Sam slept hard despite the fact that Dean was in and out of the room all night. It was probably because he was occasionally out of 'range' that Sam was able to sleep. Dean had caught on to the fact that he was driving Sam nuts but not exactly why, and it wasn't troubling him that he'd been awake so long, so he wandered a little. Not far. He'd checked the local yellow pages online and figured a few of the older businesses would be most likely to know anything. It didn't hurt to scope things out on foot ahead of time - the place wasn't that big. Plus, Sam could actually rest.
All this weird energy had to go somewhere. Might as well make use of it.
There was still quite a bit of traffic at one in the morning. He jaywalked at will and listened to what he could catch of music from bars that were still an hour from closing. He looked in shop windows and hummed absently to himself, trying to remember which street that one mechanic from the yellow pages was on when he realized that there were other people on the sidewalk with him, but not passing him.
He turned from the window of some sort of import shop - honestly, who buys dishes with rooster patterns on them? - to find a trio of girls staring at him openly. That was nothing new, so he grinned at them. They weren't half bad, and they were even following what he referred to as the Charlie's Angels rule - if three girls are friends, then one is blonde, one is brunette and one is a redhead. Chicks grouped themselves this way all the time, and he'd never been able to figure out whether it was on purpose, or what he and Sam had agreed was a cosmological constant. Only one was really staring at him with unblinking awe; the other two were looking him up and down appraisingly but trying to get Miss Yellow Mini Skirt to fall back into formation.
It set off one of those internal alarms he'd never bothered to name but always heeded. In this case it was the one that said not now, wrong time, wrong place. Three girls, sober or not, could be fun under the right circumstances but not the way the one was staring at him. That was the other alarm; the Not Right alarm, the one that he never questioned no matter what. He watched them go with the same grin still on his face, wondering what the hell that was about, and then headed the opposite way. There was a family restaurant at the end of the block, and if he remembered correctly he could hang a left there at the alley and the mom-and-pop body shop was at the end of that street. He'd take Sam there in the morning and they'd start canvassing from that spot. He knew from experience and dad's tales that a town's mechanics knew more than any of the old dogs sitting around the coffee shops. He could case the place a little now and get a sense of things, no big deal, then back to check on Sam, and -
Whoever grabbed the back of his jacket was already pissed at him, and that was all he really needed to know. He twisted out from under it, spinning to find some guy he didn't recognize staring at him bleary-eyed. "You gotta keep it down."
"Hey," Dean said, keeping his eyes on the guy's hands. If it was a mugging, he was ready for it, but his only warning of a weapon would come by watching the hands. "Take it easy."
The guy was just a little shorter than he was, unshaven and looking like he'd been between doses of lithium for awhile. Not homeless, but not possessed of all his faculties at the moment either. Something was a little manic and off kilter in his body language. His eyes were in shadow but Dean caught the gist of things anyway by the hint of alcohol that carried to him.
"Keep it down ," the guy said again, and Dean was so confused by the pleading tone of it that he didn't step out of the way when the guy leaned forward and tried to shove him.
The contact happened but never went any further. The shadow that fell across them both moved too fast.
All the guy had really done was place a hand flat on the front of Dean's left shoulder, but it was aggression all the same, or at the very least violating Dean's Personal Space Rule. Sam just didn't care what really sparked it or whether the guy could help it because Dean was accidentally screaming for attention on a subconscious wavelength. He didn't care if Dean could or would or wanted to handle it himself. Sam was bigger than anyone else involved and he was hyper aware of that and how tired he was. This once he wanted the chance to exact some sort of retribution for the last several weeks, warranted or not.
It was so simple; the guy never saw him coming. That calm, shiny-sweet puppy dog gaze crashed to a wolf's merciless snarl, all bared teeth and flaring nostrils. He put one hand around the guy's throat and whipped him around until his back slammed against the brick veneer of the building. He didn't really intend to apply as much pressure as he did, because the guy was turning purple almost immediately and his fingers were scrabbling at Sam's hand in desperation rather than trying to lash out. He wasn't even kicking, or trying to choke a word out.
Sam had all the air he needed but he was suffocating more than the guy whose feet he nearly had clear of the sidewalk.
"Touch him again," Sam said between his teeth, "...and I'll touch back a lot harder."
Dean clapped him sharply on the back and left his hand between Sam's shoulderblades, taking a handful of shirt while he was at it. He didn't tug; he didn't need to. "Great," he said. "Now that we've got that cleared up, we're late. You know. For a thing."
