Heart and Hearth

©2007 gekizetsu
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House is honest
Clearly more than I can bear.
ľAudioslave, Gasoline


-|-

Sometimes he thinks he can hear them screaming.

He veered away from that every time it came up. He was imagining it, he had to be. He had nothing. He wasn't like Sam. He was a misfire in the Psychic Wonder department - he didn't get a dose of the mojo going around. He told himself over and over it was just an excuse to burn something, and his imagination was supplying the rest. That's how he wanted it.

It wasn't like he ever saw anything. If he knew what year a house was built, it was because he was subconsciously noticing the style and associating it with a decade. It wasn't hard. He'd been so many places and seen a million houses and picked up the details. He knew from experience that places could hold on to things that happened, good or bad. They'd keep a feeling. He wasn't built to pick any of that up, so it didn't matter.

There was nothing special about him and he didn't want there to be.

Besides, if he was picking up vibes from places, he'd have been doing it everywhere - stores, cars. His own car, if anywhere. It wouldn't just be houses, so, that proved his theory right there. Nobody listened to just houses, that didn't make any sense and sounded like romantic flowery crap even in his own head. It was just a fluke, bits of things he knew stringing together to make it seem like there was anything to hear.

That had to be all it was.

The houses never had anything in common. They didn't have to be a particular age. Sometimes they were falling in, or were almost new, or weren't even vacant. When it was the latter, he made sure there was no one in there. He fucking hated the houses right in the middle of developments; it had to be bad to get him to burn one. He didn't worry about getting caught because he never would be caught. He just worried about the houses on either side, especially if they had wood shingles. Collateral damage. He couldn't control the fires once they get started, but he tried to set them so that the retaining walls got it before the roofs or exterior walls gave, tried to orchestrate it so that the core was a ruin before the fire found a way out. Sometimes he could get them to collapse before the neighbors even knew the bastard was on fire.

He couldn't even be proud of that. He just wanted it done. He needed them to be quiet .

If he'd thought about it too hard, he'd have been calling himself crazy. He didn't even really care about that because no way was he completely sane anymore. Not after the year he and Sam'd had.

He stood back under a massive cedar with low hanging branches that brushed an unkempt lawn. The lot was below street level, and the lights above didn't reach him. It was one of three secluded lots on a haphazardly paved road next to a public park that was more woods than anything else; it loomed in gray-green shadow to his right. Large lot, L-shaped ranch style house with detached carport, brick window boxes, asphalt shingle roof, frame siding in a faded mustard color. Patios back and front, dilapidated decorative fencing, holly and evergreen for landscaping.

Screaming and screaming.

They were back in Washington because, despite the fact that the whole goddamn area had burned in wildfires the summer before. Sam had insisted they check the meters near the Tripod complex. No way was anyone going to be hiking there for years, but hey, it was easy work. Of course Sam would have kept the coordinates, and yeah, they'd had to order new meters because there was nothing left of the originals but a little warped metal. Burning the whole place down for miles still wouldn't keep infrasound from grabbing stray forest rangers or fire investigators, so they ordered the damn meters and recalibrated them and planted them. Lots of scorched logs and a reek of damp creosote and miserable muddied destruction that would eventually make way for something new.

Burning was just part of the cycle.

Sam still wanted to talk about all of it, about what it meant or what he thought it did, and maybe if there'd been a chance of it helping Sam then Dean might have taken a stab at it. No chance, though. Whatever they were, whatever they'd had to do to save each other, that didn't need words. Dean didn't want - or think he needed - to say, hey Sam, me alma es tu alma, go ahead and wrap it around your hands like salt water taffy whenever you like . Sam's real problem, or so Dean thought, was that he had called Dean and given him no choice about responding. Dean didn't mind and said so and Sam kept postulating about free will anyway. Dean tended to shrug because he would never, never so much as hint at it but Sam was welcome to crawl in and stay or bring Dean in on a short leash of soulstuff whenever he chose. Dean scared himself a little with his lack of concern over what that could mean, but...why lie. What could he do, and why would he, when it was Sam?

Now. Had it been anyone else, they'd have been long cold in the ground, if he'd seen fit to bury them.

He looked at the house again. Five floor to ceiling windows in the front, and a corner bedroom. Dark windows always made Dean cringe; a cooktop light, nightlights - people always used them when they closed up for the night, and made it obvious that someone lived there. That someone meant to come home. The truly dark houses were hard to look at. They were never meant to be dark.

