Sometimes things work just because you think they work. It's as good a definition of faith as any.
a/n: Props to Maygra for some wicked insight. Like, forever. Most of the science is based in fact, but my use of it (and the use of the meters) is poetic-license foo-foo.
Dean was up early and waiting outside the office, acting like a kid at Christmas for that package to come. Sam found him out there by the gate to the less-than-adequately-chlorinated pool, drinking coffee and making eyebrow quirks at whoever went by. Yesterday's rain was just an occasional random puddle in divots of the parking lot's uneven blacktop, and the morning sun made Sam squint. He stood and stared at Dean for a moment, feeling amused and oddly settled.
"I got two," Dean said, nodding at the clerk behind the counter. Through the plate glass window, she was giving him a look that was a cross between suspicion and appraisal that a lot of women gave him. I know just by looking that you're a pain in the ass, but I'd do you right here in public all the same.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," Sam said.
"Two meters," Dean said. "One for the original campsite, you know, the spot the Northrups said it last opened, and then...where we were. We can't just try and get readings from one spot."
"Oh, because that'd be unscientific ," Sam said. He was watching Dean's eyes dart around after mentioning going back up there, like he was looking for something to focus on. "We're gonna be able to read this stuff, right? Or figure it out."
Dean smirked at him over the rim of his coffee. "Since when do you follow me around and talk just to be saying something?"
"I just feel lost if you're not flipping me shit," Sam said in a monotone, looking out toward the road. All grays, the asphalt and dust and even the washed out blue of the sky. "I had to come out here to get some. Don't make them kick you out of here for loitering, huh?" He walked away, intent on coffee and on not standing around trying to figure out if Dean was okay. And, if he was honest...intent on not hoping for a glimmer of anything he could recognize as stitches loosening.
He was blind now, after having seen something so damn pure. All the rough and vibrant but easily blended colors that had spoken in ways he could decipher forever, now closed off again and leaving him back in the dull halflight of what passed for the visible world.
Sam had asked the revenant what it'd wanted from him, and its only answer was it's been so dark
and lighthouses are so hard to ignore. All it had wanted was light and sound, never realizing that getting what it wanted would take it apart. It had seen something in Sam that it gravitated to, but it had gone for Dean instead. He and Dean had been laughing and Dean had accidentally been Dean for a moment, open to the sky, and it had seen beneath and gone for the true lighthouse of the two. Maybe Sam had seemed like the prize after Dean managed to get himself locked down for awhile, or just easier to see from the shadows because he was open in ways he didn't even want to be.
Sam hated feeling like a moth circling a cold candle and waiting, waiting, hoping for a flame. It was awful to finally understand what had driven the thing. To feel pity for it seemed like such treason.
Sam drove because Dean was still messing with specs and dials. The meters looked like older police scanners to some extent, boxy, with LED screens, and they needed industrial-grade alkaline batteries the size of coffee mugs. Sam had taken the paperwork as soon as the box had been opened, and he'd declared with outrage that it was all in German and all he could make out was 'not to be used for the other use'. Dean had believed him for an instant and yanked the papers away only to roll them up and hit Sam with them once he realized it was a joke.
Dean shoved everything into his pack once they approached the muddy turnoff for the trail, leaning forward as if he couldn't wait to get out of the car and get it done. Still, they both sat there for a moment as the Impala's engine rumbled to silence. They'd have to walk up a bit to get back to where they'd parked the car that night the hole had decided to force Sam's hand. Even in daylight, Sam had no intention of parking right where the thing had last opened.
Sam finally got out and stretched, then got into the trunk for the shovel he was now aware of since they'd done 'inventory'. They'd agreed that wrapping the meters in plastic and burying them a couple feet down would lower the chances of regular atmospheric interference and maybe give them a better reading. The first would go right where they'd parked a couple of nights earlier, then they'd hike up to the campsite above Tripod Flats.
Dean had shouldered his pack and was looking around with his brows drawn together, checking the trees and sky almost as if he was daring anything to bother them. Then he set off ahead of Sam, long strides biting into the terrain.
Even had they not remembered the spot, they would have felt it. Maybe it was years of practice in picking up disturbances of all kinds, but there was no doubt that something had Happened There even if there was no visible sign. The EMF meter was in the pack with everything else, and it was on, but it was silent. Sam hadn't expected much else. He had hoped for some kind of depression in the soil, though, because how the hell anything like what he'd seen from the open passenger door could just vanish was ludicrous. If he hadn't known better, he would have questioned his own sanity, and couldn't blame anyone else who might do the same over it.
