Title: Day of the Dead
Author: Xina Marie Uhl (twasadark)
Genre: Gen, PG-13
Summary: Something is strange about Sam.
It's one of those all-too-rare times when the gigs are few and far between, and nothing much is going on. Dean and Sam are holed up in some crappy little copper mining town in the high desert of eastern Arizona by the name of Globe. They picked the town solely because they needed a cheap place to stay for a while, and you can't get much cheaper than $23 per night plus tax.
The hotel is what you'd expect for the price: a closet-sized room with a crack the size of the Grand Canyon (okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration) snaking up the ancient plaster walls. The beds aren't too lumpy, though, so Dean finds that he sleeps soundly at night, his belly full of the best damn Mexican food he's ever tasted.
On the third morning, Dean wakes up to find the bright spring sunlight shining on his face through a gap in the 30-year-old drapes. Sam is sitting cross-legged on his bed, elbows on knees, hand propped up on his clasped hands, watching Dean like he's the most interesting thing in the world.
Dean blinks against the glare of the sun, and looks around, trying to figure out what is going on.
"What the fuck, dude?" He asks in an annoyed, sleep-roughened voice. "Is a scorpion crawling up my nose, or what?"
Sam gives a little start, and looks puzzled. "No," he says, matter-of-fact. "I'd like to see a scorpion, though."
Okaaaaaay. He waits for Sam to say more, but he doesn't.
Dean drags his hand through his hair self-consciously, just to be sure about the whole scorpion thing.
"Why are you staring at me?" He sounds a little indignant, 'cause that's how he's feeling. He's not the most pleasant person pre-coffee.
"There are just so many details I've never seen before! Like those little blond hairs all over your face, and up your nose. You have hair up your nose! And eyebrows—I never knew that eyebrows were so … symmetrical."
Dean blinks, and blinks again.
"Your skin has all these variations. It crinkles a little at the corner of your eyes, and there are tiny vertical cracks in your lips. Plus, freckles! And noises come out of both your mouth and nose when you sleep. Sighs and puffs--"
Dean sits up violently enough to almost induce whiplash. "Dude, what is wrong with you? Are you drunk?" He leans forward and sniffs around Sam. He doesn't smell like he's been drinking.
"No. I think you have to consume alcohol in order to be drunk."
Sam sounds serious.
"Anyhow," Sam continues, "Nothing is wrong with me. You asked me why I was looking at you, and I told you."
"Hell yeah, something's wrong with you!" Dean squawks. He reaches over the narrow space separating the beds and feels Sam's forehead. "You got a fever?"
Nope, no fever.
"Your hand is warm," Sam states. "I like how it feels."
Which of course causes
Dean to immediately snatch his hand back. "You . . . uh
. . ." Shit. It is too early in the morning for this! His eyes widen as a terrible thought occurs to him. "Christo!" He snaps.
No tell-tale signs of black appear in Sam's eyes.
"Christo, Christo, Christo, Christo, Christo, Christo, Christo, Christo!"
Sam snorts in amusement, then looks surprised at himself. "What a strange noise!" He snorts again, and again, although now it sounds like he is trying to hock up a loogie. He shakes his head a little. "Uh, anyhow. There's no demon inside me, Dean."
Dean scrambles off the bed, rushes over to the duffel bag and grabs the holy water. He splashes it right between Sam's eyes. Sam tries to look at his nose, cross-eyed, then reaches up to touch the liquid. "So that's what 'wet' means . . ."
Then Dean snatches up the crucifix, Bible, and some salt for good measure. He drapes the crucifix around Sam's neck, shoves the Bible into his hands, and throws salt at his face. But the only effect of his efforts seem to be that the holy water he splashed on his brother's face makes the salt stick in large lumps on his face.
Dean's getting desperate. "Recite some scripture, bitch!"
"What? Dean, I told you--"
"I don't care what you told me. Do it!"
Sam sighs. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …"
Dean makes him say all of Psalm 23, and Sam doesn't burst into flames. Not once.
Dean starts pacing in the crammed space on the other side of his bed, trying not to hyperventilate. Okay. He just has to think. No reason to panic. Maybe it's some sort of spirit possessing Sam.
"Who are you?" Dean cries, trying not to sound desperate and failing quite spectacularly.
"I'm Sam," Dean's brother says, patiently. "Short for Samuel."
A really stupid spirit.
Dean takes a breath, trying to be calm and patient. "Look, what happened? This is not you. I've known you for a pretty long time. Your whole life, in fact. And you haven't acted like this since you were … I don't know. Six, or something."
"Nothing happened. I'm Sam, and I'm here with you, seeing stuff. Experiencing stuff."
Okay, screw patience.
"Wait," Dean says. "Maybe there's some sort of spell that turns you into an idiot? I gotta call Bobby …"
Sam's brows furrow. "I'm not an idiot."
"You just go right on believing that, pardner," Dean says, then gives a high-pitched laugh as he reaches for his phone.
Bobby doesn't know shit. Well, about this particular problem. Ellen can't help either. Joshua thinks Dean is smoking crack. Dean is kinda tired of yakking about it after spending 3 hours on the phone. Plus, his ear hurts. Damn cell phones. They probably do give you brain cancer.
