the bottom of a steel oil drum out back amongst the endless stacks of dissembled automobile exo-skeletons. Sam had burned the duffel bag too. The thick leather combat boots. The yellowed neatly printed rule books self published by a military man that had had a lot of rhetoric and how to implement it. The methods. How often. How hard. The penalties. The rewards. The punishments. The unyielding language that did not bend for any simple human error.
He had even read some of it. Trying not to see where certain pages had been dog tagged, trying not to imagine his brother reading the thing with a flashlight, night after night, in whatever shit hole they were keeping him in. Whatever back of some van they'd used to get around. He couldn’t read much of it. It had made him sick. Angry. The worst kind of helpless now that it was all said and done and he hadn’t been able to bring Dean out and away from those people any sooner than he had.
“Wouldn’t mind a few days on my own.” Dean suddenly said, sitting back in the chair behind Bobby’s desk and smoothing out the top of a pile of papers on it. “A few days of quiet sounds kinda nice.”
Sam felt his knee going again and tried to stop it. He took his gaze away from the dark trail of burns that followed up under each of his brother’s forearms. They were so evenly spaced and shaped, they almost looked decorative. Sam watched his brother carefully, waiting for the lies he was never good at keeping right under his surface. Waiting for some kind of quiet plead to actually not be left alone for one moment in this house. But when Sam searched Dean’s face, all he saw was some exhausted indifference. Sam knew he had to play this the right way no matter what he felt about it. He had to cut Dean some slack however he wanted.
“It—It’d only be for about two or three days.”
Dean shrugged, not even regarding him from up over the week old local rag he had started reading.
“Don’t ride her on that cheap shit.”
Sam felt a small piece of relief that the car, Dean’s means of vanishing if he could, was being handed over to him. His brother had never made a large show throughout all their lives about requiring time to himself. But there was always a first for everything.
Packing only took twenty minutes.
Sam planned to be headed back on the interstate before the last ‘Dust to Dust’ was uttered. He was going to get this over with as soon as possible. Not out of disrespect, but simple peace of mind. Sure. He’d give Dean some space if that’s what he wanted. But not a large chunk of it and not this soon.
Dean wasn’t around when Sam was ready to leave. He called out his name a few times by the front door and even resisted the urge to ring him although he must have been within 100 yards in any direction.
Sliding into the car, he thought it was a little fitting to leave it all just like this for now.
A glance into the rear view mirror back at the house made his hands grip a little harder on the wheel. The windows were all dark, the door shut and blank. Even with someone around the place never looked so abandoned and deserted to him before.
But maybe that’s all Dean wanted.
Not to be anywhere at all.
Two to three days turned out to be four.
Sam wasn’t sure why it hadn’t occurred to him that pretty much everyone in his graduating class would be appearing from out of the woodwork. Sam, having made quite the vanishing act himself after a particularly gossip worthy incident was almost in as high demand for communication than the poor dead guy’s young wife and inconsolable mother.
He couldn’t get away from the constant invitation to drinks, dinner, a lunch, another drink, some quiet conversation in even quieter cars. It was a never ending stream of reassurances and gentle comfortable smiles from one person after another until they finally at least seemed semi-satisfied that they now owned his phone number, an e-mail address and a few pictures for physical proof that they’d seen him at all.
Checking into a motel that first night he’d called Dean right away, half hoping that Bobby’s voice would be in the background.
“How are things?” Sam had no idea how else to phrase that.
I was sleepin’.
Sam glanced at his watch. It wasn’t even 9PM yet.
“Oh, a-are you feeling okay?”
Sam paused, wanting to prolong the exchange somehow, wanting to reach through the phone and choke him a little until he volunteered all the stuff Sam really needed to know. Like had he slept all day? Real sleep. Not that weird laying around on his bed and watching the window thing that he thought he was getting away with. Had he remembered to eat a damn thing? Maybe even take a shower?
“I’ll call you in the morning.”
The line dropped neatly when his brother ended the call.
The fourth day almost turned into a fifth but Sam went against pretty much every single social nicety he’d ever been taught to function in the world with others and not be deemed cold or mentally unstable. He did it all with a certain political and self effacing flare that made him look more put upon about his early departure than maybe the grieving family itself.
All the other calls Sam made to his brother went to voice mail. It bothered him more than he thought it should. But it didn’t take much to know that Dean was in no mood to be checked in on. Sam had felt the same on more than one occasion. He left long droning calm voice messages, hoping that somewhere out at the end of that dark road, in some dim room Dean would listen to it at least once before hitting delete.
