Disclaimer: All characters appearing in Supernatural are copyright Kripke/CW/WB etc. No infringement of these copyrights is intended. This fanfic is my original work of fiction based on those characters/that universe.
*Spoilers* Set Season 8, but pre-trials. Could be read as a missing scene for that season.
Who Put the Trash Out?
All in all, it started as a good morning, and in Dean's defence, it wasn't the noise he'd been making that had roused Sam from his slumber that day. No, that morning when Sam had initially opened his eyes to greet the day, it had been with the natural waking from sleep that was, in all honesty, a luxury he was still getting used to.
For most of his life, early morning wake up calls had come in the form of either their father giving his standard fifteen minute 'pack-up-we're-heading-out' warning, or from Dean in the motel bed next to him, turning up the radio and being a jerk because he was bored of having woken up earlier than Sam.
The sensation of waking up without aches and pains, without throbbing stiches and borderline concussions, was also a rare indulgence that Sam had previously only briefly enjoyed during his stint in college. Even in the past year or so during his time with Amelia, there had been the residual pains, particularly in his heart, every morning when he awoke, and the knowledge that Dean was gone would hit him anew. Phantom aches impossible to quantify physically, impossible to ignore or heal emotionally.
Before that, outside of Stanford, outside of Amelia, his mornings had held a consistently similar theme, even after their father had left. There were the 'waking up with a stiff neck because he was too awkward and angular to fit perfectly in the impala' mornings, the 'oh my god what the hell is that smell from that pillow I stupidly put my head on last night when I passed out from post hunt fatigue' mornings, and also the 'sorry dude, racoon on the road' swerves that Dean would make without even bothering to hide his smirk mornings, knowing full well they would result in Sam's head slamming into the window. Thrown into the mix for good measure of course, were also the odd waking up with a plastic spoon wedged in his mouth mornings or, on a few occasions, waking up with someone agreeable next to him in a clean bed which wasn't his own, which still felt slightly awkward to him, mornings.
And even if it wasn't any of those, for most mornings (or middle's of the days or nights) when he awoke, it was usually some underlying urgency, some relentless tugging at his conscience that would wake him from the exhausted oblivion he'd succumbed to. Those wake-ups were usually in the middle of a case, and on those occasions, consciousness would return with a sucker-punch of guilt delivered by the knowledge he had slept at all, particularly when there was usually someone's life at stake, if not the whole world to save, yet again.
And then, beyond all of that, there was the sleep itself, which for so many of the hours he'd been captive to it, had been riddled and colonised with nightmares, sometimes to the extent that he'd endeavoured to evade sleep all together. Not that that had ever worked out well for him.
So for all of those multitude of reasons, this type of waking-up, this serene, peaceful, natural awakening from a deep, untroubled sleep, somewhat unfettered consciousness lulling his senses back to full awareness, was a rare and pleasant sensation, one that had him feeling refreshed and revived, as though his whole soul had taken a deep cleansing breath.
For a few moments he revelled in that luxury, lying on his clean linen, head nestled on a plump unstained pillow, thinking of the day ahead, revelling again in the lack of any imminent world ending danger, and let his mind wander to planning his morning routine. Shower, then breakfast of granola or perhaps a smoothie, depending on what supplies they had. Or maybe even, and this was a guilt ridden maybe, maybe even some bacon and sausage and eggs and whatever else Dean might decide to cook up. Oh but if that was the case, he really should go for a run. They hadn't caught a case in what felt like weeks and he thought he could actually feel the fat accumulating inside around his midriff, caused by days spent doing nothing more strenuous than sitting with his laptop. So if he was going to indulge in some fat laden grease-feast, he would at least go for a decent run first.
But before any of that, coffee. Hot, strong, steaming, java-juice. He'd spent so many years relying on that caffeine boost to get him underway, that starting his day without it now was like trying to jumpstart a car without cables. Whether it had been last minute cramming for mid-terms, through the night driving to get to a case, or the habitual reading through dead language lore for research, the caffeine was a constant.
Except that here in the Bunker, the coffee was so much better than the diluted down, dirt-water swill they sometimes had to put up with on the road. Here they had their own coffee machine, a really good coffee machine, and as much as Dean had derided Sam in the past for what he'd called his frat girl mocha-choca-pumpkin-chai-latte-chinos, Sam had seen his brother fiddling with the cappuccino settings, and had then had the decent grace to pretend he hadn't heard Dean's surprised 'hmm' of approval as he'd tasted what the machine had gurgled out andhad even kept his mouth shut when Dean had gone back for more.