Anyhow, it's only 11 am, but neither of them had breakfast, and Sam's been looking down at his stomach every time it growls like he has no clue what's going on, so Dean steers him down the street to the Mexican food place they've been practically living in since they settled in here. Sam orders a bean burrito smothered in butter. When the food comes, he sniffs it and then starts eating, licking his lips and moaning like he's having a frickin' orgasm.
"Dude," Dean says, looking around at the other patrons, who keep stealing glances at Sam, then laughing behind their hands. "Tone it down a little, will you?"
"Dean. I can't. This is just … the beans are so creamy, and the butter is buttery, and the cheese is … well, look--" he holds up a forkful of burrito, cheese dripping down in a long, stringy line. "This is … it's amazing!" He has a rapturous expression on his face. It would be kinda cute if it wasn't so weird.
"Yeah, it's good food, but it's not that good!"
Sam pauses in mid-chew, staring at Dean. "Am I … ?" He swallows. "Am I embarrassing you?" His voice rises in pitch, and now even more people are staring at them.
Dean doesn't get embarrassed easily. It's kind of a point of pride for him. But this … fuck it. "Yes!" He hisses.
Sam gets an expression like a little kid whose tricycle has just been run over by a dump truck. He puts his fork down and swallows convulsively, which makes Dean feel like a piece of trash.
"Hey, just – oh, hell. Keep eating, will you?"
Sam's pout turns into a grin and he digs into the burrito again happily.
After they've paid their bill, they stop by the candy machine one the way out the door and Dean buys Sam one of those gigantic gumballs that rolls down a curving slide—which Sam watches like it's as fascinating as Dean's nose hair. Sam crams the gumball in his mouth and chomps on it like a horse all the way back to the motel.
Once there, Dean sits on the bed and stares at Sam, wringing his hands. Sam is wandering around the room, running his fingers over the fabric of the drapes, skating them over the glass panes, and sliding them across the walls. He picks up the bedspread and smells it, crinkles his nose, and drops it.
"Sam," Dean says, "sit down. I want to talk to you."
Sam obliges amiably, sitting across from him on his bed, feet planted so that his knees and Dean's jostle against each other's in the narrow space. "What do you want to talk about?"
"You. I mean, come on. Something happened to you between last night and this morning, and I need to know what it was."
Sam thinks about this request for a long moment before saying, "There's just so much that's good and amazing and pure about the world, about the little things we do every day, the places we go, all the people. I want to really look at you, and taste my lunch and—I don't know—just feel a tree trunk, or something. Can't we spend the day enjoying life for once? Just living. That's all I want."
Something in Sam's voice tugs at Dean, makes him think about the hourglass running low for himself, about how little time he really has to live life. And okay, Sam wants to feel up a tree. Yeah, it's weird. But not evil. Pretty harmless, actually.
"Sure," Dean says.
Sam breaks out into the brightest, happiest smile Dean has seen on his face since he was a kid. The sight of it makes Dean's throat tighten. He clears his throat a couple of times before it goes away.
Around here, there are no beaches to ride horses down like in the movies, and Dean doesn't want to let Sam do the whole tree-touching thing where anyone can see them, so instead they drive out a winding two-lane highway to the Roosevelt Dam, about twenty miles outside of town. He likes the desert, the openness of it, the strangeness of the dry clear air and bright sun. The lake when it comes into view is impressive, a huge swath of calm dark blue water, held back by the curving wall of the dam. The whole scene is framed by stark brown hills, saguaros and scrub brush, the colors so vivid and contrasting with the wide cloudless sky that Sam gushes about them for what seems like half an hour. They pull over at the dam and Sam practically leaps out of the Impala to lean over the edge and gawk at the stonework, and the huge-sloping decline, and the way a thin stream of water shoots out a release valve on the other side. They walk across the dam two times, Sam pointing out every crag and metal spike in the surrounding rock walls. He even ducks under a chain and scales down a metal ladder set into the side of the dam itself to get a closer look at its construction.
There are three or four other cars parked nearby, the occupants out wandering around like they are. Sam chats up some old guy with suspenders and a sweat-stained cowboy hat. The guy lives around here and spouts off about the Italian stonemasons brought in to build the dam at the turn of last century, and how many people died on the job, and the carp the size of a man's leg in the deep part of the lake and blah, blah, blah.
Dean finally coaxes Sam back into the Impala forty-five minutes later and they drive down to the lake, get out, and walk along the rocky shoreline. Sam takes off his shoes and socks and wades in, pants and all.
"This is cold!" He exclaims, but doesn't come out.
Dean sits on the shore and watches him pick his way through the water and peer into it, commenting with excitement when he spots a fish or crawdad or weird-shaped rock. He hasn't seen this side of his brother for a long time, had almost forgotten how sweet and innocent Sam was as a child, and seeing him like this is kinda nice. Still weird, but nice.
