Title: Whisper Down a String
Characters: Dean, Sam, John, Bobby
Category: Gen, Weechester, Drama, touch of H/C
Summary: Uncle Bobby's place is awesome, and Sammy is totally a little bitch for preferring to read his book instead of playing in the attic with Dean. But, well, maybe Sam was right.
Word Count: 4480
Disclaimer: This is my Father's world, but it's Kripke's playground.
Author's Note: Written for spn_summergen as a gift for pdragon76. Amazing fantastic betas: charlie_d_blue and i_speak_tongue.
Whisper Down a String
Uncle Bobby's place was pretty damn awesome. Both Dean and Sam could find plenty of stuff to do and things to explore while Dad was off hunting something or digging around in the extensive library, only emerging for coffee and the occasional shot of whiskey or argument with Bobby, eyes red and hair sticking up from his forehead as if he'd been sleeping on it. Once Dean saw a partial paragraph of text printed backward across his father's cheek like an inky brand, so he knew for sure that John Winchester had been sleeping on a book. He was tempted to call him on it, make some stupid, teasing joke like he would if Sammy ever did that, but he thought better of it. Dad would probably just tighten his lips and growl, and possibly blow his stack, and Bobby might ban them for life. And that would suck.
Because Dean loved it here. The salvage yard was full of awesome old cars, foreign and domestic, insanely old or relatively new, wrecked or rusted, mostly intact or falling to pieces. All were absolutely fascinating to a thirteen-year-old boy who loved engines and grease and driving the Impala whenever he had to—or could get away with it. Even when he had to stay inside, because of rain or whatever, the rambling old house held plenty of things to explore, both the attic and the basement full of interesting (and forbidden) articles.
Bonus: Sammy liked it here too. Not all of Bobby's books were about demons and monsters. There were plenty of G.A. Henty and Sugar Creek Gang and the original Hardy Boys series, even some girly books that had probably belonged to the old hunter's sister or something. Sam read and loved them all, chattered about them at meals, tried to convince Dean that he would like them too. Dean always had a ready excuse, something else he wanted to check out, some other place he wanted to be. Sam's reproachful, you're-an-idiot-and-you're-missing-out look was one of the few little-brother looks that Dean was mostly immune to.
When the shoe was on the other foot, though...
"Sammy." Dean leaned over the back of the couch where his brother reclined, reading with his knees drawn up and his book resting on his thighs. "Sammy, Sammy. I'm bored. Come mess around in the attic with me. Saaaammmmyyyy."
The sky outside was gray as gunpowder, just as quick to spark with lightning and thunder, and rain streaked down the windows in solid snakes of distortion. Dean shifted from foot to foot, then squirmed over the top of the couch on his stomach and flicked the cover of Sammy's book.
"C'mon. You can read that dusty thing any ol' time. I want you to come with me now."
Sam looked up long enough to give Dean a disapproving look. "You never wanna do what I wanna do. Why should I do what you want to do?"
Dean grinned, ready for that one. "Because my ideas are awesome, bro. Always have been, always will be."
"You're retarded." Sam blew out a noisy breath and defiantly snuggled down into the couch, eyes glued to his book.
"Sammy." Dean knew better than to try touching the book again, but he moved down a few inches and poked the meaty part of Sam's calf. Then he did it again. And again. "Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy Sammy Sambo. Saaaaaammm. Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam..."
Sammy pulled his knees in closer, the book only inches from his face, and buckled in for the long haul.
"Sammy went a'courtin' and he did ride, uh huh," Dean sang, deliberately off-tune. "Sammy went a'courtin' and he did ride, sword and pistol by his side, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh." He kept up the poking and went back to the beginning. "Second verse, same as the first! Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam. Saaaaammmmyyyy..."
"All right!" Sammy exploded, flinging himself off the couch and away from Dean's finger. He ended up sprawled on the floor, book clutched to his chest, glaring at Dean with pure, unmitigated malevolence. "Okay, okay, I give in already! I'll play with you in your stupid attic. Just stop it!"
"Dude." Dean pulled back and stood up off the couch, feigning hurt. "It's not my stupid attic. It's Uncle Bobby's stupid attic. You wanna hurt his feelings?"
Sam made an aborted movement as if to throw his book at Dean—and that was when Dean knew he had really gotten to him, when he made Sam even think about abusing the written word—but reconsidered and threw a shoe at him instead. Dean caught it with an infuriating grin, bouncing lightly on his toes. "So, you coming?"
