Hang Your Head Over

August 2010

The world tried to end in Kansas, of all places. Sam always figured it would be some shithole like Cleveland or New Harmony. Dean was betting on Florida. But whatever.

They killed Lilith, and it somehow loosed a seam in the fabric of their lives. Tug here, snag there, and another few inches come unraveled.

Sam knows his brother by silhouette on a dark night, by a hoarse whisper on a staticky phone. They're blood, and they're comrades-in-arms. But never once has Sam known Dean in peacetime.

"Huh."

"This is weird, man."

Hell is scared to fuck with them, and heaven has disowned them. So the Winchesters go after two-bit spooks and smoke them easy. They walk away invisible in spite of the rainbows of bruises, always muttering, "That was anticlimactic." They're still saving people, hunting things, but for the first time Sam feels like the Orkin man.

Then in Topeka, an angry spirit throws Sam out of a second story window. He hears the snap when his right leg hits dirt, and all he can think is, "Oh, I am going to kill that bitch."

The pain comes later.

With it come the ER, the reduction, and the cast up to his knee. Dean tells him he looks like crap, draws obscene pictures up and down his shin, and makes sure the nurses know Sammy only likes red Jell-o.

Sam is high on painkillers for most of it.

"Dean. She threw me out the window."

"Yeah, I saw."

"I got defenestrated. Except without angels or horse manure to break my fall." He chuckles to himself. "The Defenestration of Sam."

"I'm glad you got such a kick out of it."

They skedaddle before the insurance paperwork can catch up to them.

Now Sam is stretched out on the backseat of the Impala with his leg elevated, and he's grouchy with pain. He and Dean have finally shut up sniping at each other—"I never said trade the damn thing in, Dean, I just said gas is hitting four-fifty a gallon, okay?"—and turned the radio on.

A far-off storm roils the fading daylight into a mess of color in the west, and the open windows breathe warm, heavy air.

"Where are we even going?" Sam sighs.

"I'll figure it out, man. Go back to sleep."

And Sam is tired. There's highway ahead of them and highway behind them, but it's anyone's guess which belongs where. He's tired.

::

::

It's been months since Jess showed up in Sam's dreams. It's been longer than that since he was glad to see her there.

"What are you doing?" she whispers against his neck. Her fingers twirl in the fine hair at his temple, pause, and then reverse. "Sam, the things you do in the dark—"

He pushes her away, because the warm press of her body feels indecent now that he's such a stranger to her. "What do you want from me?"

She sighs in disappointment, and she rests her golden head on his chest.

::

::

When Sam wakes, the moon is high and swollen overhead, and the Impala is parked beneath an ash tree. Ten paces from the car, porch steps sag wearily. Sam's eyes follow them upward. A battered white farmhouse quietly reflects moonlight, and its Victorian gables struggle to look graceful under the peeling paint.

"We're squatting in the middle of nowhere?" Sam gripes. Standard practice after a hospital visit is some quality time in a motel with great water pressure.

"We're in Nazareth, Kansas," Dean says, sliding out of the car. He drags Sam's crutches out of the trunk, hands them over, and adds: "And we've got an invitation."

Stairs are difficult what with the crutches and the one leg and the medicated haze. Sam doesn't want help, but he gets it anyway.

When Dean knocks on the front door, his knuckles come away with paint splinters.

Lights flip on inside, and five feet of polka-dotted pajamas answer. "Hey, y'all."

Maria Broussard is standing in the doorway. The doorway, here in Kansas. How the hell did she get to Kansas?

"What are you doing here?" Sam says intelligently.

"I bought the house a couple months ago," Maria says, looking too sleep-fuzzy to muster a proper smile. She's sporting dark circles like bruises under her eyes. "What are you doing here?"

This is random and awkward and just plain weird. But it seems like Sam is the only one who thinks so. Dean nods to Maria with Roy Rogers politeness—"Thanks a lot. I know it was short notice."—and she waves them into the foyer.

The worn wooden floor creaks under Sam's boot and crutches, and an old, modest chandelier buzzes overhead. On either side of them, doors open onto echoing rooms filled with drop cloths, drywall patches, and power drills.

Dust is everywhere.

"Pardon my mess," Maria casts over her shoulder as she leads them past the stairwell and toward the back of the house. Sam glances at Dean; he's never heard the phrase "pardon my mess" used outside of polite signs denoting ongoing mall construction.

