Disclaimer: Really hard to keep track of plot holes in a plot...about holes.
It started raining mid morning, a persistent drizzle that threatened to go on all day. Neither of them thought talking to anybody else would do any good, and Sam had an unspoken trepidation about what might come out of Dean's mouth in front of strangers. He reflected that it'd always been a problem, but lately it was pure honesty and not patented, thinly veiled Winchester sarcasm.
After Dean's enigmatic and unconscious offer of information in the dark, Sam wanted to look at the rivers.
"Why?" Dean was grouchy. This was generally the case when something he hoped for didn't come flying out of the bushes or drop on him from above. He was more restless than usual, checking and rechecking ammo, eyes everywhere but Sam.
"Nothing else to do," Sam said, and that was true enough.
"First camping and now sightseeing ," Dean said, making a curse of the word. He braced his hands on the hood of the Impala and looked in Sam's general direction across it, distracted and annoyed. "What the hell's going on with you, Sam? Besides everything."
Sam couldn't help but find it funny. Going on with him . He turned his head to grin to show a little throat, so at least Dean wouldn't take it as full-on mocking. "We're kind of out of options until we think of more. Won't hurt to see more of the area."
"What are we looking for?" Dean said, voice lowered into something Sam recognized as a warning.
"We won't know until we find it," Sam said, grin fading as he looked back at Dean.
"It drives me nuts when you do this," Dean said. "This evasive thing, like you know more than I do or you've got a secret or something, like I've been browbeating you all our lives and you can't trust me with what goes on in your head."
"I don't have a secret," Sam said, not realizing in time that he wasn't supposed to hear that. "But you have been browbeating me all our lives." Said with all due irony, trailing off too late.
Dean lifted his head and froze, staring at him directly for the first time all morning. "Now you're reading my goddamn mind on top of everything else?"
Sam hated the moment of panic that went with the words, on both sides. "No," he said quickly. "You said it aloud."
"No," Dean said. "I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference between what I say aloud and what I don't."
"Not really," Sam said. He braced his hands on the engine-warmth of the hood and stared back. "Think for a minute that I'd let it get out of hand or let anybody else hear anything they shouldn't?"
Dean didn't answer vocally, but the expression on his face was something only Sam or their father would ever have been able to decipher; an incriminating gratitude. "When this is over, we're gonna find a way to get me back to normal."
Sam did laugh outright, then, still facing Dean this time. "You need a lot more work that we have in our lifetime." Our lifetime , as if there was nothing separate.
Dean straightened away from the car. "I'd laugh but I was raised to have some respect for the alternately-abled," he said. He was visibly uneasy, but Sam was sure not everyone would be able to pick it up. They stood out there and looked at each other with hair and lashes beaded with the faintest mist of rain, too close to see the forest or the trees any longer.
The Yakima river ran close alongside Ellensburg and neither its banks or the pattern it wound across the landscape meant anything to them. Sam couldn't pick up any vibes and didn't see any connection to the mini-streams they'd run into on the ridge. A silent drive east took them into Vantage, and the wind whipped their clothes as they parked at the small history museum that overlooked the Columbia. There was a natural cut in the rocks below that served as a boat launch and camp area, and it was empty - probably due to the weather. They stood above for awhile with their faces in the wind off the water and looked across the wide, smooth-flowing expanse. It was nearly a mile across at that point of the gorge, exposing millions of years of the world's bones. A thousand millennia of changing water levels were visible in the erosion of the facing wall, gradual steps of rise and retreat, smooth sandstone and exposed metamorphic rock.
"It's a river," Dean said finally.
"Wow, thanks," Sam said. They were quiet awhile longer. Then Sam said, "It's probably moved a lot over time."
Dean sighed. "That's nice." When Sam didn't take the bait, he added, "It's never been right where the ridge is, though. There's too much basalt and glacial till left, so no river's ever run through there. That was ocean floor the last time it saw water. I mean, if that's what you're getting at."
Sam felt unreasonably giddy and found himself trying to keep from laughing. He wasn't sure whether he was getting constant feedback off Dean or whether he was just grateful that nothing had tried to kill them yet. He hadn't felt it until they'd gotten out of the car. It didn't make any sense to him and for once he didn't care. He watched Dean shift from foot to foot and scowl at the water.
"I don't get it," Dean said. "We usually have some idea by now, and I don't get it. What if we never figure it out, or there's nothing to figure out?"
Sam shrugged. "We can't solve them all."
" Dude stop fuckin' spying on me !" Dean shouted, stalking away, and Sam shook his head. He wasn't supposed to hear that either, apparently, and it took him a moment to figure out why. Then his eyes widened, and he went after Dean at a trot.
"Wait a second," he said, keeping a step behind, unconsciously giving Dean space. "Did you just doubt Dad? Did you just have half a second of wondering whether we should even be out here?"
Dean spun on him, already pointing, the type of bent-elbow pointing that was less accusatory and more let me tell you something . "Don't put words in my mouth."
"Hey, newsflash," Sam said, spreading his arms in the rain. "Not everything is something we can figure out. Not everything should be figured out."
"Oh, that makes a lot of sense," Dean said. "Something's eating people up here, Sam! Something's fucking with people's heads. It doesn't matter how long it takes to figure it out."
"I didn't say anything about giving up," Sam said, pulling his arms back in so he could show Dean his palms instead. "You're gonna have to think outside your crazy ass, demon-ridden, alternate dimension mindset for five minutes. Maybe we do have something that purposely grabs people, but it's got no pattern that we can see. We don't have a history for the area that suggests a curse, or ancient burial ground, or any of the other stuff that usually makes sense in our world. Our world," he emphasized when Dean rolled his eyes. Sam didn't need Dean to say it - his entire posture alone said yeah right, 'our', like you lay claim to anything. "Last night you said, 'the river runs under everything'. Do you remember that?"
