A/N 1: I started this waaaaaaay back before S5 began, so it's AU. (In case you didn't notice after you'd read it…)
A/N2: A little different Sam than I usually write, but I think the boy has the right to be in a bad mood. After all, nobody ELSE got any blame for their part in starting the Apocalypse. (so his anger might just be mine...)
Late afternoon. An ugly motel room. A so-so lunch a couple hours behind us. Another long drive in front of us. A swath of egg shells between us that had already been trampled into dust.
"Here's something we could take care of while we're here." Sam said. He had his laptop open on the table. I was cleaning the guns on the bed behind him and his back was to me. "Sounds like a vengeful spirit in an old house just outside of town. Or a poltergeist maybe. Breaking windows. Making the doorbell ring like an alarm. Tearing up the inside of the house. Pulling out the landscaping."
"Okay. I'll look into it. See if it's something we want to handle."
The immediate silence and subtle tightening of Sam's shoulders told me I'd said the wrong thing. The Really Wrong Thing.
"Why?" Sam turned to face me. "Why do you have to look into it? What – you think maybe there's a demon on the other end and I won't be able to help myself? You think I'm making it up? You think it's a trap or a dodge or – or – what?"
I didn't sigh but I couldn't help the look of aggravation I shot Sam. The time was when I could ask Sam for a little clarification and not get my head handed to me. The time was when I would go just because Sam asked me to. The time was when I would step between Sam and anything and Sam would accept it. Even be grateful for it.
That time was not now.
I didn't think there was a demon. Or a trap or a trick or a lie. What I thought was that it was less than a month since Lilith's swan song and that maybe Sam's head wasn't on straight yet. Or even if it was straight, it might not be all that secure. He was looking for hunts all over the place and I wouldn't put it past him to find one where one wasn't. Not a trick, not a trap, just a need that wasn't being answered anywhere else.
"I said I'll look into it."
"I'm so sick of this." Sam growled out. He turned back to his computer
"Sick of being cautious?" I answered in the same tone. "It's not just spirits and spooks anymore, y'know. We've got the Apocalypse barking over the fence at us now, too."
"No, really? Gee, I'd forgotten."
If snotty could be cut with a knife, I would need the machete to get through that. Sam was feeling guilty as hell, and he was desperate to find some way, any way to redeem himself. He was jumpy and short tempered and anxious, but not on purpose and I just had to negotiate around that, because I wasn't risking Sam where I didn't have to. I put my work aside and went to the table and the papers he had spread around him.
"All right, what have we got?"
"Why? So you can go off and 'look into it' while I get to be sequestered here in the motel until you're sure it's safe for the world that I be out in it?" He slammed his computer shut and shoved it and the papers into his leather bag. "I know you don't trust me, but you don't have to be so stupid about it."
I bit back that sigh again and even tried to not look pissed. No, I didn't trust Sam, and no, I didn't care if he knew it because yeah, I was going to do whatever I had to, to make sure he was on the good side of health and sanity, and to make damn sure he stayed there. And as soon as he got out of his pissy pity party for himself, he'd see that.
"Shut up. I'm sick of this."
Guess that party wasn't breaking up any time soon.
He stood up, pulling his leather bag with him and headed for the door.
"Where're you going?" I asked, trying to sound interested and not parental but it didn't quite work.
"Out." Sam so helpfully said. Just for good measure he pulled the phone out of his pocket and threw it on his bed. "Out." He repeated. "Away from -." He swallowed hard on that one and looked around the motel room. " – here." And then he slammed the door open and closed and was gone.
I grumbled a sigh of patience and exasperation. At least he hadn't said 'away from you', though that's what he probably meant. I'd give him some space and time to breathe and maybe he'd calm down enough to come back on his own. If not, I was pretty sure I'd be able to find him when I wanted to. The town wasn't that big and Sam was too pissed to hide too long. Too pissed to be able to hide for long. I'd give him as long as it took me to finish cleaning the guns, then track him down and we'd get dinner and this would pass.
Like a gallstone.
When the guns were cleaned and put away, I got in the car and began my search for my wayward brother. Coffee shop with wi-fi: nope. Coffee shop without wi-fi: nope. Library: nope. Bookstore: nope.
Town Clerk Office: why yes, the elderly clerk helpfully informed me, one very tall, very polite, very tired-seeming young man had stopped by, looking for information for a book he was writing on the history of the town. Was I working with him on the book? He had taken down dates and names and gossip and addresses and thanked her very, very politely and gone on his way, out the door and down the hall and past the front window in the direction of the cemetery.
I made sure to thank her just as politely and - oh, what were those names and dates and addresses?
Cemetery: nope, though I could see Sam's boot prints in the muddy ground at the gate. But then they were lost on the gravel driveway that circled the small graveyard, and there was no Sam, Sasquatch, or little brother to be found among the weathered headstones, ancient tombstones and fresh markers.
Diner: nope, though by now it was dinner time or past it and if Sam wasn't eating anything then his mood wasn't improving.