"I've got a futon and an air mattress for you back here," Maria says, showing them into a room that's already been repainted. It's sparsely furnished, but she's provided them with scandalous amounts of pillows. "Bathroom's upstairs, and y'all help yourselves to whatever you want in the kitchen."

"Thank you," Sam says vaguely. He still can't figure out what they're doing here.

"I've got to wake up for work in the morning…"

"Yeah, we're fine," Dean says quickly. "Go on back to bed."

She pads away down the hall, and Sam can hear the stairs creak beneath her feet.

"Dude," he says when she's out of earshot. "What the hell?"

"I don't know," Dean mutters without looking at him. He drops their duffels next to the futon and clomps back into the hallway with Sam on his heels. "I think she's having some kind of nervous breakdown or something. Near as I can tell, the house is an excuse to be alone and smash things with a sledgehammer."

Sam blinks at Dean's back. You'd think after twenty-odd years of asshattery none of it would faze Sam anymore. You'd be wrong.

Oblivious, Dean runs his hand over an unfinished plaster patch job like he's found a child's fingerpainting in the Louvre. "I hope she's not paying some fuckwit for this."

"Dean," Sam hisses. "I'd really like to know how that phone call went—you know, the one where we got an invitation? 'Hey, it's Dean Winchester, the guy who died two years ago. Can we interrupt your major psychological trauma to take advantage of your isolation? We can? Great! See you in ten minutes.'"

Dean glares over his shoulder, distinctly unimpressed. "It wasn't like that. Take your goddamn OxyContin and quit bitching."

::

::

They both sleep for twenty hours straight until the dark of the next evening. Sam wakes first and wanders around the house, finding granola in the pantry, rabbit food on the shelves, and unfamiliar beer in the fridge door.

When Maria comes home, Sam levers himself upright by his crutches and swings out onto the porch where she's parked herself in frumpy pajamas. He feels he owes her something—company, at least—since she's taken him in. Plus, he devoured half the contents of her cabinets.

"Do you mind if I sit?"

She startles, then motions with the glowing cigarette in her hand. "By all means."

He makes his awkward descent, laying his crutches down next to him. Then the smoke hits him. "Cloves?" he says, trying not to wrinkle his nose.

She laughs ruefully. "'Fraid so. Does it bother you?"

It smells like every skanky bar he's ever been in, even if it is laid over with sickly sweetness. But this is her house, isn't it? "No, it's just—didn't you go to med school?"

"Veterinary medicine. Besides," she waves the cigarette, "I'm allowed a holdover from my teenaged rebellion."

"Smoking's pretty tame, as far as teenaged rebellion goes."

"Well, James cornered the market on wild when we were growing up."

Sam doesn't remember James Broussard very well. Hell, he doesn't even remember Maria in the detail he probably should. Something about James blinding their little sister while possessed? He was just another hapless victim, Maria another grieving civilian.

Whatever Sam knows about the Broussards feels no more personal than a story he's heard so often he can tell it himself. It belongs to another Sam Winchester—the one who fucked a demon and tried to throw away the life his brother bought him.

"Maria," he says quietly. "What are you doing here?"

"Watching stars," she says, eyebrow quirked in bemusement. "I didn't get a lot of them growing up in the city."

"No, I mean," and Sam waves at the house in general, "here."

She shrugs. "I like old houses, and I like picking paint out of my hair. So I found this place, and I bought it."

"Just like that?"

"I could afford to." She takes a long drag on the cigarette. "And the house is sort of my personal stress ball now."

"Yeah, but people don't move to strange towns all by themselves on a whim," Sam says. He asked a question, and now he can't let it go. He's half-forgotten that this isn't vital intel for a case. "They just don't."

She doesn't like the perceptive stare he levels at her—that much he can tell by the way she leans away from him to tap ash into the grass. "I needed to be away from home for a while," she says, measuring each word.

"Because of what happened to James?"

She gives him a flat stare, and she says nothing.

Eventually, Sam drops his gaze. "Sorry. Not my business."

The cigarette arcs to and from her lips, and her next words ride a stream of smoke: "Y'all saved us. Not your fault we didn't stay saved."

::

::

It's weird, sharing a bathroom with a woman. Sam at least has some practice at it, but Dean can't get over the fact that all available shelf space is occupied by an army of smelly bottles.

"Who needs this much shit?" he says in affronted awe.

"Leave her stuff alone," Sam says, muffled by the toothbrush in his mouth.

"But what does it all do?" Dean fiddles with a pair of eyelash curlers, squeezing them in Sam's face, until he gets distracted by the bra air-drying over the curtain rod. Delicately, he reaches out and inspects the tag.

