(c)2006 b stearns
a/n: huge thanks to everyone who hung in there, and thanks for the incredible reviews.
Dean was worried.
He wasn't good at worrying. It was a waste of time. But this deserved it, because he was worried about Sam.
He wanted to talk it all over out loud with someone, he could work almost anything out aloud, but there was no one to tell and no way to say certain things without sounding like an overprotective nut, by his estimation. He'd missed most of what had happened but knew enough to realize how much it must have sucked.
There had been no pain in coming apart, because pain he could recognize in almost all its forms and he had ways of ignoring it or warding it off. Pain was easy. Shredding out into the world was the worst of all possibilities and he'd had no idea of how to deal with that. He remembered sitting by the car and staring at the elemental and knowing what it was, knowing it belonged to the house and that it wasn't sentient. People set them up all the time, sometimes without even knowing, leaving them open-ended. You just weren't supposed to see them. He remembered thinking it would be good to have Sam try and set them on the rooms they stayed in, or on the car. Or leave them behind in the places where they'd chased something away. Sam would be good at it, Sam had the kind of heart that would be able to set them for all the right reasons.
The elemental hadn't cared what the house wanted. That was the danger of setting protections and not ever taking them down, protecting long after the focus had decided enough was enough.
He remembered poking around the yard, circling the house and listening to it die. He never discussed houses with Sam, with anyone. There was no reason to. They had souls or they didn't. They contained the souls of prior inhabitants or they didn't. Talking about it was like describing blue to someone born blind; you were welcome to try and come to an understanding but good luck to you.
He should have known that anything and everything would find him out in the open after what had happened earlier that night. Him not quite put together right and Sam the Psychic Wonder Chew Toy just yards away in the house, hello. The best part of all was that the lights hadn't even meant to take him apart, they'd just ended up pulling him open because there were too many of them in one place. They'd just been centering on him, and jeez, he'd actually had to admit that to Sam. He'd been pretty sure he was dying, so, free pass on that one.
They were gone, now. He wasn't sure where, and tried not to think about it. The first time he'd come apart he'd just torn a hole in himself. This time he'd opened a hole in the world, and maybe it wasn't big enough or deep enough to let the right and wrong things come and go between worlds on their own, but it was still an invisible blast crater that at the least invited a...pooling of some sort. He'd just let the elemental deal with that, if it could, because he didn't want to know what it would take to fill it back in. He wasn't through filling himself back in, and as long as the crater wasn't hurting anyone or anything it was best to let it go and check in every now and then. Sam might be able to tell if it was going to be a problem. Dean wouldn't ask him, exactly, or say anything about it, he'd just herd Sam into standing in a particular spot, and then try and pretend he wasn't staring at him.
After the crying had ended (never seen that before, never seen Sam cry out loud above the age of twelve, not like that, maybe not ever) Sam hadn't evinced anything that looked like recognizable emotion. It was like he was numb or in shock or something, and Dean wasn't subtle with his own emotions but he was good at picking out the nuances in others. Survival technique, invitation to manipulate, signals letting him know where all the weaknesses were. Sam was not 'others'. Sam still had the same way of expressing himself that he always had and Dean had always known how and when to address each to either make it better or worse. Sam shut down when he was pissed off, really pissed off as in fuck you, done with your shit. There'd be a clenched jaw and hooded eyes to go with the silence. He'd draw his shoulders in and curl up against people. When Sam was mad at someone, he refused to look at them. When Dean was mad, he couldn't stop looking.
This, though, this was a shutting down as in can't take any more. Sam had flipped through their dad's journal and left it open to a certain page, then had slept ever since. Nothing restless or anxious, just sleeping hard like he hadn't been able to in months.
He needed the rest. And if he was sleeping, he wasn't randomly grabbing Dean and staring in his eyes without saying anything. Sam was not touchy-feely in anything but a verbal sense, so Dean felt it was best to shut the fuck up and put up with it for awhile. It was better than the crying. Dean needed to never hear or see that again and never, never cause it. So he'd shut up and let things go for awhile even though he was bouncing off the goddamn walls. He felt better than he had any right to. He wanted to know everything that had happened, and Sam wouldn't talk. Stop the presses, call National Geographic, Sam Winchester wouldn't talk beyond monosyllables. Not mad, or hurt, or even relieved. Just missing.
Dean wanted to say I don't remember much but it was like that feeling you have when you're almost asleep, not here or there, and then you summoned me like I was any demon.
There was the big kicker. No ritual or altar or freakin' anything. Sam was an altar. He didn't seem to get it or give a rat's ass about the implications like Dean did. That maybe they could stop chasing and just -
That was too far to think. He'd be quiet and keep an eye on Sam and stay close, and when Sam was rested, they'd...talk. He'd let Sam figure this one out himself.
It was best not to think too hard about what it had been like to be summoned. Only that if Sam called, there was no way to not answer.
Or maybe that was just Dean.
He sat down at the small table against the wall by the door and stared at the journal. The left page was open to the entry about ignis fatuus, the same pages Sam had already been looking at when they'd been headed to Fort Morgan. Folded into fourths was the article about the family who had died in the house that Dean felt he knew too much about, now. The facing page held a small picture of a guy Dean remembered from way back, and a carefully clipped obituary from some newspaper. He already knew what it said; he remembered his father gluing the scrap into place with a sigh. Tom Atcheson, 1953 - 2002, motorcycle accident. Dad hadn't found anything unusual about it so they hadn't gone looking for a supernatural culprit. They'd gone to the funeral and dad had just said told that damn idiot to wear a helmet and had left it at that.