He'd figured if they were going to be in Washington again then they should cross the mountains and look around. The space needle was boring, but the Experience Music Project was good for another look and Sam wanted to see Microsoft for some reason. Dean wanted to put something right through the front windows of every damn building on that campus, dumbass Bill Gates and his scary little programming drones fucking up the world with Windows and Outlook. Not a hell of a lot to look at, just way too many buildings taking over most of Redmond, looking like a mental hospital complex. Dean was certain there was a labyrinth underground and the Microsofties would be the only survivors of a nuclear attack. Redmond was boring, period. Microsoft, some dumb insurance company, parks and an 80's housing boom were all he saw. He drove too far past Microsoft and ended up on 148th and tried circling back towards the 520 and found a group of older neighborhoods.

Only one house needed to burn, though.

Sam didn't say anything when Dean pulled over and stared. Sam never did. He watched and cataloged and Dean could feel that and knew he didn't have to say anything. He didn't understand why a guy who understood so much just by paying attention still insisted on needing to talk about things, like they weren't solid or filed correctly until he sorted them with audible words.

He noticed that Sam never said I wish you wouldn't burn them.

It was only two hours back across the mountains but Dean had no intention of staying a night in eastern Washington again, ever, and he had something to take care of before they headed out. He left Sam in a motel in Renton after pausing too long by his own estimation to see if Sam would ask to come along. Sam plugged along on the laptop and jotted out patterns and prophecies; he knew better than to ask and Dean didn't want him along because sometimes things didn't go as planned in those houses.

Sometimes Dean fell to the floors and sobbed before the fires were lit.

He tried not to walk them before he burned them. Going inside was sometimes the worst thing. Every now and then one was already dead, dry and crumbling, tinder whipped away in a consuming blaze. Laid to rest. The others sat waiting dumbly, waiting for their turn at anything that might come, not sentient but too active for an inanimate designation. This one mourned, low and weary. Not wanting to burn, not asking for destruction, just mourning away to dust.

What he thought about most was that when he saw it in the daylight with Sam, he could see from the front windows all the way into the backyard via the window over the back door. He wasn't sure why that mattered, but it seemed like he shouldn't have been able to. When he finally left the Impala in the parking area of that park next door and cut through the woods, when he finally crossed the paved drive and laid a hand flat against the siding, he knew why. A number of changes had been made over time from the original plan, enough to confuse things. Built 1966, but not the entire structure - some of it seemed older. He followed the cracked sidewalk that surrounded the younger part of the house, past the remnants of a long dead vegetable garden, into the backyard.

An old long-needle pine loomed over the edge of the roof by the back patio. That patio was large, a square expanse bordered by the backside of a shed attached to a two-car open carport that matched the style of the house. The L of the house angled halfway along the side opposite the lawn. Between house and carport was open earth sloping upward to a high fence. Beyond, he knew, was a late 80's era development that was already falling apart. The cheap housing boom of the 80's had created neighborhoods of characterless and overly similar dwellings, expensive on the surface and pressboard-simple at the heart. Not built to last. They took years longer to get their souls, if they developed them at all.

He occasionally wondered if that was because there was little or no heartwood, not enough trees used, but then the brick houses would have been silent too. He'd wanted to ask Sam about it, about what he knew about the trees, but they didn't talk about that either. Starting that conversation meant dancing around why he was asking, and he just didn't want to get into it.

He ignored the shed and the carport. They were falling apart but they weren't his problem. Just beyond, at the edge of the gravel drive that turned away from the pavement, there was an old A-frame doghouse that had been hand cobbled together.

He left a gas can on the patio, up against the house. They said every arsonist had their own recipe, and Dean had his. Trial and error in his case, since some accelerants liked to spontaneously combust when mixed. His final result burned so damn hot that it left little behind - of itself or anything else.

Good for bones as well as houses. Funeral pyres of both kinds.

There were two wide cement steps to a 3x3 stoop leading to the back door. White paint, peeling and scraped, still gleamed dully on the solid core door. A placard taped to the bottom of what was left of the glass was notification that demolition was set for the following Tuesday.

There was still a deadbolt but only the knob was locked, old and easy to pick even without light. He crouched and pushed the door open with his fingertips, listening to the hinges creak. There was a long formica countertop bordering the kitchen to his immediate left and an expanse of dining room directly in front for nearly twenty five feet, ending in another set of floor to ceiling windows. Squares of hardwood parquet made up most of the flooring. A brick barbeque faced the kitchen, attached to the back of the massive fireplace that braced the dead center of the house, heart and hearth.