By the time he was back on the road and he knew he’d see Bobby’s house before the sun had time to get down and dark, he had a deep sigh of comfort that reached down to the bottom of just about everything he had. In a couple hours, he could make sure everything was like it should be. And if it wasn’t, at least Sam would be there to nudge it all back into place. He wasn't sure if he should have been relieved or disturbed to find the house in more or less the exact same condition he'd left it in. It was after all an old run down place, and if some things hadn’t changed in 20 odd years, they weren’t going to start changing now.
However, Sam still wished a bottom floor light was on. A soft murmur of a television flickering its dull glow on the white washed living room walls. The smell of cooking wafting through the back kitchen windows. Anything at all that indicated someone was walking around and existing inside.
Walking up the creaking steps, Sam didn’t see, hear or smell a thing. A glance around the back of the house showed him that Bobby hadn’t gotten back yet either.
Sam called out, his voice striking the still air of the downstairs like he’d just violated some hallowed ground. It seemed a little too warm in here despite the chill that had made him play with the car heaters when the sun disappeared. Sam quickly noticed that all the windows were down.
“Hey, Dean!” Sam tossed his jacket aside and the handful of the keys beside it. “I’m back! I’m a day late, tried to call you!”
A quick look around the small lower floor showed the dining room, living room, and some other space that had all been absorbed into Bobby’s library and office area were all empty. The sliver of kitchen attached to the back was dark. His hand on the banister, Sam swung up the steps, two at a time until he hit the second floor. This floor had about four rooms, two of which had enough room between the stacks of boxes and books for some beds they could use. The other two were comprised of a bathroom and more of Bobby’s organized clutter sprawling across back to back desks.
The room Dean had been using was at the end of the hall and the door was shut.
Looking at it with a frown, Sam started walking to it, ready to just open it without any cursory knock at all. It wasn’t as if Dean hadn’t heard him yelling up and down the house. Not to mention his gracefully thunderous ascent up the oldest wooden stairs on the planet.
It wasn’t locked.
Sam wasn’t sure if any of Bobby’s doors locked, but that was really besides the point. Dean could make any door shut up tighter than a bank vault if that was what he wanted to do. It took him a moment to adjust his eyes in the gray gloom of the room. There were three windows but the blinds had been pulled down just about as far as they could go. The air was stale and even warmer than it had been on the floor below. Confused, Sam stepped in, his gaze lingering over the empty but well made bed that sat almost in the room’s center.
His attention was drawn to the right, onto the broad old dresser. Dean’s bag was sitting there. It wasn’t unpacked, but everything in it was neatly stowed. He could see the shirts and pants that sat on top were in even orderly rows. All his other loose belongings were beside it on the glass topped table. Spare change in appropriate stacks. His phone a uniform length from that. His wallet the same.
It was about then that Sam realized Dean was in the room with him.
Walking slowly, he rounded the edge of the hospital cornered bunk, and saw the small strip of floor that lay between the bed and the wall under the windowsill. There was a sleeping bag rolled out, no blankets and no pillows. Just a few centimeters of packed old insulation between your bones and the unyielding scrape of the wood floor.
Sam heard his own confusion make his voice sound more apprehensive than he had wanted it to be. To his slight horror, he had been completely wrong about how he had assumed he’d announced himself in every way possible before just walking right in here. Dean had been sleeping, and he was now awake. Breathing hard, utterly startled and most importantly, holding up a bowie knife in his right hand.
“It’s me! It’s me.” Sam held up his hands, unsure of exactly how else to relay the need for no concern. “I’m sorry, I should have—I guess I should have knocked…”
Dean slowly and stiffly sat up, the knife lowering slightly as he struggled up to his knees. He still hadn’t said anything. His eyes were watching Sam as if something unexpected could happen at any moment. If possible he appeared even paler, his eyes more strained, the fine tremors in his arm as he hefted the knife obvious and strange.