After all the other stuff Tom had faced down or taught them to watch out for, it had seemed like a stupid way to die. But Dean was also of the school of when your number's up, it's up. Live good and crazy right up until then and hopefully after.
Turn the page.
He closed the journal carefully and stared at Sam for a little while before walking over and sitting on the edge of the bed Sam was on. Sam was on his side, facing the wall, arms folded, looking young and kind of...beaten, somehow. Like the bruises were too deep to show on the surface.
Worrying did no good, so he laid down and put his back against Sam's and folded his arms. Brother-mirrors.
Sam had awoken disgruntled with nothing in particular, just out of sorts and one step off everything. He felt like maybe he was the one unraveling, a little, or had forgotten to tuck all of his own edges in. He wasn't pissed, just a little frantic, and the best way to keep from panicking or feeling disoriented was to get Dean to rave at him about something. If Dean was yelling or bossing him, then things were fine.
"Dude," Dean said. "We're done here. Mystery solved. By seriously unconventional means, yeah, but we've done what we came to do. Nobody else is getting zapped on purpose any time soon."
"No," Sam said. "We stay put until I know that you're back the way you're supposed to be and not gonna be leaving anything behind."
"How exactly are you gonna do that, Sam?" Dean said, hands on hips, feet braced, expression calm but eyes half-lidded with annoyance.
Sam raised his eyes from the laptop. Google had plenty to say about summoning, most of it bullshit so far and nothing more enlightening that what was already in the journal. There was so much to talk about that there was nothing to say. So he stared at Dean, unblinking, expressionless, still trying to get used to the idea that he'd managed to avert disaster and wasn't paying for it somehow. This was Dean, not some mix of him or facet or a new, improved version.
Dean was also arguing with him instead of saying get your ass in the car, Sam, and his patience said a lot about how shaken he'd been. He was trying to find a way to talk and just wasn't sure how to go about it, and Sam wasn't giving him any easy openings. If he started talking about it all, he'd drag everything out into the light, and he wasn't ready to do that. He wanted out of there as badly as Dean did, maybe worse. To not have to look at the place any more or even think about it, just gather everything and feel lucky and move on to something else. Just pick a direction and go with no destination in mind, and break Dean's goddamn phone so it would be a little while before coordinates popped up, if at all.
Dean was staring back without moving, and he was still so obviously worried, so Sam got up and came straight at him, causing a raising of eyebrows until he got close enough to grab him again and pull him in.
"Aw, Sam, c'mon," Dean said with exasperation.
Sam wrapped his arms around Dean and held on, chin tucked into the crook between neck and shoulder. "Shut up," he said.
Dean sighed and made an inarticulate sound of annoyance. Then he gave in and put his hands flat against Sam's back. Okay, he hugged. Maybe he hugged a little harder than he needed to or had intended to, but only because Sam was leaning over him kind of weird, that was all, jeez. Big deal.
"I'm here," he said finally. "Okay?"
"Okay," Sam said, and didn't let go.
When they left two days later it was because Sam was sure there was a place for everything and everything in its place. And, they were bored. Sam said I'm driving, Whitney and Dean had mumbled something under his breath that sounded obscene, but he let him do it.
On the way out of town, they sat out on the road in front of the house and stared at it without saying anything. It didn't look any different except that the windows had been boarded up. Someone had finally noticed that the windows had been blown out, and Sam wondered if they'd noticed that the glass had landed equally inside and out as if split right down the center of the panes lengthwise.
Something changed; Dean made some subtle motion without realizing it because Sam said, "No."
Dean looked at him. "What?"
"Leave it alone."
"I wasn't gonna do anything," Dean said, eyes back on the house again."You promised for both of us that it wouldn't burn."
He said it with such a faraway simplicity that it took Sam a moment to remember that he'd made that promise in his head while Dean was still...
"You remember that?" Sam said.
Dean looked at him again, at the look on his face, at the sort of hopeful wonder, and he sighed and slumped his shoulders. "You're not gonna hug me again, are you?" He was relieved when Sam grinned, regular Sam, still clingy and kind of messed up, but Sam. "Are we gonna hold hands?"
Sam shook his head a little and looked at the house again, a small furrow of concern developing between his brows. "It's not really a feather," he said. "You know that, right?"
Dean didn't say anything. He knew instantly that Sam was talking about what was in the trunk.
"It's put together like one but that was done on purpose," Sam said. "And the hole in the yard's not going to trap anything."
They headed east again and picked up newspapers as they went, making sure nothing was following them. Sam kept an eye on the news sites for Fort Morgan just to be safe because things didn't feel done even if there was nothing left to do.
A week later, he spun the laptop and pushed it toward Dean across the table of a diner without saying anything.
Dean scanned the page for almost half a minute, expression never changing. Then he closed the laptop and went back to eating the best homemade chicken soup he'd probably ever had while it was still hot.
"Not gonna say anything?" Sam said.
Dean shrugged. "Rare, but not impossible."
"Lightning hit that house and burned it to the ground, yesterday," Sam said. "Plain old lightning."
"Funny, how things work out," Dean said.
-I- -I- -I-