"Dean!"

"Heh. Called it." And the worst part is, Dean looks genuinely proud of his mad rack-reckoning skills.

Sam spits, rinses, and leaves as fast as possible.

::

::

There is no cable—just a monitor and a DVD player—and the nearest free WiFi is seven miles away at the coffee shop on Main Street. Sam is pretty much left with the porn Dean has stashed on the laptop, Spider Solitaire, and the ongoing project of transferring Dad's research to a searchable computer file.

He's going to go crazy long before he's off the crutches.

Nevertheless, all the easy use is incredibly good to his injured leg.

In return, Dean is good to Maria's fixer-upper.

"You don't have to," she tells him the first time he picks up a painter's tool. "I've been hiring someone. And you do realize you're a guest here."

The corners of his eyes crinkle. "What, you think I'm going to spend my time waiting on Sammy hand and foot?"

He replaces buckling plaster, fills in faults in the molding, and primes walls—all with Sam's iPod tucked into his back pocket. Sometimes, if he thinks no one's looking, he takes a dance break for "Hot Blooded."

When Maria gets home from work, painting becomes a team sport. Dean lays down protective tape around the doors while she pries open a fresh can, and then they work their way around the room. Sam sometimes looks up from his laptop to furrow his brow at the picture they make—Dean hovering slightly behind Maria to run the roller over the swathes she can't reach. He dots her nose with Custard Yellow, and something relaxes in her expression.

"You missed a spot," Sam says.

When he climbs into the claw-footed tub that night (left leg plastic-wrapped and hooked awkwardly over the side), he has to scrub his arms red to get all the paint off.

::

::

Nazareth took an intense interest in the new veterinarian when she first arrived, and now the curiosity extends to her houseguests.

Some of it comes in the form of neighbors and church ladies bringing pie. "And who's your young man?" they'll ask Maria when they see Sam or Dean nearby. "Is he from New Orleans too?"

Maria cringes at the pronunciation—New Or-leens, ugh—and introduces the Winchesters as Sam and Dean Harrison, longtime family friends.

Dean lays on the charm thicker than buttermilk. Because dude, pie.

But pie comes less and less frequently as the town figures out that Miss Broussard is, in fact, cohabitating with two men. And none of them have any notion to attend Sunday service.

That's fine with Sam; he has no interest in getting to know these people anyway. He's just a tourist in a foreign country of bills to pay, church socials to navigate, and God to pray to. Cast comes off, and he's gone from here.

Dean, however, gets to know somebody well enough that some nights he doesn't come home. In the morning he slips in the front door, unsmiling and reeking of fruity perfume.

Sam has no idea whether he still dreams of a woman in a yellow sundress calling to him from a picnic blanket. It's been a long time since Dean said, "I'm tired, Sam. I'm tired of it."

::

::

Sam leans back in a folding chair on the front porch, working a pencil down his cast to ease the itching. Police reports on three apparently unrelated drownings just barely flutter on the table next to him. He's nursing a Coke, because Maria tends to look at him like he's just punted a puppy when she catches him mixing alcohol with his painkillers.

Dean has the front door off its hinges in the yard, and he's stripped it bare. Now he's carving devil's traps into the edges and scratching runes onto the hinges.

When Maria gets home from work, she doesn't comment on the gaping hole where the door should be. All she says is, "Why is there Tony Chachere's in my doorjamb?"

Sam hobbles over and looks where she's looking. In the exposed crack between porch and floor, there's a mix of red and white grains laid down in an unbroken line. "It's salt and brick dust," Sam says, squinting at her. "What did you call it?"

"You're demon-proofing the house?" Maria says with a curious tip of her head.

"Well, yeah," Dean says, coming up the porch steps. "Why, you'd rather be bait?"

"No, I just…" She hikes her purse higher on her shoulder. "You know I'm not staying, right? I mean, I plan to sell the place when it's fixed up, and people might be weirded out by all the…" Her fingers flutter at the salt line.

Dean shrugs. "They'll be getting a free insurance policy in the bargain."

Maria smiles, shakes her head, and says, "You want a beer?"

She brings Dean her last Abita Amber, and Sam knows she's grateful.

::

::

"I don't understand, Sam," Jess whispers to him when he sleeps. "You've fought your war. You've got your honorable discharge."

Sam sighs. "I don't know what you're asking me, babe."

Her warm weight leaves him, and he can breathe freely again. "I remember when you still wanted me," she says sadly.