"I said I was," Sammy grumbled. He climbed to his feet and set the book aside, then snatched his shoe back from Dean and jammed it onto his foot. "Lead the way, oh fearless leader."
Dean ignored the sarcasm and clambered to the stairs, full of energy for the first time since they'd woken up this morning and saw how hard it was raining, quarter-sized drops pounding down and bouncing off all the metal outside with little pinging noises. They had known then that Dad and Bobby wouldn't want them to go outside today, and Dean had been instantly depressed. But it was all better now.
Sammy clattered after him, suddenly interested despite his pique. "What about the attic has got you all excited, anyhow? It's not like we haven't been up there before."
"Yeah, but I found a couple of chests back in the corner under a tarp, and it wasn't part of the stuff Uncle Bobby said not to touch, so..." Dean led the way to the hall on the top floor, to the place where the thin, strong cord hung down from the ceiling.
"So you're not even going to ask if he meant to leave that alone, too," Sammy said. He blew out a sigh so hard that it lifted his bangs in a little wave, folding his arms around his chest and just watching as Dean pulled on the cord to lower the ladder to the attic.
Dean grabbed the steep, ladder-like stairs at shoulder height and scampered up, quick as a rabbit. Sammy followed more slowly, gradually forgetting about his book, even though he was in the middle of a plot twist and he had to know what happened next. Dean's excitement was infectious, always had been, and he was annoyingly good at convincing Sam to try all sort of bad ideas. The book would still be there when he got back.
"All right." Dean actually rubbed his hands together in a gleeful anticipation as he knelt down by the two chests in the corner of the attic. "Let's see what we got!"
Sammy rolled his eyes. His brother was such a cornball. But he knelt down next to him anyway, trying to ignore the dust and cobwebs and the skittering of little buggy feet. "This is going to be over real fast if those are locked."
"Don't be ridiculous." Dean flipped open the first lid with a flourish. "I already picked 'em, stupid. It was good practice."
"You've already been through them?"
"No." Dean looked up from his delighted rummaging to stare at him with a puzzled frown. "Why would I do that?"
"So you...came up here, poked around, picked the locks, and then came downstairs to drag me away from my book?"
God, Sam's brother was a moron.
"Yep!" Dean chirped. "It's no fun if you don't share, dickwad. Here, you hold this."
He dumped a load of slippery, slide-y fabric into Sammy's arms. Sam recoiled when he realized that he was holding an armful of lady's dresses, twisting away to drop them on the floor, but Dean grabbed his arm.
"I said hold them, idiot! We don't wanna get 'em all dusty. Uncle Bobby must be keeping them for a reason."
"You're the idiot!" Sammy hissed. "Going digging around in a couple of locked trunks, messing around with a bunch of dresses... These probably belonged to his mom or something!"
Dean paused, momentarily doubtful. He eyed the dresses in Sam's arms with a look that was almost guilt. Sam knew that Dean genuinely respected and looked up to Bobby. That didn't mean that he was above irritating the older hunter whenever he could get away with it, but he really, really hated the rare occasions when Bobby showed true displeasure at his words or actions.
But the hesitation passed, and Dean gave him another sunny grin. "Geez, take a chill pill. It's just a bunch of fabric. And look what's underneath!"
Sam leaned forward, shifting the pile of dresses in his arms, and saw an interesting jumble of articles at the bottom of the chest. It looked like maybe some toys, a journal or two, other stuff that his fingers suddenly itched to touch. He clambered to his feet and moved over to an old armchair with a broken leg to lay the dresses down.
There was a thump, as if something had punched the house, and the two yellow light bulbs hanging from the attic ceiling crackled and flickered. Dean and Sammy looked up, instantly wary, but the light steadied and nothing else changed.
"Just the storm," Dean declared, waving a hand. "C'mon, take a look at this junk."
Sam moved back to kneel next to him, peering down at the pile of stuff in the bottom of the trunk. All kinds of things were tumbled together in there, but he sensed organization in it, somehow. Despite the way things lay on top of each other with no apparent sense of order, it seemed that they had been placed in the trunk with care and consideration.
"Dude." Dean scooped up one particular object and held it in front of his face. "What the hell?"
Dean held two tin cans, one in each hand. A long, gray-white string hung between them, fastened through holes punched in the bottoms of the cans. A forgotten toy from another generation, simple and strange and...why would anyone keep that?