Sam snapped his hand back as if he'd been burned, because the circuit closed again and cleared his head of anything else. The guy took a long, hoarse gasp as he stumbled forward from the wall. Dean released Sam and thumped him on the back with one side of a closed fist, and Sam turned on his heel and walked quickly away. They left the guy coughing behind them, and he didn't even try and get another word in.
Dean found himself trotting a little to keep up with Sam's long, determined stride. If they were lucky or just fast enough, there wouldn't be cops added to this slow-chase-without-a-white-Bronco. They took a corner by the family restaurant and Dean stuck a foot out and nailed Sam in one shin, nearly tripping the stormcloud on stilts his brother had become. "Sooo, Sam," he said, "How you doing?"
Sam turned on him and grabbed him without the force he'd used moments earlier but still a lot more than he meant to. The contact meant an end to the headache because instead of staring into the sun he could channel it and eclipse it if he had to.
It was the silence that had brought Sam awake. The white noise with occasional spikes of hey look at this! had quit playing in his head, and just as he feared, the silence was louder and more awful than not hearing the signal meaning his brother was nearby and running at full capacity.
Sam had been making coal into diamonds and back in his chest for the last couple of weeks. Sooner or later everything comes due, and Sam's been coming due since at least 11/2/05.
Stress is cumulative.
"That was really un-Sam of you," Dean said in his most congenial tone, the one he used when humoring someone he was thinking of hitting. Sam was a shadow haloed by sodium vapor streetlights, a stalking menace he wasn't used to seeing.
"Imagine that," Sam said, his hands on Dean's shoulders and up to his elbows in Dean's soul. It was way too much but the least he needed. "See, you don't really remember much of it, but for a week something wearing you was fucking around with me and I never had any idea where you were. So I don't really care if you're bored or whatever this is, it would be great to wake up and not have to come looking for you."
"Hey," Dean said, "It's not like you're exactly ecstatic to have me around, suddenly, so I don't know what the hell you're whining about. We could use some space anyway." He couldn't have shaken Sam off if he wanted to; and by the grip Sam had on him, he realized he probably shouldn't.
Sam left one hand on Dean's shoulder and gestured with the other like he was hoping words and patience would drop out of the air. "People who don't have the 'shining' are backing away from you lately, you ass. You get completely oblivious to everything but what you're looking for sometimes, when you're on a hunt, and you can't do that right now. I don't even know if you're stuck this way."
Dean narrowed his eyes at Sam. "What the - "
"You told me not to touch you," Sam said.
Something clicked into place, about how the thing got in. It wanted you so bad, it would have done anything to get you, so I thought if I couldn't kill it myself I could slow it down for awhile by giving myself - He had no idea he was saying it aloud, and he paused because Sam dropped the hand from his shoulder to pat him on the chest.
"Yeah," Sam said. "I know." Dean stared back at him for a moment as if suspicious that Sam was reading his mind, and Sam wavered under the wide open, backlit green of his regard. "Can we go back to the room before the cops come?"
"That guy's not gonna call the cops," Dean said. "You gonna give me some real idea of what the hell's going on?"
"I don't know if I can," Sam said, finally dropping his hand. There it went: Dean's greatest hits, picking up right where they'd left off in his head. At least he was still in the sun's corona.
Mostly, Dean stared at his hands. It was good that he was listening but bad that he had nothing to say.
They sat across from each other on the beds, mirror images again, elbows braced uneasily on knees and hands loosely clasped between. It never occurred to them that it was a defensive posture. It was just how they did things, when talking had to be done.
Sam kept his hands still for once while talking, something he only did when he had no understanding of the subject. "You were trying to save me, and I tried to save you back, and whatever you did to try and take yourself over again kind of spilled over. I think. You told me it had you kind of locked up in there, and when you busted out I think you maybe also busted whatever it is that keeps us in at all."
Dean raised an eyebrow at that, but still didn't look up. He wasn't fidgeting, something he only did when he was really listening.
"It makes sense that everyone's gonna react differently to it," Sam said. "Some people just see or feel things different than everyone else, so maybe they're startled or attracted or scared, and don't know why. Maybe that one guy took it like a challenge."
"You could have said something," Dean said, low and gruff.
"Like what? 'Hey Dean, your soul is showing, zip it up'? Give me a break. Like you would have listened to a word. It always takes something happening before you'll listen." Sam paused. "I don't know any more about it than you do."
Dean was silent for a moment, and when Sam looked at him to try and guess what was coming, he didn't expect the flash of panic that vanished as quickly as it came. There was a frown instead and a twisting of the mouth that Sam recognized as...embarassment. He could only stare.
"Sam," Dean said, keeping his eyes down, "Can people.... see me?"
