Warnings: Gratuitous Shel Silverstein crack!reference. Weeping, hallucinations, angst, self pity...and that's just from the author. This installment also contains the longest run-on sentence ever!
"Are you ever gonna sleep again?" Sam said.
They'd been debating for awhile about how close to get to Tripod Flats again. When late afternoon became early evening and the rain didn't let up, it was by mutual agreement that they parked as far up the main trail as they could without screwing up the car. Then they could still stake the place out without spending a miserable, damp night huddled under some tree. The Impala was definitely not meant for fourwheeling, so they were only about 500 yards up. They'd taken another walk around to look and listen and received nothing but another half mile of wear on their shoes. Once darkness hit, there wasn't much to do but sit in the car. And talk. Dean's least favorite thing to do.
Dean shrugged. "It would be good. But it's not like I'm going crazy from the lack of it. You ever know anybody else awake this long who wasn't ready for the nuthouse?"
"So it's not bugging you," Sam said, waiting to see what kind of truth he got.
"I'm just not tired," Dean said. "I haven't actually tried that hard to sleep, so, who knows. When this is over I'll give it a shot. What's wrong, you sad about not being the world's foremost insomniac?"
Sam shook his head a little in exasperation and let the quiet settle between them again. The rain made a random rhythm on the car, and he focused on that. The EMF meter sat within reach on the back seat and had not gone off once the whole time they'd been on this trip. Sam looked at the dim greenish glow of it in his peripheral vision and thought about whether the things in the trunk should be setting it off since he was sure some of them were at least a little more than just things .
"Me and Sam are nothing alike," Dean murmured.
Sam was careful not to turn his head and look at his brother. Amen , he thought. He was worried about where it was going and what had brought it on, but so far it was just factual.
"If we weren't related, there's no way he'd come anywhere near me," Dean said. "If he didn't have a reason to, there's no way."
Sam waited. He really had to say something, but he didn't want another dude quit fuckin' spying on me type of freakout, so he pressed two fingers to one temple and shook his head. This was too much.
"What," Dean said without looking up.
"You're a pain in my ass and my head," Sam said.
"Stop whining," Dean said. "You just wanna hold hands."
Sam didn't respond, too weary to formulate a fitting comeback. Dean stared back out into the rainswept dark of the forest and drummed his fingers on his knees, and Sam tried to clear his thoughts enough to relax. It stung that Dean thought he would discard him, but, Sam had to admit that from Dean's perspective, it probably looked that way. A thousand moments of evidence to the contrary - Sam returning to cut him loose in the orchard, or flirting unwittingly with the worst of the dark side to keep him alive - would never make a difference. Sam wished Dean would say stuff like that and know he was saying it so he could retort with yeah, mostly because you're so uncool and I expect you to grow a mullet anytime now and then they could trade insults happily. On the same level playing field.
Dean would never quite win the unconditional approval of their father and Sam would never quite have all of Dean's trust. The things they wanted most were unattainable; Sam realized that was probably why they wanted those things the most.
Sam listened to the haphazard patter of rain on the roof of the car, finding aimless melodies in the way the trees above caused a release of larger spatters. That, and the subaudible background radiation heralding Dean as the center of the universe was enough to keep him from getting any reasonable thought process going and keep him awake at the same time. It was a strange limbo to be in. So when Dean's hand landed on the back of his neck, it was a relief he wasn't quite prepared for, and he was unsure which way was up for a moment.
"Hey, hey," Dean said, watching Sam brace a hand on the dashboard.
Sam didn't say anything, just lowered his head and held on. His head was perfectly clear but not entirely his anymore. He had one moment of wondering whether the world had done this on purpose and struck a balance by making sure he was a counterpoint to Dean. They had always been this way. The revenant had only been an accidental means to an end, shoving their noses into the only truth they should never have ignored.
"It'll be okay, Sam," Dean said, and Sam didn't care if he was supposed to hear that or not; he needed to.
get the baby
the baby is crying and there's no one left to help
sammysammy get sammy
Dean turned his head away from the window without realizing how long he'd been staring out into the dark. Apparently it had been long enough for it to stop raining and begin to clear. There was no moment of disorientation, just a memory of talking to Sam and then not, for an unspecified amount of time. The sound that had disturbed him, the sad and desperate sobs of an infant, followed him back to self-awareness. He held his breath to listen. It was cold, colder than it had any right to be in May, but he wasn't shivering.
The baby wasn't annoying. The baby made him feel frantic . It was, in his memory, Sam in the weeks after they lost their mother, feeling the loss. Dean would have done anything to fix it, and his only means of doing so at four was to crawl into the crib with him and make them both less alone.
He turned his head, automatically seeking present-day Sam. He was only able to focus because Sam had closed the circuit again. Only then did he realize that Sam had a fistful of his jacket, hand wrapped into the material at Dean's shoulder. Sam was staring at him and had been for awhile, unable to move other than to hold on. The moon was half full and low in the west, casting an almost fluorescent glow in the absence of any artificial light. Sam's eyes were the brightest Dean had ever seen in the weird, washed-out light, even when they should have been indeterminate in the darkness, and the desolation in his face was even starker as a result.