"It's tin cans and string," Sammy said.
Dean made a face at him. "I can see that, Mr. Obvious. What's it for?"
"Haven't you ever read a book?" The Sugar Creek Gang were always playing with toys like this.
Dean just stared at him, and Sammy huffed a sigh at his big brother's ignorance. "Here, give me one of the cans."
He beckoned with one hand, and Dean hesitated, then handed over one half of his ill-gotten treasure. "It's like a walky-talky," Sam explained, scooting backward on the floor to pull the string tight. "A really old, primitive walky-talky. Hold still, I'll show you."
The string was pretty long. Sam wound it around a dresser and a couple of other corners before the string was taut enough. Dean waited by the chests, puzzled but willing to go along for now. Then Sammy lifted the can to his mouth. "You get it now?"
"Oh, cool!" Sam couldn't see his brother, but he could definitely hear him, both through the can and from the other side of the attic, Dean's voice was so loud. "Do it again!"
They talked through the cans for awhile, knock-knock jokes and other inanities, until Dean was thoroughly bored. Then Sammy took his can back to the chest, winding the string up in his hand as he went to keep it as untangled as it had been when they found it.
"Come on, put it back and let's see what else is in there," Dean called, already fidgeting.
Sam was still several feet away from the chest, hidden from Dean around a massive oak dresser, when goosebumps shivered to life along his arms and shoulders. It felt like a chilly breeze had suddenly swept through the attic, bringing the rain with it, but there was no movement of air.
Hello? Hello, are you there?
He stared down at the can in his hand. The voice had come from there, low and faint and far away.
"Dean, you asshole!" he yelled. "Stop screwing around!"
"What?" Dean sounded affronted, the way he always did when someone caught him in the middle of one of his stupid pranks.
Sammy grumbled and continuing crawling back, hands dusty on the bare wood planks of the attic floor.
Ten-four, good buddy, said the soft, eerie voice, light and full of humor. Everything is five-by-five. How's it going in your neck of the woods? Come back now.
"Dean, it's not funny!" he yelled again, though a shiver of unease crept across his back. "Quit trying to scare me with your dumb jokes!"
"I'm not doing anything!" Dean called back, full of outrage. "What are you talking about?"
Silly Sammy, the voice whispered, too close and too distant at once. You called and I came.
Sammy paused, staring down at the thing in his hand, his eyes widening with shock. The metal was cold in his hand, cold enough to hurt, faint circles of frost forming around where his fingers pressed. The string was slack. Dean's voice couldn't be coming from there.
Rain, rain, go away, the voice sang. Come again another day. Little children want to play. Rain, rain, go away.
Sam dropped the can from suddenly nerveless fingers. It fell to the wooden floor with a dull, heavy thud. The voice was female. Even Dean, who was good at imitating sounds and accents and enjoyed subjecting Sammy to his mimicry, couldn't sound quite that much like a young girl.
"Dean!" he called, voice suddenly shaky, the anger fled.
He thought that Dean might not come, annoyed by Sammy's baseless accusations, but there was no hesitation. The moment he called, Dean's sneakers were smacking on the wood floor, hurrying over to him. "What? What is it?"
Sam stared wordlessly at the thing on the floor. He felt weird, floaty, detached from the whole situation. Since he'd found out the truth last year about what Dad did when he left them, about what existed out there in the dark, he'd been waiting for his first encounter with a monster or a ghost. He'd never thought it would happen here, though. Not in Bobby's attic. Surely if any place was safe, this was.
Dean's hands were on his shoulders. "Dude, you're freaking me out. Why are you so white?" He shook Sam roughly, laughed harsh and loud. "You're not gonna faint like a girl, are you? Come on, Sammy, don't do this to me. What's going on?"
Fortunately, Sam didn't have to answer. Dean! the voice called, delighted and sweet. Dean Dean Deano! Play with me. Surely you will play with me, won't you? I want to play.
Dean sat down with a thump, staring at the can, his hands tight on Sammy's shoulders. Suddenly he was pale, too, freckles standing out in the yellow light.
I want to go outside, the voice said petulantly. Take me outside and talk through the string like you did before. I could hear you and it was oh, so fun! Play with me, play with me!
"It's raining out," Dean said, his voice higher than usual. "You don't wanna go out in that. Your string will get all wet. You don't want to get wet, do you?"
The little girl laughed, high and somehow mean. The string isn't me, silly. It's just a string! How could a person be a string? No, this is me.