Dean eyed him warily. "No."
"You don't remember everything you say," Sam said. "And Dad isn't always right."
Dean waved a dismissive hand at him. "The river doesn't run under everything. It's just some bullshit that came out of me after a week awake. Standing out in the middle of the woods, doing nothing."
Sam shook his head. "I don't think so. It's possible that you might be able to pick things up that no one else can, while you're..." he paused, gesturing aimlessly in midair. "Whatever this is. While the membrane or whatever it is that holds our souls close to our physical bodies is missing. Like the amniotic sac broke and it's just water everywhere."
Dean sneered at him. "Jesus, the stuff you come up with." He sighed and gestured toward the river. "This doesn't have anything to do with anything. We're gonna go back out there and try a different spot, and find this thing. And if the usual remedies don't work, then we'll know it's some geological anomaly or that the missing people were dumb or crazy or both. Or they were eaten by bears. Or went into the witness protection program."
"So you're admitting that it might not be supernatural," Sam said.
Dean looked at him, as closed up as he was capable of. "What do you want, Sam? Will it make you happy if I just say I don't have any idea what I'm doing, anymore?"
Sam looked back with impatience and tucked his hands in his jacket pockets. "How the hell is it that after our whole lives together, you still can't figure out where I'm headed? I'm not jerking you around."
There was nothing to hear for a long moment but the faint patter of rain and the distant idea of motion from the river. Dean dropped his eyes first because he had to admit he was being contrary just to do it. He felt some underlying suggestion of weariness but knew it wasn't going to translate itself into an ability to rest; for all he knew he'd go on like this forever, eternal consciousness, unrelenting awareness of everything until putting a gun in his own mouth began to seem like common sense. "I'm lost," he said softly, unaware that it was audible, unaware that Sam made a sudden motion toward him as if to grab him or just touch him, but then ran his hands through his own damp hair instead, eyes wrenched shut.
"Hot chocolate," Dean said.
Sam opened his eyes and blinked at the non sequitur. He waited to see if it was meant to be heard.
"It's a good day for hot chocolate," Dean said, nodding. "Not that canned powder stuff either, the good stuff, with milk. Like that crap they rip you off with at Starbucks." He turned his head to look at Sam. "Are you listening, or what?"
"There's pretty much nowhere left on earth that you can't find a Starbucks," Sam said, face raised to the sky to keep tears at bay. The wind let the rain-mist hit them sideways.
"We can hang out in there and research volcanic shit and see if maybe there are other things this could be," Dean said. "You know. Other things."
Sam purposely kept his expression neutral even though Dean was carefully not looking directly at him again. "Mt. St. Helens is still active," he said. "More active lately, anyway. And not that far from here."
"Far...as in geologically speaking," Dean said gruffly.
"Geologically speaking," Sam agreed, and if he ever loved Dean more than he did right then, he wasn't sure he would be able to remember it.
The Starbucks even had a fireplace, and Dean parked himself in front of it with his laptop and scowled at Sam again for moving them further from the couple by the window. They had only glanced at Dean, certainly longer than they had to but nothing more, and the twenty-something barista had scalded and dumped the milk twice until Sam made Dean go sit down by himself in the corner. There was actually a little shin-kicking involved and Sam was glad he was taller and could invoke a bit of looming.
"She wanted my number," Dean said.
"Aren't you trying to plug enough holes in this place as it is?" Sam said.
Dean slammed his cardboard cup down on the table. Luckily the top was still on. "Did you just make a joke? An off color joke? Is this a late birthday present?"
Sam shook his head at the tabletop and scratched at a surface painted to look like a checkerboard. "That's all you get. So. If it's not always visible, then it could be some kind of vibration that opens and closes the ground. Earthquakes give clays and sand liquid properties."
"Neutrinos," Dean said.
"Okay, no," Sam said. "And I hate string theory, so don't start."
"'I am made from the dust of the stars, and the ocean flows in my veins'," Dean said.
"Don't quote Rush lyrics at me, either," Sam said. "You're the one who said it's not a white hole."
"Just throwing some stuff at the wall, seeing what sticks," Dean said, then closed his laptop. "They don't have wireless in here."
"We don't need it," Sam said, wrapping both hands around his hot chocolate. "What else? Tremors can cause land to shift away and back, and maybe it wouldn't always leave a visible trace on the surface."
Dean sipped at his drink, eyes darting around the shop and out the front windows. He made a sound under his breath, something between a grunt and a thoughtful hum. "Me and dad found a haunting a few years ago that wasn't really anything. It was just machinery in the basement, putting off sound at nineteen hertz, below human hearing. The eyeball has a resonant frequency of nineteen hertz. Same thing happens to wineglasses if you find their frequency. It can rattle stuff or break it, or get you seeing things that aren't there." This was solid ground, this knowledge, and the invocation of his father. "Infrasound. Zero to twenty hertz."
"Can it make you hear things, too?" Sam said, raising his eyebrows.
Dean shrugged. "Sure. Turned it off, ghosts went away." He paused. "We don't have machinery out here big enough to do that to an entire landscape, unless those old missle silo rumors are true and they're doing some sort of experiments underground." They looked at each other and shook their heads in unison. "Magnetic field stronger here because the mantle is thinner?"
"That could mess with people's heads, but I don't see it opening holes in the place," Sam said. "Maybe it's a combination of things, just in this spot. When do you wanna head back out?"
"In a couple of hours," Dean said. "Why, you in a hurry?"