I wouldn't admit the chill I was feeling as evening gathered over my shoulders and still no Sam appeared. I got some sandwiches and soda pop to go from the diner and continued my search, cursing Sam for leaving his phone, cursing myself for letting him leave it.
For letting him leave.
Next stop was the house in question. It was an old red brick Queen Anne style house. The shrubs did look a bit bedraggled, the shutters on the third and fourth floor windows were hanging off-kilter, and the front door boasted the sign, 'Doorbell broken, please knock.'
Sam would've come here. Maybe he was still here.
As I got out of the car, a woman appeared around the side of the house, dragging a huge bag of mulch with one hand and carrying a shovel, rake, and hoe under the other arm.
"Give you a hand with that?" I asked as I walked up the short driveway.
"Thanks, I'm there." She dropped her supplies on the ground in front of a tattered flowering bush. She smiled at me and gave me a look up and down. "You're Dean? You're with Sam?"
"Yeah." I answered with some surprise. "How'd you know?"
"He mentioned you, said he was working with his brother Dean. I see the resemblance."
I could only imagine what else Sam might've said about me.
"Is he here?"
"He was. An hour or so ago." She brushed her hands on her jeans. She was maybe in her forties with short brown hair that was going gray. "So, you think you know how to stop what's happening to us?"
"What do you think is happening to you?" I asked back.
"I think a one-hundred-thirty year old house is happening to us. Bad wiring, rusting appurtenances, moles with voracious appetites. My husband however thinks we're –." She made a 'scary' motion with her hands. "- haunted. Your brother seemed to think so too."
"Yeah, he gets that way…so, he left?"
"Yeah. Like I said, an hour or so ago. We invited him to stay for dinner, but he said he had some things to look into, a couple more people to talk to, people whose great-grandmother used to live here. He headed that way -." She pointed down the street. "Asked where a hardware store might be and I told him, Cole's, about a mile."
"Okay, thanks." I turned back to the car. I thought about asking how Sam had seemed, was he okay, did he mention anything about maybe having eaten anything? But I wouldn't open our lives up to strangers. "If we find anything out, we'll let you know."
Talking to the kid at the hardware store had pretty much the same results as the town clerk: tall guy, didn't talk much, name on the credit card sounded like some old time rock star or something. He bought a short-handled shovel and some rock salt and lighter fluid. And a couple of the fundraiser candy bars on the counter.
Great, a pissed off Sam on a sugar high. How much better was this day going to get?
"Which way did he go?"
"That way." The kid answered, pointing to the front door, leaving the 'duh' unspoken.
"I dunno. I saw him go that way." He gestured right.
"Is the cemetery that way?" I asked.
"Nah, the playground is though."
Playground. Right. Sam was acting childish, so a playground was the perfect place for him.
I drove there. The evening had finally turned dark and the street lights dotted the playground sidewalk with pools of light. And there Sam was, in one of those pools of light, sitting at a picnic table with a book in front of him and his head in his hand. I parked at the curb near the stump-and-rope fence and walked over to him.
He didn't acknowledge me, which, you know, big surprise there. I put his phone on the picnic table next to his hand but he didn't make any move to take it.
"Nothing at the cemetery?" I asked, and Sam turned a page of his book before he answered me…
…sounding like he was patronizing me with his answer. He didn't even look at me.
"So – what next?"
He shrugged, and kept on not looking at me. I put my hands into my jacket pockets and balled them into fists and counted to ten.
"Are we really gonna do this, Sam?"
"Pretend you're not pissed at me. At everything."
He took a controlled breath, and flexed and relaxed his hands.
"You're dogging every step I take."
"I'm trying to keep you safe."
"From what? From myself? When are you gonna know I'm safe on my own? What do I have to do to prove to you that I'm not a risk?"
"I don't know."
That wasn't a crack or a jibe. I just didn't know.
It was the wrong thing to say, of course. Sam shoved himself to his feet, shoved his book in his bag, shoved the bag over his arm, grabbed the shovel off the bench next to him, and proceeded to get the hell away from me, again, taking long steps down the sidewalk. He hadn't taken his phone with him. Again.
"Sam –" I started after him but I barely got two feet when he spun around to face me. He was so angry, his voice shook.
"You try to follow me and so help me, I will put a bullet in your engine block."
Then he turned to hurry away from me.
"What about me?" I called out to him. "If I follow you on foot, you gonna put a bullet in me?"
He stopped walking for a second and turned back to me, but he didn't answer the question.
"Don't. Follow. Me."
I let him go, watching him walk through the pools of light, with a rhythm like a heartbeat, four steps in darkness, six steps in light, four steps in darkness, six steps in light…
It felt like I was always watching him walk away from me. He'd barely learned how to walk when it started – he'd hear something or see something or want something and he'd head straight for it, and if I tried to stop him or redirect him or even just tried to take his hand, damn would he get monumentally indignant.
Just like now.
Until he got older and didn't get indignant, he'd just get away.
Just like now.
"Dammit, Sammy. Why the hell did I ever help you learn how to walk?"