Sammy clutched at Dean's shirt, barely aware that he was doing it, as all the cold in the attic seemed to pull together and concentrate, just a few feet away from them. He could feel Dean clutching back, too, his hands tight on Sammy's shoulders. A figure was coalescing in the air, tall and blue-white, a pale dress that fluttered in an unseen breeze. It wasn't a little girl. It was a woman, and black blood dripped from a series of long gashes in her chest.
"Hello, boys," she said, and her voice was a woman's, too. "Here I had always hoped that Bobby would keep me as his only. We used to talk through tin cans, we two, and we made such promises. The promises of children are easily broken, though. But I suppose I can forgive him, if his betrayal brought such lovely boys with it. You're sweet little things."
She drifted forward, reaching out her hand as if to touch them. Sammy pushed his heels into the floor and thrust back until he thumped against the dresser, pulling Dean with him, but it wasn't far enough. The pale, ghostly hand brushed their cheeks, one after the other. It was so cold that it left an ache behind, sharp and terrifying.
"We're sorry," Dean said, shrill and somehow quiet at the same time, voice choked in his throat. At least he could talk. Sam couldn't even do that. "We didn't mean to disturb you. Please leave us alone."
"Boys, boys. There's nothing to apologize for. I am not disturbed in the least, only glad to see you, glad to see my old toys bringing pleasure to someone once again. They cause my dear Bobby nothing but grief now, that I know."
She looked away from them, then, and drifted toward the small attic window. Her feet didn't seem to touch the floor. She leaned down to look out on the rain, translucent finger touching the window, tracing a long line of drops running together on the thick pane.
"Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. Little children want to play. Rain, rain go away."
Her back was to them, now, and they were between her and the trapdoor opening. Dean drew a deep, shaky breath, then hauled Sammy to his feet and bolted for it. They practically fell down the stair-ladder in a shower of dust, Dean pushing Sammy in front of him, and then they raced down the hall, down the stairs, into the study where Dad and Uncle Bobby were having yet another argument about the best way to kill a revenant, still holding onto each other with fingers tight in each other's shirts.
Dad looked up, already frowning. "Boys? You look like you've seen a..."
"We're sorry," Dean said in a tea-kettle whistle, even higher than when he'd been talking to the pale woman. "We're sorry, we didn't mean to, please don't punish us. We didn't mean to bother Uncle Bobby's mom."
Bobby's head jerked back. "My mom? My mom never..."
"It was my fault," Dean rambled on, swiftly, as if afraid to slow down, "It was me, I made Sammy come along even though he didn't want to."
"No, no," Sammy gasped out, pushing at Dean's chest with his closed fists, though he wouldn't let go of his brother's shirt. At least he could talk again. "No, it was my idea to play with the tin cans, but I didn't know that would happen, I didn't, I'm sorry."
The men looked at each other, grim and silent, communicating without words. Bobby fetched a shotgun and a small bag of rock salt from the corner and went out the door with a tight nod, and Dad came over to them. He reached down, gripped their shoulders in big, warm hands, Dean in his right and Sam in his left, and pushed them over to the couch.
"Sit down, boys. You're cold as ice. Bobby and I will take care of this, whatever it is."
Dean and Sam sat, Sam with his arms around Dean's chest, Dean with his arms around Sam's shoulders, still too terrified to care that they were acting like babies. A shotgun blast sounded high above their heads, and they looked up, knew it was from the attic. Dad stood by the door, looking out, watching. Between his sons and any threat that might come.
After a few minutes Bobby came back into the room, two tin cans dangling from his hands. They were wrecked, blasted with buckshot, metal twisted and broken. "Guess I'll have to burn these, now. And the rest of it."
Uncle Bobby looked sick. Like he might have to go throw up or lay down for awhile.
Dean made a pained noise deep in his throat. Sammy had never heard his big brother make that noise before. It was awful, and he dug his fingers further into Dean's back. Dean squirmed and hissed but didn't try to get away from him.
Dad just looked at Bobby for a moment, his face unreadable. Then he came over to the couch and knelt down beside them, laying a large hand on each of their knees. Wherever he touched, the ice seemed melt, breaking into pieces and floating away down the river.
"You boys hurt? Anything I need to look at?"
They shook their heads, staring at him.
The man sighed, his deep brown eyes watching them carefully. "I don't want to punish you. And you both look like you've been through enough. But if you're feeling guilty, you must have done something you knew you shouldn't."