"Okay, so," Dean said softly, then cleared his throat and pretended it was disuse that made him so hoarse. His voice startled Sam even though the latter was staring right at him. "What's it sound like to you, Starsky?"
The dark flames of Sam's eyes flickered away and then back toward Dean in the million-gray darkness, his trembling evident in his breathing and the edges of his bangs. Sam felt the lie before it formed, and the fact that it should have been true only plummeted him further into the version of hell he was already testing with his toes. He wanted to say that he had nothing left to lose but himself and Dean, and he couldn't; he couldn't have it be true. Saying it aloud would solidify it. Dean was standing in the sun again in his memory, eyes green as envy, telling him words only have the power you assign them, so this admission would stay close to his heart so as not become an agreement between himself and the dark.
The voice of his brother screamed and screamed from somewhere just out of sight. Dean screamed and screamed. This was the thing chosen to try and pull Sam in. If Sam listened to it much longer, he would go; he knew that just as simply as he knew the real Dean was solid in his grip. Warm jacket caught under his hand, long-faded aftershave and coffee, himself and nothing else.
"Jess," Sam said, a whisper at most.
Dean stared at him, too distracted with the wordless wail of a bereft little boy somewhere out there in the dark to detect the lie. Dean had heard everything the No Survivors Crash Demon had said out of its lying, ruinous mouth as well as Sam had, and private hells weren't any smaller than the nine circles he already guessed at. This is what it did? It pulled up what you couldn't stand and dangled it in front of you until you ran to save what you could? Dean would have been a little more rational about it after all he'd seen had he not been splayed open and wearing his soul on the outside. All it meant to his higher brain functions was that Sam was right, it wasn't a sentient phenomenon, because that would make it the dumbest thing they'd ever run into. The voice he heard in the dark had not existed for more than twenty years, and the voice he thought Sam heard had been dead long enough to make no difference. There was nothing to save. It was ridiculous. It was a trick, an aural warping, an echo dredged from the brain stems of primates who had always feared the dark as much as they feared being alone.
Hey Dean , what remained of his frontal lobe whispered, make you wonder who you've really got left?
No point gathering anyone close to see you to old age when you never meant to live to be old.
"I guess we found it, then," Dean said, shooting for detached interest. "Or it found us. We'll just - " he opened the car door as he spoke, not even considering trying to get Sam to loosen his grip. It was this simple - they'd have a look at the thing and he'd know what to do about it. That was the way of things and always would be.
He found himself leaning out over a black maw in the earth, the icy exhalation of it whispering on his face, jagged edges torn into the dust and falling into nothing and fuck him six ways to Sunday if the car wasn't straddling the goddamn thing.
That amazed him enough to make him keep staring, and then of course he was already in the event horizon. He'd find everything in there, it'd be quiet, and until he went in he'd be uncomfortable. It was so much easier to go , like slipping beneath warm water. He had to get the baby anyway, there was no one to save the baby -
Sam was not as fast as his older brother in some things and never would be, but he was more in the bone and muscle department by the fact of height alone as well as sheer reach. Sam yanked Dean back and then reached over him to slam the door. Closing the door didn't make it all stop , but it kept them from just giving in. They'd have to open the doors to get out, and if they could use that barrier, they wouldn't fall. The extra step of having to pull at the door handles would keep them from falling forever.
"Don't look," Sam said. He still couldn't bring himself to raise his voice above a whisper. "Listening's bad enough, just don't look."
Sam was right. It wasn't quite as bad with the car between them and where the sidewalk ended, but it wasn't gone or even tolerable. Dean still had the urge to get to Sam .
No. No, Sam's got a death grip on you. Pressed up against your back and both arms around you, dude, I'm so going to rag on him when we get out of this. "Sam," he said aloud, "Sam, Sam Sam. You're in the car with me."
"Yeah," Sam said. "It's just us."
"We're gonna go nuts if we stay here. We gotta get out."
"We might have to wait until it moves again," Sam whispered. "Think, Dean. We know what it does but not how or why. If we're gonna make it stop, we have to know how to close it."
"For good," Dean finished. "Close it for good. Okay. We can do this. It's definitely physical, it's not like some weird dimensional thing." Sam is here, Sam is here, Sam's heart is keeping time on your back, don't move, don't open the door.
"What were we talking about, before?" Sam said. Dean is here, I've got him, the voice in the dark is lying, listen to the real Dean. Sam laid the side of his head against Dean's back and willed him to keep talking. "I can't remember, what did we think it might be, if it was moving around?"