"Ready to plant this?" Sam said, holding up the shovel. Dean made some noncommittal sound, so Sam turned to look at him.
Dean had paused, leaning forward a little as if trying to take that next step, staring at the ground. Sam watched him pretend he wasn't rattled. The set of his shoulders, his jaw, the locked knees, the white knuckles. Separately they each meant something commonplace to Dean and how he dealt with things, how he handled the little annoyances he didn't waste more than one reaction on. He worked through his fears the same way he worked through pain, one thing at a time, talking himself out of whatever it was by running through and yelling. When Sam had been afraid to pass through dark rooms as a kid - one of the places they'd stayed in hadn't had wall switches - Dean had taught him to scare the darkness back by running through and yelling. It had worked, had made him feel braver or at least made him laugh, and later when they ran through countless dark rooms in silence with weapons more fearsome than their voices, Sam had carried the idea with him.
A Dean who didn't even try and crash his way through something out of stubbornness alone was one that was finally admitting to being afraid enough to let it stop him.
Sam waited, keeping quiet and still, knowing that even an accidental motion would be translated into some sort of judgment and would allow Dean to focus on him with a rebound of misdirected emotion. The whistle of wind through the tops of the conifers surrounding them seemed to fill the world. Windy, almost always windy there, and Sam thought about higher suicide rates near mountain ranges and how what you didn't know could hurt you.
He realized Dean wasn't going to dig his way out, and it occurred to him that the longer it went on, the harder things were going to be. Giving his brother enough room wasn't going to do it this time. Watching for a reaction, he came gradually closer until he was standing right up against Dean's back. He leaned in, resting his chin on Dean's shoulder and leaning his head against Dean's. Dean permitted it, continuing to look at the ground.
Sam didn't say anything, because all he could think of was you don't have to do this or it's okay , because they were bullshit platitudes and Dean would know that as well as Sam did. He would just stand there and do or be whatever was needed this time and wonder for a fleeting moment whether nature or fate knew what they were doing and he was only born for this, to be counterpoint and cornerstone for his spire of a brother.
After nearly a full minute, Dean said, "Let's get this bitch done," and stepped away.
The hike up to Tripod Flats was even quieter than it had been the first time. Once the meter was buried, though, Dean had demanded that Sam race him back down because they were 'out of shape after all this lying around'. Dean, true to form, was wearing the wrong type of footwear and fell twice, but he still managed to beat Sam because he was a better jumper when it came to roots and stumps. Also, part of it might have been that Sam was laughing, which kept him from getting enough air.
Dean spread the specs out on the table in the little room in Cle Elum and declared they would wait a day to let the meters record a full twenty four hours of data.
"And if they don't catch anything?" Sam said.
"We stay here until they do," Dean said. "You don't really think this is anything else?"
Sam shrugged. "What do you want to do for a day?"
"Sam. After all this, you think maybe this is something else?"
"I don't know," Sam said, sounding more annoyed than he'd intended.
Dean stared at him for a few seconds, then said, "Let's see what kind of action this place has. I wanna kick somebody's ass at darts while we're waiting."
They bothered to try eating decent food for once, a little spot called the Cottage Cafe . Genuine mashed potatoes, not flakes, and chicken fried steak that was actually cooked to order. The coffee was even decent.
"You wanna tell me if you have any other theories?" Dean said. "You keep trying to get at something, and it's not like you to keep from running off at the mouth about every little thing you think."
"If I was thinking something, I sure as hell wouldn't say anything now," Sam said. "You'd make a great psychologist."
"I really put people at ease," Dean said. "It's a gift. I could specialize in, you know, masculinity issues."
Before that could go too far, Sam said, "It goes back to what the professor told you. If the peaks and troughs of the infrasound are overlapping, and that's what's actually causing this, then keeping them from overlapping would probably make it stop. What would we need to disrupt the frequencies so they can't overlap?"
"A contrasting frequency," Dean said immediately.
They looked at each other for a moment.
"And once we get the meters, we'll know what that is," Dean said. "Somehow. Or the nice professor will maybe have an idea. If we could broadcast something just where people usually wander, in a tone or whatever that keeps infrasound from pooling..."
