Woven - prologue
(Week three in the Month of Open Doors series)
(c)2006 b stearns
a/n: Three or more tales on the same theme is a series, I suppose, requiring that I name it. Sam and Dean's Bogus Journey didn't stick. This is the sequel of If Belief Was Enough and the grand-sequel of And Fools Shine On.
Dean has a problem with abandoned houses.
Sam calls it that in the forefront of his mind. Down where he tells the truth whether he wants to or not, he acknowledges that it's more of an obsession. He's always had a thing for abandoned houses regardless of age, as far back as Sam could remember. The older the better, but there had been a few newer ones as well.
They were headed east to Colorado, not quite out of Washington, when Sam asked to stretch because the silence was freaking him out. At first the quiet had been mutual, then forced, then intolerable. Dean suddenly didn't even want to listen to music. The tension was all on Sam's part, because Dean was lost in thought and not paying any attention.
Sam figured Dean had to know what Sam had done, even if only on a subconscious level. He had to. They didn't treat each other any differently when they were talking, but damn if he just wouldn't look Sam in the face. He wasn't even doing it on purpose, Sam could tell. He just couldn't seem to stand to look at Sam.
Sam couldn't bring it up. Not without launching into fullscale disclosure, and selfishly, he didn't want that. He wanted to believe that if he left it all alone, it would fade with time like all their other scars did. In the meantime, Sam listened as hard as he could for the things he knew would mean his haphazard, accidental stitches weren't holding. What the hell he'd do if it happened, he wasn't sure. The night before he'd dreamt that if he didn't keep that same grip on Dean's jacket that he'd had that night in the car, Dean would come apart in his hands like so much shattered glass. If he didn't keep pressure on all the wounds at once...
He wasn't sure what he'd left behind of himself, or how much he was imagining. He didn't want to invent trouble where it didn't exist yet, but he was so used to anticipating things.
They pulled off into some town just outside Spokane. Dean got turned around trying to get back onto the 90, and ended up on a backroad that allowed him to pass this particular house in a clearing. He didn't say anything, and didn't have to. Sam simply expected that they'd check it out. There was some sort of plastic dish left on the side of the road; signs offering tree service, an old and uniform set of white crosses heralding an accident that had left a permanent mark. A rabbit carcass lay still unnoticed by scavengers.
The lines of layered cirrus clouds to the west forced the dying sun into a tower of champagne light that backlit the house as they jumped the ditch, Dean in the lead. Soft shining whisper-lines of ghostfog hung in the last of the light past a line of windbreak trees, bordering a wide open space full of low grass and tangles of berry bushes. Destruction and death had left markers and made open space and opportunity for other things to crowd.
This house dated back to maybe the late 1800's, and it was obvious it had never been wired for electricity. Two stories of weathered cedar stood gray against the sky, leaning just a little to the south, the fireplace and chimney left as both heart of the house and final point of integrity. The brick and mortar were gray as well, with only hints of ochre left from whatever clay it had been made from. The shake roof wasn't open to the elements yet even though most of the shakes were missing, but the entire rear wall and the porch that was attached to it had collapsed, and the elements had been inside getting comfortable ever since. Birds and bats and probably field mice had converted it to an ideal shelter.
Dean stood in the field just outside what must have once been the back yard for a long moment, staring.
Sometimes Dean burned them. Sam never tried to stop him; he was less interested in preserving the history or saving someone's rightful (rundown) property than he was in allowing Dean to cleanse some corner of shadow from his mind by doing it. He doesn't hinder but he doesn't try and help, either. This is a solitary venture that Dean doesn't even seem to derive any satisfaction from; it's a grim undertaking, and he oversees the death of each house with the same gravity he would lend to closing the staring eyes of any startled victim.