He padded his way to the kitchen, mind on coffee while a yawn tugged away at the last remnants of rest from his bones, and a chill from the early hours tingled its way down his spine, a sensation that was oddly pleasant even as he shivered it away.
All in all, a good morning.
Until he heard the noise from the kitchen.
At hearing that sound, he froze, mouth agape in what should have been a last satisfying yawn, now forgotten in an Edvard Munch scream as his senses picked up the noises that shouldn't have been there. At first there was a rustle, as though a giant rat were rummaging through an upturned dumpster. Then a heavy, hollow clunk of something metallic falling to the floor, then more rustling.
His hand reflexively reached for his gun but came away gripping nothing but a handful of flannel and he cursed.
Luxury got you killed. That was what John had taught him. That was what a lifetime of hunting had taught him. And that wasn't just a mantra to get him through days when it seemed all the grapes were nothing but sour and the grass on the other side of the life they couldn't have was oh so much greener.
No, it was the truth. Cold, hard, bitter, truth. Luxury made you soft. It was the reason why victims were victims; because they were pampered, not prepared. He'd spent too long it seemed, living a life removed from hunting, and this was the price. Hunters lived a life lacking in everything but the very basics, that was true, but at least that kept them sharp. At least they knew enough to always have a weapon to hand. What did Sam have? Rubber soled slippers and dubious morning breath. Great. Whatever was there in the kitchen, he'd just smack it with his indoor footwear and breathe on it a few times.
But it didn't matter. Neither he nor Dean needed guns, their father had taught them to be adept with almost every kind of weapon, including their own fists. Both he and Dean were more than capable of holding their own in a bare knuckle brawl, could take a hit and return the favour with twice the force.
He raised his hands, fists balled ready to punch, and took his next steps more cautiously. At least his slipper-clad feet would make no noise, would mask his approach. Small blessings.
He rounded the corner, expecting the worst, ready for a confrontation with some unimaginably monstrous horror dredged up from the darkest depths of hell itself, some vista of pure and utter nightmarish evil.
He wasn't far off.
It was Dean's backside, clad in a blue and white chequered bathrobe, raised in the air as he knelt on all fours next to their kitchen bin, which was lying on its side, with one arm digging around inside, doing… Sam didn't know what. For a moment, Sam simply stood and watched, a morbid kind of confused fascination gluing him in place until he came to his senses.
"Errr… Dean? ...What're you doing?"
Dean half turned, threw Sam a look over his shoulder.
"Finally! You're up… pass me that will ya."
He waved in the vague direction of a small pile of clutter to his left and Sam made his way over uncertainly. After a moments inspection he picked up the two objects nearest to the top of the small mound; an empty beer bottle and an equally empty, slightly dented can of beans. With an item in each hand, he was still none the wiser as he turned to face Dean's backside again.
"Dude… Are you drunk?"
At that Dean sat up, face slightly reddened by whatever it was he'd been doing, an annoyed frown creasing his brow.
"No, I'm not drunk." He replied indignantly, snatching the empty bottle from Sam's hand and then, upon seeing what he'd taken from him, giving him another annoyed, defiant scowl.
"Thennnn… what the hell're you doing dude?"
"It's the trash." Dean responded, indicating again distractedly to the pile as he reached into the deep bin and placed the bottle inside with, Sam noticed, far more care than was warranted.
"I can see that… A pile of trash on the kitchen floor… Which I just cleaned last night! Dude!"
"Don't get pissy, you can clean it again when we're done."
"Dean I'm not…! That's not…!" He took a deep calming breath, releasing it slowly. "Why is the trash on the floor? … And what'd'ya mean 'when we're done'? Done doing what?"
Dean turned to face him, still looking annoyed, though now Sam was matching that look with his own irritation.
"Haven't you ever wondered where the trash goes?" Dean asked him.
"Where the…!? …It goes in the trash Dean! That's why they call it trash; there's a clue in the name! Seriously how many beers have you had already?"
Dean ignored him. "I know it goes in the trash, Einstein, but where does it go after that?"
"The land fill? Coney Island? I don't know. Dean why–"
But Dean cut him off. "And how does it get there?"
Sam opened his mouth to respond, but there was a slight dawning of a light turning on in his brain. "Uhm… Garbage trucks… I guess?"
"Uh huh. So answer me this college boy; how does our trash, from the alleged safety of our kitchen, get into those trucks? ...Hmm?" Dean waited, eyebrows raised almost as a challenge, watching as Sam did a fairly accurate goldfish rendition; mouth open, mouth close, mouth open, mouth close. He allowed him one more impression before continuing. "Exactly! And when was the last time either of us put the trash out in bins? Huh? I mean, I know I haven't been doing it. And if you did it I know you'd get all Martha Stewart on my ass for not doing it. And besides, I mean, hell! Do we even have bins?"