Sam wades out after a while, and sits down next to Dean with an 'oof' and a spray of water droplets. They sit side by side, just looking around and not talking. Finally, Sam stretches out on his back to dry his pants, a slight smile on his lips as he basks in the sun. That seems like a good idea to Dean, so he stretches out as well, and soon finds himself drowsing in the warmth.
When he wakes up it's late afternoon and Sam is twisted around on his side, poking a stick at an ant hole spewing forth a continual stream of big, red ants.
Dean gets to his feet with a groan, popping the kinks in his back. "Come on," he says, and Sam follows without comment.
They pick their way back to the Impala. As they approach the rear of the car, Sam clutches Dean's arm and points.
"Look at that!"
And talk about weird.
Tarantulas—big, black, and hairy. There must be dozens of them, moving one by one, coming from different angles and at different speeds, each of them crossing the dirt parking lot in a haphazard path toward the lake.
"Fuck!" Dean exclaims. He's never really liked big disgusting spiders. "What is this, some sort of invasion?"
Sam frowns at him. "You know, Dean, I don't like it when you swear. And you swear a lot."
"Who cares about that!" Dean cries in exasperation. "There are frickin' monster bugs coming toward us!"
Sam chuckles. "They're not coming after us, Dean. They're migrating, or something."
"But--" Dean pauses, trying to think whether he's heard lore about zombie insects, or insects bringing on the apocalypse, or anything remotely supernatural about them.
Sam is smiling. "There's nothing wrong with them. They're just doing what spiders do. Watch them."
Dean quashes the urge to jump into the driver's seat and zoom away, running over as many of the creepy crawlers as he can. He sold his soul for his brother. Surely he can watch a few bugs with him if it makes him happy. So instead, he stands where he is and watches alongside Sam, slowly relaxing as the creatures make slow, jerky, silent progress across the dusty earth.
He tenses as one of the spiders veers too close to the Impala for comfort. It ends up crawling underneath the carriage and exiting the other side on its haphazard path toward the water.
It isn't long before the dozens become several dozens and then probably hundreds of spiders.
Dean sees movement in all directions, slow and steady and strange. When his heart stops thundering and his mind wraps around what his eyes are seeing, he finds an odd sort of peace in watching the creatures, drawn inexplicably toward the water.
Sam and Dean watch them for a long time, until the sun starts sinking below the horizon and the sky lights with the oranges and pinks of the dying day.
They are leaning against the trunk of the Impala now.
Dean is with his brother 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They sleep in the same room, eat at the same time, share the same tube of toothpaste. This feels different. Like they are together. Dean doesn't know why. But he likes it.
Sam sighs at last, and turns to his brother.
"I think it's time to go now."
"Yeah, okay." Dean pushes away from the trunk, fishing for the keys in his pocket.
Sam halts him with a hand on his arm.
"No, Dean. It's time for me to go now," he says, enunciating the last words in a gentle voice.
What--? Dean searches his face as perception slowly dawns. He pulls his arm away. His voice breaks when he says, "You're not Sam, are you?"
"I didn't lie to you. My name is Samuel. But I'm not your Samuel. And it's been a long, long time since I've been here on earth."
Dean feels all the blood drain from his face. "Where is he?"
"He's here with me. Seeing. Feeling. Being. Don't worry; he agreed to let me stay with him for a little while. All is well," Sam assures him. He looks so calm, so at ease and so patient. He reaches out, puts a warm hand on Dean's neck, at the juncture of his shoulder, resting it there the same way Dad used to do when he was pleased with Dean.
Dean feels unable to move, weighed down and comforted by Sam's presence and assurance. Which really isn't like him. But somehow, this feels right.
Sam's eyes are fixed on him, his gaze rooting him and holding him, and something is happening, something warm and odd, and Dean realizes that Sam is glowing, and that glow is growing stronger, and brighter and Dean thinks it should be burning him but it's not—
Instead, it moves upward, detaching from Sam's body like mist rising off a mountain lake, fanning outward on either side of him, wing-shaped.
In a moment, it's gone. Sam is still looking at him, still touching him, and it's really Sam this time, lanky, geeky, normal old Sam.
His eyes are bright, and he's smiling a sad sort of smile that makes a hard, lonely knot in Dean's chest unfurl.
He thinks he should say something. He wants to tear his eyes away and compose himself. Wants to shake off the tide of emotion swelling inside of him.
After a while, Sam lets his hand drop. Dean shrugs his shoulders and swipes a hand across his face. It's almost dark now, and the air around them is still, thick with unspoken emotion.
They get in the car, and the sound of the engine turning over is loud in the quiet. In the rear view mirror, Dean sees the lake receding behind them in a swirl of dust.
Author's note: So some of this story is actually true in that I'm from Globe, AZ, which does have the best damn Mexican food in the world. The places mentioned are real, and when I was a kid my family and I actually witnessed a tarantula migration like the one described here at Roosevelt Lake. Why "Day of the Dead" for the title? Somehow, it seemed appropriate. In case you're not familiar with it, it's the name of the Mexican festival after Halloween, where people honor their loved ones by decorating their graves. The Southwest has a large Mexican population (hence the awesome food!) And there are a couple of pictures of Roosevelt Dam posted on my homepage, for those who are interested in such things.