Sam knew what he meant. Dean would rather stand buck naked in front of a crowd before he'd let anyone see his heart. Aside from the Impala it was the only thing he believed he had that truly belonged to him.
"You're not..." Sam paused, because he just didn't have words this time. "I can only tell you what I see, and it's not really seeing. It's mostly that I can hear you, so it's probably different for other people. I can't hear what you're thinking, or anything like that, so I don't think anyone else can either. It's just that you..." Sam sighed. That headache was going to kill him, he figured he should be bleeding from somewhere if it was going to be this annoying. Dean was staring at him and waiting for once, which told Sam even more. "Look, it's sort of that you're harder to ignore than normal. People either love or hate you right away anyway, that's never gonna change, and for now it's just amplified. You're just...more you ."
"So how's it hitting you?" Dean said. This time he glanced up at Sam from underneath his lashes.
Sam opened his mouth to answer and found himself hesitating. Between the eyes. It didn't matter what he said; Dean wouldn't be happy. This was so personal that there was no way it wouldn't become a 'sharing and caring' moment, and even if it was Dean initiating it for once, Sam balked.
"You're just more you," Sam repeated, because it was the best he could do.
"I'm driving you fuckin' crazy, then," Dean said. His tone was flat, just a statement with no emotion attached, and Sam cringed. "You've been different, since."
"Dean - "
"I don't know what I did," Dean said quickly. "I don't know if that thing did it to me, or if I just -"
"It wasn't done to you," Sam said. "I don't know how I know, but it's not like it's an injury or anything. You're loose. That's all. You're not hurting anything."
Dean thought, suddenly, about what had happened earlier. Keep it down. Now he got it. "I'm hurting you," he said. "I can tell. So how do we shut me off, exactly?"
Sam started to say something, then ended up just shaking his head. He ran his hands through his hair but left his hands on his head, looking worried. "It was connecting us that killed it," he said. "It caused some kind of bridge, trying to get us both, and the combination of me and you did it in somehow. You're not broken. I see what happened and I can kind of get an idea of where your edges are, because we were bridged for a moment, but I don't know if there's a way to put you back."
"Then what do I do, hide?" Dean said. "Go all Boo Radley? We gotta find a house with stairs, then."
"Dean," Sam said softly. "You don't shut a soul off . I would never shut you off even if I could."
Dean stared at Sam long enough to pick up his hallmark combination of sad determination. Damn, but they got themselves into trouble sometimes. Sure, they went looking for it, but even then the law of averages had to cut them some slack occasionally. He'd just ride this out the way he did everything else, and whatever it was it would probably take care of itself anyway. Or Sam would come up with something like he usually did. Either way, no sense worrying about what you had no control over.
He leaned forward and held a hand out across the space to Sam as if they were meeting for the first time after a long absence. Sam cocked his head back in confusion and shot Dean a sidelong glance. "Come on," Dean said.
Sam snorted in amusement, not knowing what Dean was really up to but playing along anyway. He slapped his hand into Dean's, and they gripped hands solidly. Sam closed his eyes in relief before he could stop himself.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Dean said. "I told you not to touch me, and now that's all you've got left."
"It's not like that," Sam said, holding on. "It's just, you know, like a river cresting its banks. The only time I'm out of the floodplain is when the bridge is back in place."
"I'm not holding hands with you everywhere we go."
Sam opened his eyes and aimed a halfhearted slap at Dean and missed when Dean rolled away.
"Get some sleep," Dean said, standing. "I know who we can start with, in the morning, and if we're lucky, we won't need much else. You can probably figure out where this hole is."
"If it exists," Sam said, flopping back on his bed.
"It does, Grasshopper," Dean said as he stripped his shirt over his head. "Believe it. We've probably already got enough from the stuff on the 'net to triangulate the most likely spot, when we compare it to the areas folks went missing in."
"And what are we gonna do, exactly, if we find it?" Sam said, eyes on the ceiling.
"Find a virgin and throw her in," Dean said. "Christ, I don't know, Sam. Don't think so much. Go to sleep."
"What are you doing, then?" Sam said. "You have to sleep eventually."
"Don't worry," Dean said. "My turn to think."
"God help us." Sam closed his eyes and was out almost immediately, even though he'd been sure he wouldn't be able to sleep.
Dean poked around a bit more online, dragging a chair over between the beds. Whenever Sam stirred, Dean reached over and laid a hand on his arm until he was still again.
He didn't really care how anyone else handled it. It was Sam who was paying the price every day because Dean had been too slow in either kicking the revenant out or pitching himself off the overpass.
You gotta keep it down.
Like he wasn't enough of a freak already.