Sam looked back down at the crumpled sleeping bag and the shut up windows. He glanced down at the rumpled clothing Dean was wearing, none of that green shit he’d made sure to do away with but something oddly like it, canvas trousers that he had somewhere in his stuff, a neutral shirt and his boots tied tight even though he was laying around in a dark room. The smell of the room was musty with stale sweat, almost that funk that ended up coming off laundry if you left it for too long. But there were no piles of wash in here, just Dean and his sleeping bag. His brother’s face was starting a tangle of patchy beard, unnoticed and unattended. His eyes were red and constantly redirecting their gaze to everything around them. Although, what could have been catching Dean’s attention over and over again in a practically silent house made Sam’s nervousness deeper further.
“D-Dean... Have you...” Sam swallowed, seating himself on the bed and trying to keep eye contact with his quiet brother. “Have you left this room? Since I left?”
“Sure.” Dean said shortly.
Sam saw his gaze flicker past him to the bathroom.
“Yeah, besides the can, have you left this room?” Sam heard his voice get a little smaller at the end of that but he couldn’t help it.
Dean had finished the task of righting himself, tossing the knife limply on the comfortable unmade bed he wasn’t using. Instead of answering Sam, he flicked back the curtain, noting the Impala right where Sam parked it. Dean paused and looked further around it too, up the driveways and down and to either side.
“Dean.” Sam felt his voice go even more tense, his gut churning a little in an odd unsettled sensation. “Tell me, have you left this room once in fuckin’ four days—“
His brother did swing around then. Quick, much faster than Sam would have thought he’d been able to manage considering how long it took him to figure out how to get up off that creased filthy sleeping bag.
“I said yes.” Dean repeated in a hoarse voice.
Sam’s thoughts turned to the uncluttered cold dark kitchen below.
“You haven’t even eaten either.” Sam swallowed. “Have you?”
Dean’s expression of wary fatigue slowly shifted to something that looked close to some kind of infuriated embarrassment. Blinking back any more of his own uncertainty, Sam shifted on the bed and idly flipped the knife by its worn handle.
“You can’t go four days Dean.” Sam heard himself say angrily. Not apologetically. Not condescendingly. Not even kindly. “You can’t go four fucking days without eating food.”
Sam looked up to see Dean was finally looking at him square in the eyes now.
“I-I can do whatever the fuck it is I wanna do—“
“No Dean!” Sam stood up and got too close, using all the height he usually kept in check so he wouldn’t have to experience that sickening feeling when he saw the frustrated fury it caused in his older brother’s eyes. “You can’t start starving yourself just because you feel like it! You can’t shut yourself in some room until you rot!”
“What the hell are you goin’ do about it?” Dean asked him softly but somewhat honestly.
In another unchecked surge of his own, he pressed closer between the small gap between them. His arms gripped his brother’s exposed biceps, the skin cold and clammy despite the shallow humid heat that lay unmoving in the sealed up room. Sam didn’t know what he was doing. All he wanted was to somehow convey his thoughts, anger and noise into his brother by shaking him, yelling at him, maybe just clutching his arms so hard that purple bruises seeped into his white skin.
The thought of marking Dean up any further made Sam squeeze his eyes shut. In one final burst of frustration, he shoved his brother up hard against the chest of drawers. The furniture screeched as it yielded under both their weights. Panting, Sam slowly looked back up at his brother, wondering why Dean hadn’t wrenched his arms free of Sam’s grasp. Instead, he had them up, trapped in a half gesture of uncertain defense. Breathless and trembling, Dean was apprehensively waiting for something.
Dean thought Sam was going to hit him.
Trying to calm his own breathing, Sam slowly lowered his hands, letting them rest on Dean’s shoulders and then his chest. Dean wasn’t making a move to strike first. He wasn’t doing anything but standing there waiting for it.
“Dean, look, I’ll just leave you alone for a little while- a little while... “ Licking his dry lips, Sam heard himself talking. “I’m tired. The drive was really long.”
Sam made a fist in the collar of Dean’s shirt, his vision going gauzy with everything he wanted to say and couldn’t. A live breathing person in his hands he wanted to fix with one stupid profound good word or mind blowing proverb. But he couldn’t. His brother might as well have been one thousand miles away and not practically in his arms.
The hall way wasn’t very long, and Sam found his bed just as he’d left it.
He sat down hard, his elbows digging into his knees as he buried his face down into his palms. The heat and muffled sounds seemed safe to keep clutched so close, cupped between his locked fingers, hidden from everything and even himself. After a few moments he let his hot wet hands lower down between his knees, staring down hard at the strangely in focus planks of wood that lay between his boots.
A sound made him look up sharply towards his door. He had swung it closed behind him, but it was still open just one inch to the hallway beyond. Footsteps were gently retreating.