"Yessir," Dean whispered. "M'sorry, Dad." He looked over at Uncle Bobby, his eyes big and liquid with regret. "So, so sorry, Uncle Bobby. We didn't mean to mess with your mom."
Bobby shook his head gently. "Little idjits," he mumbled, but he didn't seem mad at them, still too caught up in whatever was going on with him.
Dad squeezed their knees. "Okay. You're grounded, both of you."
Sammy's eyes widened. He had heard about other kids being grounded, but it never seemed to make much sense for them. A lot of times they didn't even have a home to be grounded to, and even without being grounded, where would they go? It wasn't a punishment if it took away something you didn't even have. Usually Dad just made them run laps around the motel or something. Which would really be a punishment, in a cold rain like this, both of them still feeling icy all the way through from the ghost's touch.
"Huh?" Dean squeaked, managing to pack all of Sam's thoughts into a single incoherent noise.
"To this couch." Dad nodded, pleased with himself for coming up with this. "Neither of you are allowed to leave, except for going to the bathroom. Obviously you need responsible adults to keep an eye on you, since you get into so much trouble on your own."
Sammy hesitated, biting his lip. "Can I get my book?" he asked.
"Absolutely not." Dad shook his head. "Your punishment is that you have to sit here and listen to me and your Uncle Bobby talking about things you obviously don't give a sh...a crap about. I don't care how bored you get. This is punishment."
Sammy sighed, but Dean relaxed and leaned back into the couch. They had let go of each other at some point, which was all to the good, but they still sat close enough that their sides were pressed together. Sammy could feel the tension running out of his brother, taking some of his with it.
"And here, just to make sure you stay put..." Dad reached above their heads and pulled the thick blanket off the back of the couch, then spread it over Dean and Sammy and tucked it down into the cushions. Dad's eyes twinkled when he smiled, Sam noticed. It was really obvious when his face was so close to theirs. "There. Insurance," the man said with a satisfied little pat.
He and Bobby went out the door, not without a few backward glances. The boys looked up when they heard thumping and some muffled curses, and in a few minutes the men walked by carrying a chest between them. A little while later they brought the other one down. "Soon as the rain lets up..." one of them murmured. "The wood in the shed should be dry enough," the other one said.
Sam felt really bad about Uncle Bobby losing his mementos from someone who had obviously been important to him, and he could tell by the way Dean's shoulders hunched up to his ears that he felt even worse. Even so, Sam was starting to feel better, curled up next to his big brother under a blanket, the warmth seeping into his bones. Bobby's place was supposed to be safe, it was supposed to feel safe, and even though this was now the first place he'd ever seen a ghost, and it always would be, Sammy was starting to feel safe here again. Especially when Dad and Uncle Bobby came back and took up their argument right where they'd left off.
Being grounded to the couch wasn't that bad. After a bit Uncle Bobby brought them hot chocolate, all forgiven, even though he made sure to scold them when he handed it to them. Dean relaxed fully and blew bubbles just to annoy Sammy. Later there were hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. Dad kept looking over at them, watching. Sam figured it was probably to make sure they weren't trying to sneak off, but he was so tired that he didn't want to move, not even a little bit.
And the conversation wasn't so boring, really. Sam found all the information fascinating, and he could see that Dean was listening intently, too. Monsters weren't so scary when you knew how they worked and what killed them. Sam wished that he could read some of those books and add his own tidbits and opinions to the debate. At one point the adults talked about how easy ghosts were to get rid of if you knew where the body was buried, and Sam felt the last of the icy fear finally melt away.
It only really got boring when Dad and Uncle Bobby quit talking and just sat quietly reading, separately studying. Dean yawned and slowly slid down to lay on the arm of the couch, and Sam could feel him drifting away. He was warm and comfy, and Dean was like a furnace beside him, solid and reassuring. Pretty soon Sam's eyes were drooping, too.
Only then did the adults start talking again, but Sammy caught just phrases here and there through the thick haze of sleep. "Finally asleep, praise Jesus..." "Just scared 'em..." "Have to do it, Singer..." "Never thought it would come to..." "Coulda hurt my boys..." "Mount Pisgah Cemetery..."
And as he wavered on the edge of slumber, just about to tip over, he thought he heard another voice, dim and faint and far away, like a whisper down a string.
Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. Little children want to play. Rain, rain, go away...