Sam watched Dean pick his way through the remainder of the porch and began to follow, because it meant they were going to search the house. Dean was already in the parlor area when Sam stepped far enough into the dimmed recesses to get a sense of the place. Ornate chair rail ringed the open space; windows, free of glass for decades, gaped from ceiling to knee height and let the last of the light in. The hardwood floors were warped and faded, and several boards were missing to Sam's right, leaving a stark precursor to the freshly half-eaten rat that lay near it. They'd probably startled an owl. The fireplace to the left and its hearth took up the majority of the space, cradling the set of stairs that still led up into darkness. Dean had gone around to the other side, and Sam could hear his steps testing the boards.
Dean was full of quirks. Sam knew them but didn't examine them because they were mostly to distract anyone from really seeing him. The remainder had to do with either the real Dean or his attempt to keep himself together. Rituals and keepsakes, reminders and warnings. The things he did automatically were all a matter of training or rigid discipline, and only recently had Sam come to understand that these were the seams of a soul that had already been coming apart because they hadn't been enough to keep it from weathering constant damage. There had never been enough buffer from the shock, or from the times he'd been left without someone at his back.
Sam was getting whispers and suggestions back, pictures drawn on fog-covered windows that returned in half-patterns on dryer days. He doubted he'd ever understand what had happened in those few moments he'd spent folding Dean back together, but what little he could remember made him feel like he understood his brother without being able to say why.
They don't talk about the houses. They never have. Sam's always thought maybe it was to keep spirits from gathering or a preventative measure for any local kids who might think about using it for rituals, but he's not really sure. He's always left certain things alone because he's fairly sure Dean has declared ownership over them and talking about them rendered them powerless. Like the singing.
He'd keep the music down if Sam was sleeping, but he'd sing along without realizing it on dark roads, a soft and perfect pitch, giving a bit of himself away to it. Saying Dean you have an awesome voice meant never hearing it again so Sam paid to hear it with his silence.
He wasn't sure he'd done either of them any favors.
The first use of his name in hours made Sam jump. He'd been staring out the empty windows so hard that their shapes had made negative imprints on his retinas as he looked away. He walked around the fireplace into what might have once been a kitchen, then into a back room. Wallpaper hung in strips of dried mold, some faded floral pattern in blues wilting toward the buckled floor. Nailed to the wall was a standing cupboard of some sort, probably for keeping food warm until it was served. Dean was trying to pry the front of it open, something no longer easy after years of temperature changes and dampness had swelled the wood in place.
"No way there's anything in here," Dean said.
Sam dug his nails into the crease in the wood and hoped they held. With both of them working at it, it took only a moment for the wood to give with a shriek. They both stepped back in case there was any kind of pissed off vermin, but there were only dusty shelves. Dean shrugged, pounded Sam on the shoulder, and rounded the fireplace to make for the stairs.
Sam hated it when there was more than one story to the houses. For whatever reason, they had yet to fall through anywhere no matter how hard Dean pushed his luck; still, Sam could always feel the space below waiting for them. Dean pounded on the stairs as he went, making sure they were sturdy, and from the sounds of it, they were. They were hemmed in with the fireplace on one side and the kitchen wall on the other, making for a disturbingly close space.
Once Dean reached the top, there was silence again.
Sam waited to hear him test the boards above, knowing he would be sticking to the floor along the walls just in case. Sometimes he ran right across the center just to drive Sam nuts. Sam always begged off second - or, God help him, third - stories, letting Dean jeer him for being chicken. Sam always retorted with I have to stay down here to drag you out of the wreckage. Dean seemed to believe the houses would never fall on him or fail, and Sam had to wonder at the fact that ruined buildings engendered more faith than the people he knew.
Maybe Dean burned them for that reason - because they were poor substitutes. Maybe he simply felt their abandoned loneliness and was putting each one out of its misery.
Sam wanted to stand there and learn what the house knew and carry it with him.
Dean was still quiet, standing in place somewhere above and most likely staring out windows no one would ever stare out of again. Sam thought, as above, so below.