Sam slowly wiped the back of his hand across his damp eyes and then his mouth.
“I’m sorry Dean.”
Pushing his face down into his folded arms on his knees, he didn’t know what else to say.
Another week went by before Sam really understood that Dean would only eat when someone else was.
He wasn’t sure why that simple logical process hadn’t come to him days ago, but for some reason in a house filled with three men on as different schedules as there were places for hands on a clock, it had become easy to miss. After that not so minor revelation, a few more came to make more sense too. Dean didn’t have a hesitancy to perform tasks. Instead, he had a maddeningly foreboding reluctance towards them that seemed to make him physically ill if he was in any mild way forced to do something on his own.
Sam tried to pretend he didn’t know what conditioning could do to a human mind. He’d read enough about it, saw some of it himself out in California. A small tour by a harried grad had showed a few friends the much less dramatic but equally as sinister tests made by the academics with caged animals deemed of value in the name of research. Sam wasn’t sure what Dean’s triggers had been, and even if he had had any. He didn’t know if his brother had been installed with command words, safe words or even words that would provoke him to violence.
All he could see was Dean waiting with strangely protectively crossed arms. A form of body language Sam didn’t see often on his brother. Sam watched the cereal pour down into the bowl with as much unease.
“Go ahead and eat it.” Bobby simply said.
That was all it seemed to take. Permission. Allowance. An order.
Sam stared intently down at his own food and tried not to hold his spoon too hard. The milk was a little sour but he didn’t care. He just wanted to put away this food that he had been given. Be as quiet as Dean.
“When yer done there, I want you to clean it up, and then head to the shower.”
Sam listened but didn’t raise his head to see Dean nod. Bobby understood. He got the whole thing. He knew Dean was stuck in some terrible place built out of pain and brain washing him down to some brutal routine he couldn’t shake himself loose from. Sam knew his brother wanted rid of it too. He could see him desperately straining against his own confines like some actual metal cage had been fitted to the exact size and width of his body.
Sam dropped his spoon. He couldn’t eat anymore.
“I’ll be in the shower.” Dean mumbled down at the bowl he was bringing to clean in the sink.
“You- you look pretty tired Dean,” Sam cleared his throat. “Why don’t you, you know, after your shower, try to get some sleep—"
“I- I’m not that tired.”
Sam saw a lot in that neatly typed manifesto about sleep deprivation and long nights. Short hours of sleeping under full fluorescents. Who knew what those people had done to him that wasn’t written in loving detail in their books? Making fists again, he wondered if he should order Dean to bed. His jaw tensed when he remembered that startled prepared look in his brother’s eyes. The defeated acceptance of the beating Sam was supposedly going to lay down on him for whatever reason there might be to do so. Much to his burning helplessness, he saw the bowl under his hand blur again as his eyes started to sting.
A hand slid onto his shoulder. Glancing up at Bobby, Sam sniffed once and quickly got his shit back under control. That’s all any of them needed now. Sam weeping into his cornflakes like he was a five year old without enough nap time of his own.
“After your shower, I want you to come down here and help me, Dean.” Bobby nodded.
“Yes, sir.” He muttered softly.
The bowl was already dry and sitting on the rack. Dean was walking slowly up the steps, his weight causing each plank to creak and groan until he reached the top. They both listened to the old plumbing twist and hiss to life.
Bobby poured himself another cup of coffee and took Dean’s seat.
“Thought I’d have him alphabetize my loose wild flower Latin field notes.”
Sam scooped up what was left of breakfast and forced himself to swallow it down.
“Shouldn’t take long.” Bobby grinned. “There’s only 2 or 3 hundred of the things.”
Sam felt himself returning the old guy’s smile at the swift and severe manner in which the chore would send Dean into a sleep so deep he might not be roused for hours. Feeling some kind of ease arrive with the small knowledge that at least one man here knew how to deal with this day by day, Sam sat back and allowed himself to let slip a few tight handfuls of his suffocating anxiety.
“Just give him some time to get back where he started.” Bobby nodded down to the steaming chipped mug in his hands. “It didn’t take overnight to get him like that. Won’t take one more to make the return trip.”
Sam nodded. He wanted to say thank you or show some kind of gratitude but he knew there would be no words coming out of his mouth that wouldn’t end up humiliating him. The tangle of fear and rage he was keeping reigned tightly in was probably enough to drive even someone like Bobby awkwardly from the table if he were to actually let any of it go. With a deep breath, he settled the worst of it deep down as far as it could go and prepared himself to talk as close to a normal person as he could.
