Standard Disclaimer: Supernatural, including Sam, Dean, and John Winchester, is the creation of Eric Kripke. No copyright infringement intended.
A/N: The title of this story is taken from the song Fire Sign by David Berkeley. It is the intended soundtrack to this piece.
And Then You Go
By Liz Bach
Sam Winchester was a beautiful boy. Sylvia Meadows said so. Over and over again, her cold, thin hands wrapped loosely around his clasped palms. She reached out weakly and touched the shaking tips of three fingers against Sam's cheek. His skin was so young and soft and tinged pink from the chill winter air. And everything about him – everything she could still see, everything she could still feel – was electric. Maybe touching this child, her old, weathered hand on his pristine face, was keeping her alive. The current she could feel flowing from his body to hers, maybe that was what kept her heart beating through the terrible pain. Maybe that was what kept her mind working despite the distant pull of something icier than the nighttime, wintry cold.
"Thank you," she whispered urgently. "Thank you. You're beautiful, you know? Such a beautiful boy. Thank you for holding a dying old woman's hand."
"No, ma'am," Sam whispered back, his voice that still-tender deep of a child quickly becoming a man. "Please don't say that. My father and my brother…they're going to get you help."
Suddenly, her face fell, as if she had just then truly recognized the reality of her mortality. Her fingers slipped from the warmth of his face and dropped soundlessly into the powdery snow at her side. Her eyes were wide and unblinking, staring into his. And although she could see the rampant fear behind his steady and sympathetic gaze, what she sensed was comfort and calm. He was so warm, and he exuded peace like no one she'd met before.
"Who are you?" she asked. Her voice was scarcely louder than the sound of tall, stoic trees, an empty forest resonating with only the soft, wet tapping of the steadily falling snow.
"I'm…" he faltered momentarily. Then she felt his hands tighten around hers. "Sam. I'm Sam."
"You are beautiful, Sam," she asserted once again. "Such a beautiful, beautiful boy."
"Mrs. Meadows…" His words were soft and only for her, and they didn't echo through the snow-covered woods. "Mrs. Meadows?"
She died with her eyes open, staring up at a mysterious, beautiful boy.
John bustled through the door with clods of blood-stained snow stuck to his heavy boots. The room he'd entered was small and lit by a kerosene lamp they'd lifted from a hardware store sixty miles back. It was warmer than the snow and ice outside, but it was still cold. Frost coated a single dirty window pane, and a thin dusting of snow had drifted in at a drafty spot between the glass and the cracked and peeling frame.
Dean was dressed in jeans and three shirts; old, worn gloves still on hands that wrapped around his own arms in an attempt to retain body heat and stay warm. He was leaned against a small counter atop which sat an old, green camping stove. He'd been waiting for a pot of water to boil. What he planned to do with it, John wasn't sure. Dean eyed his father and the snow he'd brought with him before the door slammed shut. But he didn't move, and the water began to bubble and roil.
Sam was on the floor, where he'd been when John left ten hours earlier, a random, old schoolbook clutched in both hands against his chest. It was Homer or Milton or some other such nonsense: an accidentally purloined remnant from the last literature class he'd attended before John abruptly packed them into the car and drove. A large but thread-bare blanket was draped over his shoulders. It was obvious Dean had put it there, the way it hung around him and puddled in his lap and onto the floor. He didn't look up, even after the door had closed.
John's hair was wet, and he glanced at Dean, who might have shrugged, only the gesture was so subtle John wondered if he'd imagined it. Instead of speaking, he shed his snow-sodden coat and draped it over an old metal chair sitting tucked under the small, round kitchen table. He put both hands on the chair back and leaned.
When he finally spoke to his sons, it was without seeing them. Without even looking.
"It's taken care of."
Dean's eyes dropped to the floor, and his lips pursed in a grimly satisfied frown. He nodded once, then unwrapped his arms and turned to the stove.
"We'll leave in the morning."
Dean's frown deepened, and he dumped a blue box of macaroni into the water. He pulled a wooden spoon from the sink and began to stir.
The subsequent silence was accusatory on many levels.
They had one gas-powered space heater, and John had unthinkingly given it to the boys to run in their shared room during the night. They had quickly gotten used to the loud hum of the little motor, until it was only white noise that lulled them to sleep and almost drowned out their father's snores from the outer room. It helped to take the edge off the bitter cold, even though they had to crack the window and leave the door open in order to clear the bedroom of fumes.
Dean could hear the motor chugging dutifully from where he sat across from his father at the table. His long legs sprawled before him and crossed at the ankles. His hands were in his lap, and he picked at a ragged hangnail that eventually tore off and seeped a tiny speck of blood.
"This was nobody's fault," he said finally, not looking up.
His head didn't move, but his eyes lifted and caught his father's. "He helped her the only way he knew how. He shouldn't have been there in the first place."
"We needed him," John sighed. "He's old enough," he insisted, quietly but sternly. Then he grunted. "And he fucked up."
"He's not old enough." Dean was shaking his head. "Sir." He sat up straight and folded his arms across his chest. "And he didn't do anything wrong."
Dean wanted to tell his father that Sam hadn't said a word since two nights ago when they'd returned to find him trapped in a dead woman's grasp. He wanted to tell John how, since then, Sam murmured incoherently during the night, something about I can't and please no more.
