Too Far From Where We Once Belonged.

Chapter 6

S s S s S

Sam placed the silk covered skull back onto the coffee table and sat, elbow on knees staring into the dying fire. Dean had expected him to follow through on his threat and actually try to talk; instead Sam appeared to be indulging in a good old fashioned brood.

Dean stayed by the door, torn by his own indecisiveness. They had to keep moving, keep on doing what the Winchesters did best and yet it was such a god awful mess and Dean didn't know who or what they were anymore and he didn't know what he was supposed to think.

Did he care? Should he heed Castiel's portents of doom or was Sam right? Were they too far from where they started? Did the rules even apply to them anymore? Dean would have always said he was never one for keeping in line with the regulations. Undermine the system; stick it to the man, Dean's personal mottos. Rules to live by, in fact. Dean hated irony. A few pointers, guidelines on how to handle psychic siblings and the unwanted side effects of spending too much time with demons would be pretty handy right now.

His feet made their own decision and took him back to his brother's side. Sam had closed his eyes and a small line of concentration cut into his brow. Dean opened his mouth to speak and snapped it shut as Sam raised his forefinger for silence.

Dean sat and waited, trying not to fidget and tried not to think about the stranger lying in the attic and the lingering energy of the room that he could feel drifting down the stairs. The distinctive scent of magic and otherworldly power that he hadn't even known he could recognize. After a couple of minutes, he realized he was drumming his fingers lightly on his thigh; he immediately stopped and huffed impatiently.

"Do you remember what Dad told you?" Sam asked suddenly, making Dean jump. "What you told me that day by the river?"

"Should I?" Dean stalled. Any time John Winchester cropped up in discussion was a time to man the battlements.

Sam opened his eyes and continued to study the fire. "Oh don't be so shy. I doubt I'll ever forget it. The whole 'I've gotta save you or kill you Sammy' routine."

"Oh. That." One more conversation high of the list of things Dean would rather forget.

"What do you think Dad would think of us, Dean? We've both died, been brought back by supernatural forces and I have visions and can exorcise demons and you… What can you do Dean? Sniff out centuries old protections charms. Give me an ass kicking power boost when I need it and, what else, Dean? What did they teach you in Hell?"

"Nothing." Dean bristled, determinedly hanging onto his anger and letting it transmute into physical agitation. He had learnt many things. About pain and hate and how to use such things to destroy a man's soul. He leapt up, moving to the fireplace and throwing more logs into the grate.

"So I'm a little more sensitive that I used to be. I was in Hell, as you so astutely keep pointing out. I was there for decades, and an angel, Sammy; a freaking angel restored me to my body. Let's not mention the mind bending torture, shall we. I ain't exactly in mint condition."

Sam looked at him with something akin to sadness in his eyes, and nodded. "I know. I was dead too, for a while. Not a long as you, sure, but I hope this is not going to turn into some type of pissing contest, with you pulling out the 100 years of torture trump every time."

Dean grabbed a poker and stirred the embers. "It was 30 and if that's what it takes to get you off my back then, yeah, I think I'm fucking entitled to."

"I remember. Being dead. Being somewhere else." Sam said casually and smiled tremulously.

Dean dropped the poker on to the stone hearth where it clattered loudly. This was not on the agenda; in fact Dean had always held the understanding that it was a mutually agreed no-go zone.

"I thought you didn't, you never said." Dean wasn't sure he wanted to know and was suspected that this was some kind of conversational ambush on the part of his brother. He was good at those.

"I didn't remember at first, it was months after." Sam wrinkled his nose. "Ah, that's not quite true. I always had a sense of it, but it wasn't what you'd call a memory it was more of an impression."

Dean resisted the urge to nod. He might have told Sam about some of his more vivid memories but much of his time down in the pit was a disorderly hodge-podge of ill defined sights and muffled sounds.

"When I first came round. I knew I had died. I knew I was back and I shouldn't be and it felt like I'd been gone forever. Like a whole lifetime had come and gone, almost as if I'd lapped myself in a race and when you came in the door and were so glad to see me I thought you weren't my Dean, but the next one. I know that sounds stupid and you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. But wherever I was dead, I spent another life there. It wasn't Hell. You win the pot on that one. But if it was Heaven, then I've got to say, Heaven sucks."

Sam eyes lost their focus and Dean felt a surge of irritation and however unreasonable he was being, he did not want to hear where his little brother's soul might or might not have been.