"I’m- I’m going to get rid of that sleeping bag.” Sam said almost to himself. “Maybe he’ll start using the bed.”
“Give it another day.” Bobby told him. “Nice and slow, Sam.”
Another week passed.
Slow had been the key after all. As long as Dean was still eating and getting reasonable amounts of rest, everyone did their best to just stay out of his way. If Dean wanted to spend 12 hours in that weird room, they let him. If he wandered downstairs when called for food, they didn’t say anything when he left the water glass untouched and alone at his elbow.
Sam tried not to look at him too much. Of all the times he had privately prayed for the end of whatever idle chatter his brother used to fill in the blissful silences of the world, he now wished more than anything that Dean would just start talking again. About anything. Stupid jokes he’d heard a hundred times. A sound of disgust and a curt request to maybe try chewing with his mouth closed. An offer to just try their hand at some targets in the dark down by the hill.
It was strange to miss a person that was sitting right in front of you.
The first day Sam couldn’t find him in any part of the house, he was almost shocked back into his seat when Bobby pointed out the window towards the Impala.
“Told ‘em was sounding a little off.”
Hood up, and rags flung along her sides, Dean was buried under it doing exactly who knew what to an engine that Sam recalled ran fine enough for the Space Program. Maybe even a little better these days.
“I just pulled the starter around a little.” Bobby confessed. “Mighta jacked a few plugs too.”
The distraction worked for almost an entire afternoon until everything was fixed. But the afternoon kept going as the rest of the engine demanded a check over now that such mysterious ailments had befallen it. Sam watched it for a while until minutely observing any man perform very slow meticulous things to carburetors started to bore him as much as it ever had.
It was way past dark when Dean finally came in, covered in grease and sweat. Bobby and Sam exchanged a small look across the table when he walked right past them and climbed the stairs without a word.
Sam laughed softly out loud in stifled relief when the water came on above them.
“Just wait, just wait.” Bobby shrugged, but he was smiling too. “He might come back down here to ask if he can use the damn soap.”
It was just a day after that when Sam walked out on the front porch and found his brother sitting there alone watching the sun slip down. Dean even had a beer to celebrate. The shifting linger of pink and purple while the night rushed up and took it for good was definitely better than anything that was on TV.
“It’s my favorite time of day.”
Sam knew, but he didn’t feel like being a big know it all right at the moment.
There were a few minutes filled with nothing but the shrill steady cry of crickets until his brother surprised him with not only more discussion, but an actual question.
“How’d you know?” Dean leaned back as he took a drink.
Easing back into a rickety old rocking chair, Sam had been waiting for the question to come eventually. He’d framed reasonable answers in different variations over and over in his head but none of them were very satisfying. Even to himself. He pushed one bare foot up against the porch railing to tip his seat back as far as it could go on the tip of its arcs. Watching the sky, Dean started rolling his green beer bottle along the grain of the weathered planks. The smooth grinding sound of glass on grit leaving them to nothing but the far off call of the bugs and birds doing their thing as the sun made to settle for the evening.
“How did you know that it would work?”
Dean was really asking two questions. How the hell did he know that any of it would work and how had Sam found him at all? The talisman. All that desert. The small detail that a wandering deity wasn’t the only thing carefully aware of his shrouded progress.
“It was like…” Sam felt a wry smile coming to his face when he felt particularly proud of himself with the creation of a decent metaphor. “… hearing your favorite song struck between two stations.”
Barely there, each other word strained out through the jumbled signals busy trying to bury it under its own noise. But it was still a sound you’d never forget no matter what had been done to it. Sam knew it was something of an art to explain what happened in his head to anyone else who literally couldn’t be there. He didn’t expect anyone, including his brother, to understand a single word of it.
“So what?” Dean asked him. “Yer smarter than some demigod now?”
Sam smiled at the sound of his brother’s exasperation that got all mixed up with a hesitant pride.
Dean snorted before he tipped his bottle back again. “Didn’t think old Noqoìlpi had it in ‘em to be bamboozled twice in one millennia.”
“Thought you didn’t think much of all that fancy entitlement based on well, a couple of pure blood lines?”