"Infrasound," Dean said, trying to focus. His hands kept reaching for the door even though he wasn't sure they should; he felt something precarious just waiting for the straws and camels to do their thing. Boxes and boxes of fragile things leaned out over the top stair of a flight that was endless. All his boundaries were shifted out of place until none of the circles were closed, and he was losing sand out of every hourglass he owned. "Sam left but he came back," he said suddenly, the words torn out of him, one more box popping open on the stairs. "I let him go and he came back, nobody else has ever come back!"
Sam shook him, a single jolt. "Don't do this now, Dean," Sam said aloud, finding his voice again. "I'm right here. I don't remember what infrasound is. Dean !" Sam wasn't even as fearful of what Dean might be hearing as he was of what it was doing to Dean's still open and unguarded consciousness. Soul. He could say soul to himself in the dark, having seen a few himself, but never on the living, never outlining the living in silver and sparking with Dean's inability to wait or stop.
"Low frequency sound waves that people can't hear," Dean said, making a declaration of it, clutching at Sam's arms to get loose and to hold on, unable to decide which he needed more. He stopped for a long breath, and covered his ears, hoping the crying would stop. It didn't, proving his hypothesis, but there was no comfort in that because by then his brain was resonating with something that had jostled his own buried and chosen anguish into reality. "You can't hear anything between zero and twenty hertz but it can mess with your head and how you react to stuff." He could hear his own voice with his hands over his ears, the words made sense, the knowledge something he could hold onto. Nobody bothered to measure the resonant frequency of souls, no, some fool somewhere was busy trying to weigh them while his was getting so dense he was afraid it would gather to the center of him like stardust and fusion would start.
This was all science-stuff and perfectly natural and not their thing, and they were in over their heads right up to where the thing swallowed them and the car and they were never seen again.
Dean realized there was someone holding on to him, but they just didn't know any better. They didn't hear the baby. He reached for the door again, unable to stand a sorrow only he could hear, a sorrow that had been voiced by an infant but maybe was only being reflected back in a familiar pattern now that the bearer was so much older. "Sam's alone," he said, never hearing himself, his tone indicating that the idea was horrifying. "I have to get to Sam. Everything's fine if I get to Sam."
Sam shook him again. "It's me," he said, unable to keep the panic out of his voice. "Dean, come on. I'm here, we've gotta think our way out of this."
Dean's head dropped forward suddenly as if he'd decided to give in to reason, but Sam could feel him holding his breath. Hunched over holding his breath and covering his ears. The screaming went on outside, the voice just a bouncing of something off Sam's worst fears, but the real Dean screamed unheard, worse and more damaging. Bottled and evasive to save what belonged only to him and couldn't be taken, strung together with wire that stung trespassers and warded even the invited away.
Sam hated it that the first sob made things easier; Dean shattering in front of him made the voice outside less important and easier to bear.
"You're not my Sam," Dean sobbed, choking the words out. "You used to be my Sam."
Sam held on as hard as he could, trying to get through, remembering that he'd told Dean two days earlier. 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 . This close, the edges were plain. All the parts of Dean that had been left in tatters by his last desperate attempt to get away from the thing at the door were easier to feel.
Whatever was messing with their heads was hard on Sam, but it was intolerable to Dean in his present condition. That was worse to Sam than anything else, and he had to stop it, whatever that took. He had no idea how the revenant had managed to bridge them, but he also realized that an occasional brushing of hands had not shut the static down the way he thought it had; this full-body hug was like full immersion instead of just closing the circuit. The opportunity had not come up before, or he might have had a better idea of the scope of what had happened to them and how far Dean was overrunning himself. He suddenly had a better glimpse of what Dean was made up of, ideas and almost-images the five senses didn't accommodate, too much to withstand at once: fate falling short and one voice in the void, reaching and never accepting, fear and self doubt and determination, deep amusement and secretive awe, blinding hope and the faith of the last man standing, an utter lack of patience, incapable of giving up, burdened and struggling for purchase and frighteningly naive, bravestubbornadorationand -
Dean tensed and threw his head back, dragging air audibly into startled lungs, an automatic physical reaction to an invasion he had neither presence of mind or wish to repel.
Sam was gathering everything that was Dean in intangible hands without moving, smoothing the edges together, pulling things back to the center, becoming the center of gravity without understanding how.
It was only a glimpse, too short to fully process; to protect himself and his brother, he folded the edges closed before he could forget who he was and before his own edges could become indistinguishable from Dean's. He could hold Dean together forever if he had to, he wouldn't mind it, but it would never be what Dean wanted; Sam had never known better what Dean would want than he did right then. He understood , this once; he got it , and would spend a lifetime trying to decipher that one best and brightest moment of knowing.
Dean abruptly relaxed against him as the edges folded together, still breathing but dead weight in the hands of the focal point of his life thus far.
The moment things went quiet in Sam's head, he already missed Dean; there was nothing else to hear but the tortured, wordless screaming from outside. He held on to his brother and tried not to listen, glad Dean didn't have to share it, waiting for the thing below them to move or do anything other than skewer him in place, prisoner and specimen.
All he could do was hold on.