"Using what, though?" Sam said. "Something that would emit one note or tone or whatever, and then we'd have to find a way to keep anybody from running into it...and how long would it go, before needing its batteries changed?"
"So we come back every now and then and change the batteries," Dean said.
Sam stared across the table at him. "You're serious. Come back here every few months or whatever and change batteries."
Dean grabbed the bill. "Enough thinking," he said. "No more multi-syllable words, either. Darts. Beer. Go. Now." He valuted out of the booth, leaving Sam to figure a tip and shake his head. It all made more sense than he thought it should, and he couldn't figure out why nothing seemed to sit right with him lately.
Sam awoke to a mild hangover and a memory of an entire evening that had involved hanging out and not trying to get anywhere for once. There'd been muttering by the other patrons about the nonstop Black Sabbath on the jukebox, but Dean either hadn't heard or couldn't be bothered to acknowledge it. They weren't hunters or hustlers or anything more than a couple of guys just passing time. Sam felt his head clear for the first time in a while and realized again that Dean was wiser in some of the things he did than Sam gave him credit for.
When they dug the meters up, the memory functions said something much the same. Sixteen continuous Hertz on the Tripod Flats meter and 14.6 on the lower one, except where it briefly registered 18.98 for twenty minutes around two a.m. The frequency at which the human eye, and to some extent the temporal lobe, resonated.
" Constant infrasound," Dean said. "And when the two frequencies widen out and manage to hit each other occasionally, or overlap..."
"Like when you throw a rock into a lake," Sam said, doing some overlapping of his own. "The rings spread out and overlap, and if they're toned just right, it rattles the space between the rocks and every damn fragment of dirt until it just opens up..."
"It's the river," Dean said, sitting down on the ground with one of the meters in his lap. "You were right. The continuous tone must be the Columbia, and if the seismic patterns change, or the wind comes through the right way...shit."
"One single note playing forever up here won't disrupt it, then," Sam said. "It's like the shields the Borg had. It would have to constantly change frequency."
"We just have to figure out how to set our phasers to 'suck on this'," Dean said.
"What if setting something up here that plays out in one or more frequencies of infrasound just opens more holes?" Sam said.
Dean stood, brushing himself off absently. "It's too late for the Prime Directive now, Sulu," he said. "We might have to adjust it every so often. We're gonna be back to check anyway. Better to do something than to just hope it gets better by itself."
Sam didn't mean to; he'd meant to eventually, but maybe when Dean wasn't paying attention and then could suddenly walk away. Out there, there was nowhere to go, which seemed ridiculous when there was nothing but space. He had to, he couldn't miss an opportunity to set this one thing right, even though he realized his idea of resolution was probably different from Dean's in this case. It didn't matter.
"Dean," he said.
Dean raised his head, eyebrows quirked.
Sam shook his head a little, beginning to grin but a little afraid to, amazed he was going to say something he'd just get shot down for but knowing it was important that he say it. "If we weren't brothers?" He looked straight at Dean, finally, eyes narrowed a little and unblinking. "I would still want to know you. We would still be friends."
Dean just stared at him for a moment, brows lowered again. Sam knew his chance to get unfettered honestly out of his brother without a fight or by accident was gone, but it didn't disappoint him right then. He still knew enough to get by with. There would be some smartass comment, and they'd go on, and the normalcy would be a relief tinged with chagrin.
Dean lowered his eyes altogether. To anyone else he would have looked bored or indifferent; to Sam it was discomfort. He'd seen Dean do it every time he wasn't sure what to do with something that had been handed to him. Words, objects, weird food. Their father and time had taught them that open confusion was a red flag for someone to step in and take advantage of them, and so they had learned to pass almost everything off.
"I would still think of us as brothers," Sam said.
Dean made a brief gesture with his hands, opening them palms-up, hesitating, and closing them again, tilting his head to the side. Sam didn't need him to say anything aloud. This time Dean was plain without verbal accompaniment; he would have been readable before any of it had happened, eyes and hands always wide and expressive. He finally rested his hands on his hips, looking so thoroughly trapped according to Sam's basic lexicon of All Things Dean that Sam walked away to break the standoff and take the unintended pressure with him.