Gods and their ilk were a lot like some of the old royal family lineages in one way or another. Sam sighed, looking down at his own half finished bottle. Some beings were just granted with what they had because of fate. There were no votes, no committees, not even one solemn objective judge to legislate the powers that roamed strong and treacherous across and through the world’s uneven surfaces.
Sam didn’t really feel like talking about all the tricks, slips, deft finger tips and the century old act and mastery of distraction. All performance magic was much more elaborate than any of the down to Earth real stuff anyway. Your command of the audience was more important than your grip on just what exactly you were trying to make disappear right before their eyes.
Magic, in any of its incarnations had never held anything but a professional interest for him. It only had to meet its mark and do its job, just like any other weapon that was carefully minded under his care. Whether or not he could perform it with the same skill as the men that had their faces and names looming in lights hundreds of feet over the glittering Vegas strip was inconsequential to him. A delighted crowd on a street corner clapping and waiting to be fooled, or a hushed desert night with a phantom breathing the sand to stir at your crossed legs. Some well earned gas money or sparing a soul’s ruination. It was sometimes profoundly strange how the skill level required to do either was practically the same.
Sighing, Sam tipped his chair back again, grateful that his brother’s questions about it had seemed to ebb to a halt. What Sam really wanted to talk about was what exactly they should do now. Trouble was he was not sure how he should go about it. Working it all out in his head for the hundredth time, figuring how to choose his words in the perfect mosaic that wouldn’t lead to Dean going quiet and staying that way. Dean refusing to even sit with him like this on the porch. Dean shutting himself back up in that room of his.
But Sam was really worried about something else. It was about saying just the right thing that would prevent Dean from simply not being there in the morning. His things, the car and every other slight reminder of his existence would be cleaned up, packed away and gone. Sam sat back and studied the dark twilight sky slowly marbling with the pink twist and curl of the clouds.
Oddly enough, it seemed his brother was thinking along the same lines.
“Think Keens made it out?” Dean murmured, his words half lost into his bottle.
“Dunno.” Sam shrugged as he shook his head. “If he did, he’d better be running as fast as he can.”
“Or hiding somewhere deep.” Dean added thoughtfully.
“Hey, Dean?” Sam started yanking at the frayed loose threads that were slowly disintegrating the tops of his jeans. He heard his voice start to waver but he didn’t care. “If- If he tries to find you again, I swear, I won’t let—“
“Bobby said he saw some wild turkey out back yesterday.”
“Huh?” Sam blinked, completely and utterly tossed off his tracks. “T-turkeys?”
“Yup, he saw two or three of them wandering the back south line.”
Very much against his will, Sam was forced to the vague fond boyhood memories of offing the gigantic birds. They’d sit for hours freezing to death in the poorly made pine bluffs he and his brother created in their often unattended sojourns into the fold of the autumn forests that surrounded the place. There had been something childishly exhilarating about shooting the holy hell out of something that had no possibility whatsoever of disemboweling you alive if you happened to fail. The plucking and gutting hadn’t been half as fun, but cooking and eating it all by themselves over some fire in the middle of nowhere had always felt like one of the best things ever.
Spitting out buckshot between bites. Passing back and forth the stolen flask of Bobby’s moonshine. Sleeping out there with nothing but a few blankets and the crackling embers.
“I say we get up, around 4AM-ish,” Dean half smiled at him, tired but genuine, the kind that reached all the way to his eyes when lately nothing had even come close. “See if we can’t bag an early Thanksgiving.”
Sam sighed, tired at the thought already.
“Do we have to go so early?”
”When do you wanna go?”
“How about 4:15?” Sam tried hopefully.
His brother stared at him for a second before his smile deepened into something more.
It was a real laugh that came then, straight up from the bottom where Sam had seen nothing but stifled words and a steadfast terrible hold that was still keeping him somewhere out there in that desert. But the laugh kept coming, loud and careless, hard enough to make Dean hold a hand down over his belly. It was the kind that made Sam start laughing back just because he couldn’t help it.
Pulling the back of his hand over one watering eye he wasn’t even quite sure what the hell it was that he was laughing about anyway.
It didn’t even matter. The sum of things. The entirety of it all. His seat on an old run down porch and the fate of a couple stupid gobblers that had no idea that tonight was the last evening they’d spend picking the tall grass for insects. For the first time in a long time, for a few quiet moments out here in the cool clear twilight, everything seemed like it would be fine.
For just this one night, that was all Sam needed.