::

::

Late summer rain breezes through Nazareth flirtatiously, leaving droplets on the windows to scatter the red evening light.

"There'll always be something to hunt," Dean says, and he's not wrong.

But the world looks different when it's not ending. Roads lay wider and horizons keep their distance. When a pretty girl looks Sam up and down in the supermarket, the first word that comes to mind isn't Christo.

He gets off the crutches and starts helping with the remodeling. Maria loves it that she doesn't have to share the ladder with him when they're painting.

Mornings are coffee and chicory from a tin marked Café du Monde. The three of them sit bedheaded around the table, and Sam breathes in the smell of newsprint and toasting bread. Dean circles likely obits, and Maria bats playfully at the habit.

"You always check the deaths?"

"Just making sure I'm still here."

Coffee and mysterious rites in front of a mirror transform Maria into a respectable-looking vet lady. "Nice, um," Dean twirls his finger demonstratively at the back of her head one morning, "Nice hair."

Sam snorts, but there's a smile tugging at one side of Maria's mouth. She puts a hand to her French twist and murmurs, "Thank you."

"Wow, Dean," Sam says when her car's out of sight. "I can't believe she didn't swoon on the spot."

"Shut up."

They wander into conversations from three or four years ago, poking one-footed for fissures and sudden cliffs. They can't be sure what their lives' constant seismic activity has done to the landscaping.

Most things seem to be where they left them. Billy Gibbons is God, or at least his beard is. Is not, is too. Nanny nanny boo boo.

::

::

September

"You want to go chasing after the trout person? Are you an idiot?"

"Oka Nahullo."

"Yeah, oak no hula hoop. We screw up, and it eats us."

"You're not doing this by yourself."

"You can't get your cast wet, dumbass!" Dean pokes Sam hard in the chest. "Trout. Person. Water."

"So I tie plastic bags over it, like usual," Sam says, brow furrowed. It's not like he hasn't showered since he broke his leg. "Dean, this is not a big deal. Plus, it's only one county over."

"Exactly. I can waste the thing myself."

"Really, Sam," Maria cuts in. "It's probably better if you don't risk re-injuring that leg. Screw with it now and you'll be out of commission even longer."

"Thank you," Dean says. "So, Mia, I'm going to have my cell on me the whole time, and if anything happens—"

"Dean," Sam snaps. "She's not a hired babysitter."

Note to Sam: quit giving Dean ideas.

"He gets cranky when we can't find his noo-noo," Dean tells Maria with an apologetic shrug. "If he gives you any trouble, you got my permission to smack the smartass out of him."

Maria nods, deadpan. "When's bedtime?"

"Ten sharp."

"I'll sing a lullaby."

"You both suck," Sam grumps, "And I'm putting rubber cement in your toothpaste."

::

::

Sam hogs the futon, so Maria graciously curls up on Dean's air mattress. By the time Dean gets back, they're both passed out, and melodramatic orchestral music swells over grayscale credits.

They fell asleep watching Rear Window, each with one eye on the clock and a cell phone close to hand.

The door creaks open and shut, and Sam's breathing hitches. Maria stretches and sighs.

"Dead hula hoop?" Sam mumbles.

"Very dead." Dean shakes his head, long-suffering, and says, "Now get your freaky ape limbs off my sofa."

Groaning, Sam hauls himself upright, and Dean steals his spot, flopping down fully clothed. "Jerk," Sam mutters as he lumbers away upstairs, even though he gets to sleep on the real mattress tonight.

::

::

In the small hours, Sam wakes without knowing why. The muscles in his left leg are cramping, and he wants aspirin badly. But he doesn't get out of bed until he hears the crash.

Downstairs, there's no blood and no Oka Nahullo back for revenge. Dean and Maria sprawl messily on the rug in front of the futon, both of them breathing fast. Maria's eyes dart up at Sam, liquid and glittering in the dimness.

Dean seems to be on a three-second time lag and wholly unaware of anything but the sheen of fear in her eyes.

"I'm sorry," he says hoarsely. Shaken, he leans back against the futon. "I didn't mean to—Maria, I'm sorry."

"It's okay," she whispers, and when she blinks it sets off silver spills of tears. "I'm okay."

Sam's not convinced, and apparently neither is Dean. "Shit," he says. "Did I hurt you bad?"

She smiles, and it doesn't even wobble. "I just got a little squished. You're heavy. Freakin' manatee."

Dean nods, breathes in deep, and mumbles: "Manatee. Thanks for that." Satisfied that she's unhurt, his vision turns inward with the methodical focus of an animal licking its wounds.