Dean had not followed protocol by snapping at him or rolling his eyes, and Sam was suddenly at a loss. Sam had watched Dean all their lives and had taken his cues from him until faced with people and situations that begged him to adapt to their structure for four years. Now he was caught between and out of step and could only offer simple phrases that maybe didn't get through, or were too much to handle all at once. Asking for a response was asking for a breach in the structure Sam had purposely wrapped tight again, and it felt selfish, and ...
"Sam," Dean said.
"I'm a girl," Sam said, still walking. "I know, good, thanks."
" Sam goddamnit !"
Sam paused at the... command , even though, he registered with surprise, he had an absurd urge to run. He tilted his head, keeping his back turned, playing his own brand of annoyance as his last defense.
"You don't - " Dean began, then threw his hands into the air unseen, face a riot of emotion for just an instant, shell open but unbroken. By the time Sam turned to face him, they were wearing matching poker faces again, posed in weary apathy tinged with irritation. Dean took several steps toward him that looked as if they would end with them both in the nearby ravine and covered in mud, but he stopped within arm's length and gestured again, keeping his eyes down, waving his hands a little and then gripping the front of Sam's jacket. It was just a rough and sudden straightening of his clothes, really. Sam kept his hands in his pockets and his face straight, taking it in stride.
Dean thumped Sam's chest with an open palm, face still shuttered, and walked away.
Sam broke into a grin.
After messing around online and making another call to the university, the idea of creating an opposing tone or series of tones of infrasound to keep the existing infrasound under control not only seemed like one of their brainstorming oddities but something plausible. Not only that, but the meters themselves could be set to continously take readings and give off tones low enough at enough sub-audible volume to create an area effect. They could burying meters at regular intervals on the busier trails and leave them like inverse land mines.
Dean didn't bother adding anything to the journal this time.
"You don't get it," Sam said. "We solved this thing. We still did it the hard way, like we always do, but we solved it. There were no spirits, we didn't have to shoot or burn anything. We figured it out without needing...well, traditional weapons, or Latin. It was just everyday science, and we got it."
Dean didn't look mollified.
"Dean," Sam said, in a way that implied c'mon, you have to admit something.
"Big deal," Dean said.
"It means we can do anything," Sam said. "The two of us. We can do anything."
Dean glanced at him grudgingly. Just a moment of connection, enough to leave things open but convey how little he liked it. "The anything part, I'll buy. The everyday science thing? No way, Sam. There was nothing everyday in any of that."
Sam exhaled a laugh, looking away with a half-formed grin that said you always do this . "Okay," he said. "I'm not sure we even know what everyday means anymore."
"The most we've done is keep a few hikers from spontaneous burial," Dean said. "Good for us. Nothing evil, here."
"We're not racking up points, Dean," Sam said. "Shouldn't we tell them? The Northrups. The thing that messed up their family - they could understand it and realize that nothing was out to get them. The brother that's left could quit running."
"I don't think it'll make much difference, Sam," Dean said. "People believe what they want to, no matter what anyone else says."
Sam sighed, and without looking at him, Dean said, "Once people see stuff - silverware flying across the room, blood running out of the showerhead, no problem. They get it. But you and me, spouting science? Nah."
"With evidence, Dean," Sam said, pointing at the paperwork left from the meters.
"You try telling that guy that what he heard wasn't real," Dean said, continuing to roll his clothes. "You try telling him it was soundwaves fucking with his temporal lobe and working itself into recognizeable patterns just based on what he thought he should hear. He's never gonna get rid of the doubt in the back of his head, no matter what you show him. Belief trumps evidence, Sam. No matter what we tell ourselves."
Sam kept watching him, hearing no matter what I tell myself. It was nothing but his own understanding, though. Dean wasn't throwing anything off.
I have to get to Sam, Sam needs me.
Nothing had really changed.
Later, while Sam was in the shower, Dean quietly got the dreamcatcher out of the trunk and hung it between the beds. It didn't matter if the goddamn thing worked. The idea was enough. Belief was enough.
The next afternoon they were gone, headed east, following a tip.
Dean and Sam were long gone from the first motel in Ellensburg, days gone, headed to Cle Elum and then out of the area altogether, but something stirred along the doorways.
It might have been dust in the last of the light, looking for a place to settle, if it hadn't been so carefully following along any surface Dean had touched during his time there.
It, too, finally moved on. Headed east.
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