Dean knows to be inside by daylight.
He's not exactly sure how he knows the difference, since he has no view on the world anymore. But he can sense it every so often, be it his internal chronometer or the occasional moment of connection with his physical self. He gets random senses back sometimes, traffic sounds or his own heartbeat. Not enough to let him get his bearings, but enough to let him know he's still alive. And there's still a world.
He can't stand being a passenger. Not in his car and sure as hell not in his own head.
He doesn't know how long it's been since, but he remembers Sam making him laugh while they were standing on the side of the road. They'd pulled over in the dark in the middle of nowhere to get air and take a leak and just stop being in the car. Sam had said something in that low, deadpan, wry way that had first surfaced when he was about nine, that way that made Dean realize no one was ever going to be funnier than Sam. He had laughed in a way he didn't often, open sky above and brothers made of interlocking pieces below, each what the other was not, one realizing it again without saying so and laughing over it on a dark road.
The moment of accidental openness let something step sideways into him. He remembered that moment of crashing and burning too clearly. It was embarassing to be on home turf and not be able to defend it. The overwhelming pressure of the thing had been trying to shove him out altogether, but he wasn't about to go. And so he was barricaded in this place-that-was-not.
He'd finally quit raging at it, too. All that freaking out has made him feel better and kept its attention for awhile, but it's also worn him out. This wasn't like running until he thought his lungs would burst, or pounding the hell out of whatever needed it. His soul is not used to running and hiding. And anyway, he's run out of adjectives and invectives to hurl. Inventing curse words is hilarious, but even he can't make that last forever; he's run out of things to threaten it with. It's more patient than he is, and that makes him even angrier. He finally realizes he can't psych it out, not the way he's going about it. Sam probably can.
Oh, Sam. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
He knows Sam is still walking the good waking world because the fucker that's messing with them keeps coming to the door in Sam's form.
Dean knows the door isn't real any more than this internal room he's settled himself into is real. He's constructed it to keep the bastard off him. It wanders by and rattles the knob and taps its fingers along the span of door in patterns of bugfuck craziness. Sometimes it sits out there with its back against the door and harangues him in Sammy's voice.
Sometimes it weeps and begs him for help in that voice.
If he can get it solid somehow, if it has a heart of some kind, Dean has decided he's going to find a way to eat it .
"With a looooot of salt, motherfucker," he says aloud. "And your little dog, too."
At first, the room looked like the last hotel room he and Sam shared before he screwed the pooch and let the squatter in. That had faded the longer he was trapped. For awhile it had been bare altogether, and that had scared the hell out of him. He would wake and see bare echoing space and realize he had left himself very little internal clutter to arrange. Sure, it's hard to prepare to be trapped in one's own mind due to paranormal hijacking. Deanjacking . Fuckin' occupational hazard. But he should have had a backup plan.
He hears it out there again, drawing patterns on the closed door with what it wants him to believe are Sam's fingers. Not his Sam, never his Sam.
"You suck," Dean tells the door.
There's a beat of silence from the other side. Then, "Are you still trying to figure out what to do with yourself?"
The tone is dead-on Sam when Sam can't believe how Dean is behaving: are you for real?, with a scatter of laughter at the edges.
"I'm figuring out what to do with you," Dean says.
"Just like a shark," it says, and Dean can tell by the muffling of its voice that it's pressed itself face-first to the door. He can feel it there, can get a sense of what it's made of. "Keep moving or die. No one else knows you, eldest, and so you don't even know yourself. Not even light escapes. "
Dean is mentally listing Metallica's entire song catalogue in order so as not to start the made-up cursing again. When he gets to Load he pauses to add a bit of trivia about how the master for that album was put in jeopardy when another occupant of the same studio had a fit and destroyed some of the sound equipment. That Journey guy. Steve Perry. Then he thinks about what would happen if Metallica and Journey got into an all-out street brawl, and he thinks maybe Neal Schon is tough enough to take Lars Ulrich down but there's no way Perry has a chance against Hetfield.
"Sam is alone now, too, Dean."
Dean tries so hard not to react. It's better to think about how everyone said Load was a sellout, but they've been saying that since Ride The Lightning and it's complete bullshit.
"He's been taking your gun out lately."
Dean realizes he's not physical, but that doesn't keep what could be his stomach from clenching in anxiety. If there was a shred of truth to that, then Sam was gearing himself up for something. Sam would try and save him even if it meant not letting him go on.
Sorry. Sorry, Sam. What's it been doing to you with my face?
"I told you already that you suck ," Dean says. "I hope he fucking shoots me and gets it done, so I don't have to keep listening to your boring ass."
"I don't think the gun's for you, Dean," it says, and this time Dean comes off the floor before he knows he's going to. He nails the door dead center with the flat of one foot - he's still wearing his boots, his soul has boots, he loves this - and hears the bastard stumble away from the other side at the force of the impact. He's too pissed off to follow it up with a verbal assault, so he wheels away from the door again when it laughs.
His door. His choice.
He stands in his empty room that he's sentenced himself to and remembers again that while it's busy bothering him, it's probably not able to simultaneously rag on Sam. That's good. Sooner or later it'll wander away again and he can look for chinks in the armor.
He sighs because he is the armor.
"So many pretty girls on the ceiling," the thing outside says. "So many years trying to keep there from being more. If it's ever safe again, do you think you'll even know how to behave around other people?"
"You're not just boring now," Dean says. "You're a joke. Run along and die."
He thinks about how he was able to force it away from the door moments ago. Whatever he needs to go head-to-head with the thing probably isn't in him any longer. He's never been so tired in his life. It took too much out of him to hit the door, after all the energy he wasted venting his frustration on it.
Fucked up again, Dean, awesome job!
It's back and running what sounds like a palm along the door. Testing, taunting. "Come on out, Dean," it says, but the tone indicates it doesn't really care. "You're taking up so much space that I need."
"Come and get me, bitch," Dean yells from the opposite wall. "Make sure and turn your back when it gets light again. Because you're stuck in here with me then, aren't you."
Things get very quiet on the other side of the door.
"Turn your back when it's dark again, too, because that's when you're out messing with Sam. I see your pattern. Way to go ."
It doesn't retort for once, but he can still feel it there. It's in his headspace with him but can't figure out what he knows.
Dean begins singing Pantera's 'Cowboys From Hell' at the top of his lungs until he can feel the thing wander away. They say the bad guys wear black, we're tagged and can't turn back. When he's pretty sure it's dark outside again, he opens the door. It looks like miles of prairie for whatever reason, and he wonders if it's some subconscious idea of home he thinks he has. It doesn't matter to him; he's hunting.