"And even if we do, I highly doubt our secret, magically warded bunker is listed on the local garbage truck route."
Dean had Sam stumped and they both knew it. And as much as Sam hated to admit it, Dean now had him curious too.
"Look." Dean continued, scowl finally easing now that he'd won, standing and walking over to the kitchen table, rubbing his back as he went. There, on the table top were several large books pinning down equally large unfurled sheets of paper. Sam followed and as he drew closer, saw that they were blue-prints and design sketches. He leant over the table for a closer inspection, eyes narrowing as he examined them.
"Are these…? Is this the bunker?... Dean where did you find these?!"
"They were in the archives."
"You were rummaging around in the archive? You? At six in the morning?"
Dean shook his head dismissively. "I couldn't sleep… But that's not the headline. Look." And he pointed to a series of markings on the blue-prints.
Sam peered at the motifs and patterns, was just about ready to squint when Dean shoved a magnifying glass towards him. Through the thickened lens, the images instantly became clearer but clarity as to their meaning, if there was any, still eluded him. After a moments more scrutiny, Sam straightened, admitting defeat.
"What are they?" He asked, turning to Dean, but Dean only shrugged.
"Damned if I know… but they're concentrated here in the kitchen. According to the blue prints anyway."
Sam leaned back over to study them again. "Could be Enochian…. Maybe cuneiform… Or some hybrid… And…. And I think those ones at the end might be runic symbols… but that doesn't make sense." He straightened back up again. "We should scan them, run them through the computer, see what turns up."
"Yeah maybe. But I think I've figured out what they're for."
"The trash dude. It's to get rid of the trash."
Sam wasn't sure if Dean was serious or not, but there was an earnest sort of wide eyed zeal on Dean's face that made Sam pause. Or more specifically, it made Sam pause and worry for his brother's sanity because, if Sam were to assess him right then, at that precise moment Dean looked and sounded like a lunatic. And not your run of the mill Darwin award winning lunatic either. No, more an obsessive compulsive lunatic of the ilk who might for example insist that the government had embedded sensors into toilet rolls to track how frequently you wiped your butt, or that aliens (who were of course real) couldn't read your mind if you lined your sandwiches with relish and wrapped aluminium foil on your head, or that running backwards after a three course meal four times a week would absolutely cure diabetes. Taking all this into account, Sam realised he needed to pick his next words very carefully.
"Soooo…. you're saying you are drunk?" But then again, it was so much more fun to rile Dean up a little every now and then.
It wasn't so much that Dean articulated any particular words per say, more that he emitted a low, dangerous sort of growl, and had Sam been a meeker man he would have feared for his safety right then. But meek or not, Sam still had sense enough to know when to stop prodding the growling, potentially insane, angry bear. Dean was giving Sam one of those looks, a disgusted annoyed glare that shot daggers at him and he kept it going despite Sam's best efforts to avoid all eye contact. It was taking all of Sam's energy to control his features and prevent his lips from curling back into a smile, a mental effort that seemed more taxing than having kept Lucifer at bay.
"So… uh…" He cleared his throat, beatific, guileless innocence plastered on his face as he looked at a spot beyond Dean's shoulder. "Did you manage to find any of the markings?" And he managed to move away from his brother and return to the spot near the bin where he'd originally found Dean crouched on the floor.
Dean made a half 'hmmm' half 'humph' sort of sound that clearly meant he knew that Sam knew that Sam was a jerk, but moved to stand closer to him nonetheless.
"No, as it happens. None of the walls in here are accessible, apart from maybe the one behind the fridge. But that's a bust. I tried moving the thing but it's like it's welded to the spot or made of lead or something. Weighs a tonne."
"So how was the beer bottle gonna help you move it?"
"It wasn't smart-ass. The beer bottle was an experiment. I wanted to see it disappear from the bin."
"Uh huh…. Sure… And did it? Disappear?"
"Gee I don't know Sammy, it's almost like someone started being a jerk and got in the way before I could check."
Sam let that one slide as it was partially true, and moved closer to the bin to check for himself.
He'd definitely seen Dean place the empty beer bottle in there so wondered why he was even humouring Dean like this. He peered inside.
He looked back towards Dean, startled. "It's gone!"
"Son of a….! I knew it! I told you! Didn't I tell you?! I told you!... Damn it! I wanted to see it happen this time…. Damn it!"