"Why didn't you tell me Sam?" Dean groused. How many other things was Sam hiding? Dean was losing arguments before they had even started because Sam was always pulling the rug from under him, skewering his defenses with nasty little revelations. Dean decided he was going to have to start writing things down.

"Because you were going to go to Hell. I needed to break your deal. What difference would it have made to you? You were already thinking that I came back damaged in some way."

"I never thought that." Dean denied with as much conviction as he could muster, which wasn't much. He hadn't thougth that, at least not until that creep with the yellow eyes had suggested it.

"Yeah, you did. Still do. Funny thing is you are too, now. Damaged. Broken. Why did you choose this house Dean? Why not some cheap ass motel and a couple of economy sized of bags of salt?" Damn it, Sam was good at this, Dean realized as his brother finally snuck in the question that he had no real answer for, not one that he wanted to share, anyway.

"I thought we'd hole up in a private house, it's not the first time we've done it. So I headed for the suburbs, I don't know what to tell you. I saw this place and I just thought, that's it. It's closed up. It looked safe. Hand on my heart." He slapped his hand to his chest.

Sam squinted up at him. "Liar."

"Huh, I must have heard that wrong." Dean cupped a hand to his ear, "You called me a liar."

"Don't be such a fucking jerk, Dean. Just tell me you can't feel it running through the walls of this house, because I can, only because I now know there's something there. Took me a while. Not like you. Why'd you go upstairs, Dean?" Sam was on his feet.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time?" Dean stood his ground. Sam rounded on him with an intent expression on his face and what looked like confrontation on his mind. As he brushed past the table he caught a trailing edge of the black silk, it unraveled as he pulled it along, the skull in its wake following the silent glide of silk to the floor.

It landed upside down and spun unsteadily for few seconds before stopping at Sam's feet. "Shit," he muttered in annoyance and stooping down, scooped it up with one hand.

"Is it okay?" Dean asked eager to change the subject. "Typical. A couple of centuries hidden safely away in secret and you break it within a couple of minutes."

In reply Sam choked out a strangled peep and remained hunched over, his fingers gripping the skull.

"Dean," he whimpered and fell to his knees. "Take it, please. I can't …" His hand was shaking, fingers taut across the smooth bone of the skull. He keened softly, a sharp note of pain that brought Dean to his senses, as his brain, previously occupied with the task of sidestepping Sam's interrogative attitude belatedly caught onto the fact that all was not well. It was one damn thing after another.

Dean dropped down and wrenched the skull from Sam's hand, pulling at his stiff fingers still locked in position; its surface was warm, prickling at his fingertips. He tossed it onto the far end of the couch, away from Sam.

"Sammy?" He pushed at Sam's shoulders, who slumped toward him twitching, his head jerking erratically and his eyes round with shock as he met Dean's anxious gaze.

"Bye," he breathed regretfully and his eyes rolled back in his head as he pitched forward into Dean's arms.

"What? Hey Sam. Sam." Dean shook his brother. That was weird. The movement seemed to roll through Sam's body and then rebound, traveling back up Dean's arms. He couldn't control his actions, his muscles debilitated by a palsy that shook him to his core. His body trembling from top to toe, he was rapidly losing his grip on everything. His vision blurred and his hold on the here and now dwindled away to nothing.

S s S

He first coherent thought was that the warmth on his back must be the fire, although if that was the case someone must have left the door open because a brisk breeze was blowing across his face and damn, those were sharp rocks digging into his knees. Dean's eyes popped open.

Oookay. So not in Kansas anymore, Dean thought, frantically trying to suppress the wave of hysteria that accompanied the process. He was kneeling in much the same position as he had been in the old house. Only there was no house. Around him stretched the open plains of a rocky desert, gentle hills rising and falling into the distance, covered in scrubby brown vegetation and punctuated with tufts of green. Old stone walls cut into the slope that rose behind him, the hot midday sun cutting through high scudding clouds that left swift passing shadows across the dusty ground. Dean scrambled to his feet, swiping at the sand that blew into his face and spinning around, desperately trying to make sense of it all.

At the top of the slope was a pile of rocks, fashioned by the hand of man and not by nature. A lone figure stood next it, turned toward the distant horizon, hair dancing in the wind.

"Sammy." Dean didn't mean to scream quite so loudly, the excessive volume ringing in his ears and echoing across the barren landscape.