"Nightmare?" Sam says.

Dean realizes he's not alone with the civilian anymore, and he sags against the futon.

"I tried to wake him," Maria says quietly.

I've got it from here, Sam tells her with a nod. She looks glad to escape to the bathroom, probably to take care of the fresh, oozing rug burn down her back.

With her gone, Dean looses the breath he's been holding since that lame manatee crack. He doesn't look at Sam, because even the most extraordinary situations come with rules. Sam's learned them painfully over the last two years.

One: "Don't touch me."

Two: "It wasn't a panic attack."

Three: "No, I don't want to talk about it."

Four: "I said don't fuckin touch me!"

Sam's role here is to sit within reach, to say "Are you okay, man?" and to believe Dean when he answers with silence.

::

::

Maria turns twenty-eight on the twenty-eighth. In honor of the occasion, she brings home two bottles of wine, a fifth of Maker's, and a tall stack of Dixie cups.

The three of them kick back on the porch, cheeks flushed and words slurred. They watch a sunset that looks like it belongs in a modern art museum, snorting when Maria whines that, "The sky's too big. 'S like it's trying to eat me."

"You dork," Dean says.

Sam lets out a noise distressingly like a giggle. He gulps Bourbon so he doesn't have to see the look on Dean's face.

Stars pierce the cloud cover, and the three of them try to outweird each other. Maria smokes her nasty cloves and describes in detail how she gave a cow a C-section last week. Sam and Dean tell her about the time they escaped from a scythe-wielding scarecrow that ate people.

"My sister's hamster ate her own litter, except for one poor little guy we managed to save. We called him Hamlet 'cause of his screwy family life."

"A shapeshifter once dressed Dean in lederhosen."

Sam and Dean win.

::

::

October

"Down in the valley, valley so low," Jess sings, lying relaxed and supine nearby. She once sang second soprano on a fancy arrangement of that song in Chamber Chorale, and it still gets stuck in her head sometimes. "Hang your head over, hear the wind blow."

"Jess, we're not staying," Sam says, trying to catch her eye. "You know we've got work to do, don't you?"

"If you don't love me, love whom you please," she sings, rolling languorously closer to him and smiling broadly. "Put your arms round me, give my heart ease."

"Hey, listen to me. Jess."

"Give my heart ease, love. Give my heart ease."

"You are such a pain in the ass," he says fondly.

"Throw your arms round me, give my heart ease."

::

::

Sam's cast comes off tomorrow. The Winchesters' bags are already packed. In Arizona a chupacabra needs killing, and in some other state a poltergeist needs banishing, and, all in all, the hunt is never going to be over.

Maria actually seems a little hurt when they tell her. "Come on, guys, you don't want to stay and paint my house?" But she just steps onto the ladder's lowest rung and kisses Dean on the cheek. "Don't be strangers."

They've got a long drive tomorrow, but they're not asleep yet, solely because Dean is totally gay for Paul Newman. On the TV screen, nothin' can be a real cool hand, and Luke grins to himself. Dean salutes his awesomeness with a raised beer. "Did you see that shit?"

"I saw," Sam sighs. "Also, it's famous."

The new sofa is just this side of broken in, and Sam squirms deeper into its cushions and lets his head fall back. If the volume were a little lower, he would sink down peaceably to dreams. As it stands, he's content to doze and poke fun at the idiot next to him.

"What are y'all doing?" comes a sleepy mumble. Maria sags against the doorjamb in a cotton nightshirt.

"Watchin' porn," Dean says happily.

"Car wash scene," Sam mutters.

With a vague nod, Maria tiptoes to the sofa and sprawls across both men's laps. Dean grumbles, but he props up her head and lets her roll over a few times. Cheek squashed against Dean's belly and calves warm under Sam's hands, she's out like a light.

"Sleeping through Cool Hand Luke," Dean scoffs when he notices. Sam can hear the twelve-year-old he used to be, rolling his eyes and muttering, "Girls."

"I know. What a lightweight," Sam says.

Outside the wind cries and keens, and cicadas murmur to themselves. Nights like these, the dark holds no horror, and Sam can almost laugh at endgames and last stands. The world grinds on its axis, and the house they three have built of old pine bones stands upright and sturdy around them.

"Are you going to miss this place?" he asks Dean for the first time since high school.

Dean looks over, and beneath the big brother smirk is something wistful. "Don't be such a puss," he says, eyes on the screen again. "We'll see it again. When we're, you know, in the area."

Morning can take its time.