Sam straightened up. "This time? Dean, how many times have you done this already?"
Dean looked annoyed again, as if Sam had been focussing on the wrong part of the conversation. "A few… Look the main thing is every time I do, every time I put the trash in there, it disappears. And I have no idea where it's going. I've moved the bin around the room, but wherever I put it, if there's trash in there, it's gone."
"Like, what... It just disappears?" Sam couldn't quite believe it, a small part of him still feeling as though Dean were pulling an elaborate prank. "You're kidding right?"
"Well, why don't you try it for yourself instead of being such a cynical little bitch about it?" Dean reached to the table behind him retrieving the empty bean can that Sam had initially picked up and had then deposited there when he'd begun studying the blue prints. He held it out to him, a petulant expression on his face.
Sam had been too wrapped up initially in mocking Dean and then subsequently too stupefied by the immediate puzzle to have noticed it immediately, but there was definitely something off about Dean. He was unusually crabby and his prickly mood made him uncomfortable to be around. Internally Sam chided himself for having exasperated it with his teasing, as innocent as his motives may have been, but still, Dean's last remark was far more acerbic than what Sam deserved.
He ran a quick assessing glance over his brother and took in all the little things he'd initially missed; Dean's rumpled hair that clearly hadn't seen a comb, his unkempt stubble that was beyond designer, slightly puffy, gritty looking eyes, framed by dark circles that marred skin paler and more tired looking than it should be on alleged 'down-time', all falling together to paint a picture of a Dean who hadn't slept, possibly for a good few days. Dean had all but admitted as much a few minutes ago.
And the biggest give-away was a sudden realisation that struck Sam square in the chest. Whenever they were on a hunt, Dean was the one who awoke first. True, he would wake Sam in usually the most annoying way possible; turning up the radio, flicking dirty socks on his face, pulling his leg till Sam was halfway to falling on the floor. When Sam would be woken like that he'd be, understandably pissed, and Dean would be smug and smirking, making Sam all the more irritated. But what Sam had always overlooked in his annoyance, what perhaps Dean had been forcing Sam to overlook by creating annoyance, was the fact that the Impala had already been packed, that most of their stuff had already been put away, that the shower was free for Sam to use, that Dean had even already brought in coffee and doughnuts. All in all, what Sam had always overlooked, was that Dean had woken up way in advance and done all this without him, allowing Sam to have a lie in. To grab an extra hour or two of sleep. Dean could move very quietly and stealthily when he wanted, a skill he'd honed through years of sneaking around their father as a child, whenever John had returned from a hunt and had passed out on the bed, or was in a mildly drunken stupor, with one finger still on the trigger of his gun. Looking back, Sam realised that the only times Dean ever woke up later than Sam, the only times he had ever allowed himself that luxury, was when they were between hunts.
All of this dawned on Sam in an instant and he realised something was actually really quite wrong with Dean for him to have been up and awake, for what seemed like hours already.
But Sam knew better than to query Dean about it, especially while his mood was still so irritable. Instead he simply took the proffered can from his brother. It would be more fruitful, not to mention safer, to wait till Dean simmered down before pursuing the cause of his foul mood and bad sleep.
"Where does it go?" He asked instead, crouching down, can in hand as he looked over his shoulder and waited for Dean's response. "Any particular place?"
"I can think of one place you could shove it…." He mumbled, before continuing more clearly. "But anywhere as long as it's in the bin I guess."
Sam reached as far back as his long limbs allowed, the edge of the bin digging into his shoulder as he strained to gain a few extra inches, before letting go of the can. He pulled back, flexing his arm, rubbing his shoulder, and straightened up to his knees.
"So how does it work? How long do we wait?"
"I don't know. Seems instantaneous, but I've never seen it actually happen." He gave Sam a pointed look, which Sam ignored, turning back instead to check on the can.
It was gone.
Sam let out a 'whoa' under his breath and sat back on his haunches, head tilting to the side slightly and face creasing into a perplexed frown.
"Told you." Dean snorted, tone still undercut with annoyance.
"Does it only work on trash? Like does it work on regular stuff?"
"Only trash, far as I can tell. But be my guest." Dean waved an arm towards the refrigerator. Sam took the opportunity to try a little side experiment. Of all the things he could take, he went for the brand new pack of un-opened bacon, knowing that it was the last one in the fridge. Dean watched, almost uninterested as Sam placed it in the bin, but didn't say a word. That was highly unnatural and was itself the loudest indicator that there was something wrong with Dean if he was able to let good food go to waste, and bacon no less.