I got that he was tired and frustrated and feeling claustrophobic with me constantly watching his back from only an inch away. But – dammit – dammit – I was not going to lose him again. He was not going to get hurt on my watch again. He was just going to have to get used to that fact. He was going to have to get used to me watching him. He was just going to have to –
Suddenly, and I don't know why, suddenly it hit me that this wasn't all about Sam. If it was about Sam at all.
He had to learn? He had to adjust? He had to get over it?
All he wanted to do was put to rest a vengeful spirit, and not even all that 'vengeful', more just annoying, and I was acting like he was a toddler walking into a bear pit, and I had to save him now or die trying.
I wasn't trying to protect Sam, from himself or anybody else. I was trying to protect myself from feeling like I'd failed to protect him. Again.
And I thought he was being childish?
So, I didn't follow him. He could handle this spirit on his own. And pretty much anything else he might come up against. I knew that. I'd known that a long time. He was strong and he wasn't stupid and if he needed help, if he needed me, he'd get me. I knew that.
So I let him go.
I waited until he was long gone before I started the car and drove the other way out of the park. I didn't drive past the cemetery, I didn't drive past the house, I went to the motel and watched TV and tried to ignore how tense I was, waiting for him to come back.
At practically midnight, I gave a fast glance out the window as I walked to the bathroom. On my way back, I gave a fast glance again and saw him sitting on the sidewalk. The shovel and his bag were next to him. He was slumped, and leaning his shoulder against the front fender of the car. I wondered if he was still pissed. I wondered if he'd eaten anything that wasn't junk food.
One way to find out.
I left the door halfway open and went out to him, carrying the bag of his supper with me. He didn't notice me, or he didn't acknowledge me, so I walked around in front of him, down off the sidewalk and onto the blacktop.
"Hey." He whispered back. Yep, he was exhausted.
"Everything taken care of?" I figured that was a neutral question, since I wasn't after all asking for specifics he might think I wanted to pick apart. I tossed him the bag.
"Yeah, I think so. Have to check with the homeowners tomorrow, but I think – yeah."
"What was it?"
"A time capsule." He said, and if he hadn't been so tired the sound that followed the sentence might actually have been a laugh. "I talked to a lady who was the great-great-I-lost-count-granddaughter. Berengaria Fynch planted a tin box of mementoes, including a lock of hair and two wisdom teeth, back in eighteen eighty-nine. She was born in that house, then her father died of pneumonia and they had to move and she decided to leave a little bit of herself in the backyard."
He opened the paper bag and took out a sandwich.
"Only fast-forward one hundred and twenty years and what was her pigeon barn back when Queen Victoria was still alive is the new detached garage. You shoulda seen the husband's face when I talked about cracking through the new cement floor. But his wife said, 'you think we're haunted? You give up your new floor.'"
He took a bite of his sandwich and I sat down next to him on the curb and set his bottle of soda pop between us.
"Then Arthur, the son, asked about the big pile of soil that got dug up for the foundation that was still at the back of the garage. Didn't take long after that. A lot of digging and sifting. Thank God they had the big backyard dusk to dawn light. Wish we could use one of those all the time."
He took a couple more bites and cracked open his soda pop and I considered my next question.
"So – you'll check with the homeowners tomorrow? See if the activity stopped?" I asked, and he nodded through a swallow of Coke.
"Yeah, Marguerite, the wife, said she'd be there until eleven, tomorrow morning. I figure we can check after breakfast."
There wasn't a lot of light from our motel window, so I let myself smile at his wording, 'we can check…' But he looked over and caught me smiling and rolled his eyes. I let it pass.
"You didn't come after me." He said when he was nearly done with the sandwich. His voice had an off tone to it though and I thought maybe leaving him alone hadn't been the right move, until he added, "Thanks."
I shrugged and waited. This was Sammy after all and in less than five seconds he was sure to –
- ask me why.
"Do you know how you learned to walk?" I asked him back.
"You'd hide my toy and make me go looking for it." He answered over another swallow of Coke. "And now you wonder why I'm OCD."
I let that pass.
"You learned to walk by falling on your well-diapered ass every step you took. Then you'd pull yourself up and take another step and fall and pull yourself up and take another step. Wherever you wanted to go, whatever you had to do to get there, whatever knocks you took, whatever obstacle you had to muscle your way through, even if it was me, wherever you wanted to go, you got there. And I had to stand back and let you. I wanted to cushion all the sharp corners in the world for you but I couldn't. And I still want to, and I still can't. And it's – hard. You've been hurt enough in your life and – it's hard."
His answer was to hand me the bottle of Coke. I took a long swallow and handed it back.
"I wasn't angry at you." He said. "Not really. You were just convenient."
"I know. I didn't take it personally."
And that was as close to apologies offered and accepted as we were going to ever get. I elbowed his arm and stood up, grabbing his new shovel to put into the trunk.
"C'mon, bed. We've got an Apocalypse to put out of business."
He pushed himself to his feet, hauling up his bags and his trash, and waited until I was done at the trunk and back by his side before he turned to walk into the motel room.