But his father was looking at him with hard eyes, and there was something forbidding in the subtle clench of his jaw. So Dean kept his mouth shut and looked back down at the table.
Suddenly, there was a thump and a loud shuffle. The metal handle rattled as the bedroom door swung further open, and Sam stumbled out. He wore a dingy white t-shirt and a pair of too-big, grey sweatpants that could've belonged to any one of them. His hair was disheveled and his shoulders hunched. He had the doorknob in one hand and was squeezing the doorjamb with the other, as if to hold himself up.
Both Dean and John stood at the commotion. It was Dean, though, who shot his father a furtively reproachful glance before crossing the distance and grabbing Sam by the shoulders and giving him a small shake.
It was like the flip of a switch. Sam's ignorance and inexperience quickly gave way to a somewhat disturbing determination and willingness to hunt. He shot guns and wielded knives with nearly the same skill as his brother; he tackled texts and understood the lore with a faculty to rival their father's. Sam managed to make it look natural and easy, especially when John was looking.
Sam suddenly seemed years older, and it made Dean's skin crawl.
They were investigating an abandoned farm, and the stars were out, adding their brilliance to that of the nearly full moon. A shaft of light funneled down through a rotten hole in the barn roof. The malevolent spirit of a former owner stood just outside the spot where the hazy beam of light hit the dirt floor. She leered at them maliciously; and more quickly than they could anticipate, she struck.
John was thrown off his feet and skidded to a halt on his back against one of the old barn walls. Dean's shoulder took the brunt of the force of his body hitting the opposite wall. His hand slammed hard against a wooden girder, and the sawed-off shotgun loaded with rock salt clattered to his feet.
The spirit flickered once and then reappeared mere feet from where Sam stood, unmoved, his own shotgun grasped tightly in both hands. He deftly lifted his weapon and took aim and was about to pull the trigger when she spoke.
Her head cocked to the side, and she gave him a slightly lascivious smile. "Aren't you a beautiful little boy?"
The gun shook visibly in Sam's grasp. He stared at the ghost, his abruptly acquired maturity and proclivity for the hunt falling away as swiftly as it had first appeared. He lowered his weapon, and there was a frightening resignation in his eyes that spurred Dean into action.
He scrambled for the gun at his feet and rushed to the place where his brother stood rooted to the floor. This time his shoulder connected solidly with his brother's body, which was suddenly pliant. As Sam tumbled to the ground, Dean raised his shotgun and fired two rounds that dispelled the spirit with a bitter shriek and a sulfurous blast of cold air.
For several seconds, the immediate atmosphere was charged, and it crackled with dissipating energy. Then Dean was on the ground over his brother, his hands latched onto Sam's arms in a crushing grip.
There was a wild look on Sam's face, and Dean shook him.
"What is going on?" he demanded softly but urgently, his anger tempered with overt fear. "What the hell has gotten into you?"
Sam avoided his eyes, and it was the closest Dean had seen him to tears since he was eight and had just discovered what evils really lurked in the night.
"What's going on, Sam?" Dean repeated. "Whaddyou, have some kind of death wish?"
Sam broke free from Dean's hold on him and scrambled to his feet. He stumbled backward until he'd backed roughly into a thick, load-bearing support in the middle of the empty barn floor. His head cracked audibly against the wood, and he cringed in pain, his eyes closed. Then he started to mutter.
"I can't," he whispered brokenly. "Please…no more. Please. Please… I can't."
Dean was poised to move, all potential energy. But just as he began to take a step toward his brother, their father's voice stopped him.
"Dean. Go back to the car."
Maybe it wouldn't always be this way: Sam's soft voice propelling Dean into action and John's harsh words halting him in his tracks.
There was something wrong with Sam. Dean could see it in the rigidity of his shoulders, the severity of his stance. The way he looked like he might fall over right there, with his eyes screwed shut and his back pressed up against the heavy beam.
"Dad, he's hurt. There's something wrong with him –" Dean made one more move to grab his brother.
"I told you to go back to the car," John ordered again. There was something in his voice that wasn't quite cold, but not warm, either. Concerned, but not in the least bit sympathetic. To either of his sons.
Dean paused and looked at Sam, who had finally opened liquid eyes and was staring back. The look on his young face made Dean feel supremely inadequate and inept, because he wasn't sure what his brother was asking of him. And at the same time that he felt inherently compelled to give him whatever the hell he wanted just then, Dean also had a terrible feeling that whatever it was Sam needed, it might just be too much.
Finally – reluctantly – Dean turned to go back to the car. As he did, he saw Sam's expression dissolve into one of disappointment and despair. Of abandonment.
Dean walked away, his head light and his fingers trembling. His father and brother were behind him, and he didn't hear either of them speak before he was standing beside the Impala stowing his weapon away. As he shifted the contents of the trunk, he noticed how eerily calm the air around him had become. There was absolutely no noise. Not a leaf being stirred by the wind, not an animal making a sound. Just stillness and silence, like he'd been swallowed. Singled out. Alone. He felt exposed, although he wasn't sure to what.
An unnerving feeling swept through him. It was a frightening sensation of being stripped of something of unequaled importance, like something precious was being snatched away from him that very moment. He felt a sudden and strong urge to go back and find his father and Sam.
He looked down at the weapons at his hands, and hesitated. And convinced himself that the feeling had passed.