After a moment Sam checked the bin, this time finding that the bacon had not disappeared. "Okaaay. So seems like it only works for trash….. I don't know if that's weirder or makes sense."
"It's weirder. Trust me. Like how does it know what's trash? Whatever it is."
Dean had a point. They continued experimenting with various things, but each time items either disappeared without them being able to see it happen, or else remained unmoved, and each time there was a clear distinction being made, somehow by something, between garbage and not.
"Maybe it's like those Dr Who villains." Sam suggested after a while, unable to keep a hopeful tone from entering his voice, only to be met with Dean's vacant expression. "The weeping angels?" Sam supplied.
Dean continued to stare at him.
"They don't do anything if you're looking at them." Sam elaborated, now slightly annoyed, slightly embarrassed, the colour rising a little in his cheeks.
Dean kept staring at him blankly for a moment before a look, almost tinged with dismay, flitted over his features. "Such a nerd." He shook his head incredulously. "How'd you ever get laid?"
"Whatever dude. Point is, maybe it doesn't work when it's being observed. Like maybe watching it affects it."
"You mean like… like quantum stuff… Like photons and stuff." At Sam's raised eyebrows, Dean clarified. "When you try to see 'em, it changes what you see."
This time it was Sam's turn to assess his brother, but unlike Dean's reaction had been seconds earlier, Sam couldn't help being a little impressed.
"And how does knowing that not make you a nerd!?"
"Coz its science. It's totally legit. Besides," Dean responded unfazed, shouldering past Sam to inspect the bin himself. "Chicks dig science."
He crouched beside his brother and they both peered into the bin.
"What if it's the bin?" Sam asked after a beat. "Like, what if it's nothing to do with the warding at all? What if it's just the bin itself?"
Dean mulled that over for a moment before responding. "All right." He hefted the bin away, replacing it with an empty garbage bag. "In that case this won't be going anywhere then will it." He briefly waggled another article of rubbish in front of them that he'd grabbed from the diminishing trash pile before dropping it in the bag.
For a while, nothing seemed to happen, except that the bag began to slowly deflate and fall back in on itself. A natural and expected enough reaction, except that it momentarily obscured from their view the empty milk carton Dean had placed there. When Dean reached out to straighten the bag however, the carton was gone.
"Damnit! What the hell!?" He growled angrily, glaring at Sam as if Sam were somehow withholding the answer. "This is really starting to piss me off!"
Although Sam was equally intrigued by the mystery now, Dean's reaction was far out of proportion to what was warranted, and Sam found himself frowning, this time from the growing sense of concern for his brother.
But pulling an answer from Dean even when he was happy, let alone when he was like this, was like pulling teeth from a bear; you could ask twenty questions, get yourself mauled half to death, and still be no closer to the root.
He glanced over to the table. "I say we plug those symbols into the computer, see what it churns out."
Dean huffed a despondent response but equally, didn't outright shoot down the idea, so Sam took it as an agreement.
They spent the next hour or so mostly in silence, working through the various sections of the blue prints and schematics, collating segments and scanning them into the oversized, seemingly outdated computers. It was not the kind of work Sam would have thought his older brother would be willing to do, but Dean applied himself with a quiet, single-minded resolve that was in fact, rather perturbing. He was so focused, was so honed to the task, it was as though he were on an actual hunt, and Sam found himself scared to even breath too loudly in his presence, let alone strike up a conversation.
Again, so out of character for Dean, particularly during down-time. If there had been any doubts left in Sam's mind that there was something wrong with Dean, they were all but disintegrating and vanishing fast by the time they'd finished inputting the last of the symbols into the machines.
"What now?" Dean asked.
"Now I guess we wait." Sam didn't know what else his brother expected.
"We wait?" Dean responded in an aggressive, almost indignant tone. "How long?" He demanded, asking as if Sam were somehow responsible for the pace at which the machines worked.
"I don't know dude, as long as it takes I guess… Probably a few hours, maybe more." Dean looked ready to retaliate with some angry retort so Sam quickly continued, hoping to offer what would ordinarily have been a tempting diversion. "Look Dean there's nothing we can do for now 'cept wait, so how about we get some breakfast huh? There's that fresh pack of bacon."
Dean turned, shrugging. "You go ahead. I'm not hungry."
"What are you gonna do instead?" Sam called out, following after Dean as he disappeared down the corridor in quick, long strides.
"Check the library, see if there's anything about those symbols I missed."
Dean opting for research over bacon? Oh yes. There was definitely something wrong. Trouble was, Sam had no idea what, and no idea how to figure it out.