It would stand above the ashes of the place, would need a bulldozer or explosives to demolish. He had neither on him at the moment.

It was just secluded enough that it would be too late once the nearest neighbor saw the flames.

He stepped in and closed the door behind, old brass knob rattling loose in his hand. He had to walk this one, whether he wanted to or not.

The EMF meter chirped in his pocket.

He took it out and checked it. It lit up and wailed briefly, then fell silent again. He waved it slowly in a half circle near the door, but it remained silent. He tucked it away again with a shrug. He'd have been more surprised to find nothing in a house that size and age.

Chipped countertops, old colonial-themed wallpaper in the dining area, white chair rail. A wide doorway on the far wall led to a sharp right and the remainder of the house.

He followed along the counter to his left, looking at the U shape of the kitchen. It would make a good ignition point, would contain enough heat to get a good start on the ceiling and into the crawlspace he knew was above. All the aged, dry cupboards and the wooden flooring would go within seconds, especially if the last family had used any of the regular wood care products on the market. He was betting they had. Someone had loved that house before the vandals got to it.

Slate floors in front of the fireplace, hand-hewn wooden mantle. There'd been a wall between the kitchen and living room once; he could tell by the framing. That was why he'd thought it was strange to be able to see all the way through the house.

Shag carpeting in the living room, some indeterminate gold color. The 60's and 70's had been good for giving the world that and some of the best rock n' roll ever imagined, and that was about it. At the far end was a second entry into the hallway, and more shag carpeting. Down the hall was one full bath, two more bedrooms and the master bedroom - those were the corner windows he'd seen from the yard.

The opposite corner bedroom had once been painted lavender and whispered teen girl lived here .

The wall that separated the hallway from the living room was load-bearing and would be another good ignition point. He would start with the master bedroom, light the hallway, then the kitchen. He'd seen another door in the very back of the house from the outside that also led onto the patio. He could have it burning from one end to the other by the time he walked outside again.

He ran his fingertips along the walls. Some houses were loud.

When he passed the fireplace again in the opposite direction, crossing the dining area toward the doorway to the rest of the house, something changed. He had no way of placing what was bothering him at first, so he backtracked and looked around. More floor to ceiling double-paned windows to his left, one with a lower corner broken out. Massive, elderly rhododendrons hulked at the edge of the sectioned patio visible in the front, all of it barely visible in the street light at the far end of the lawn. Ahead of him were two short steps down to a pseudo-bilevel. Probably a family room, once. Striped wallpaper and dark paneling.

He took a step in that direction again only to realize he was in another building.

He clicked his flashlight on and raised it to search the ceiling, looking for what he knew had to be there. It took him nearly half a minute, because they'd been so careful: a seam. There was the faintest irregularity just to the left of the back door, splitting the house. It wasn't visible anywhere but the ceiling, and only because the house had settled over time. The back part of the house was older.

He stepped down to more shag carpeting and felt cinderblock and 1945 . A simple, cinderblock, standalone home built the year World War II had ended. Orchards and farmland.

Two more bedrooms, a bath, and a laundry room that had once been a kitchen. An old furnace, long since dead, pilot light months cold. Between another window and a whitewashed cupboard built into the wall next to the hookups for washer and dryer was a hollow core, orange-painted door, exit #3.

It was just so damn loud in there in ways no one would ever hear.

There had only been three families who'd called it home for any significant length of time, and the last had been there the shortest, but they'd left the biggest imprint. Whatever had gone on there had been messy and emotional and crowded the corners like dust. The house missed them and would not go quietly.

He grabbed his can from the patio.

He walked the length of the house again, kicking holes in the walls where he needed to and pouring measures of his own brand of napalm inside and out.

He palmed his lighter and stood in the living room staring into the front yard at a large camellia tree standing silent guard. It reminded him a little of the sentinel at the edge of the yard at the house in Fort Morgan.

It would be like no one had ever been there.

He lit the master bedroom first and moved quickly through the house, finally closing the laundry room door behind himself.

He stood in the back yard for a moment. Now there were lights in the windows again.

He didn't usually watch them burn. There was no point in watching them go. He just wanted to make sure this one didn't leave enough to be demolished.

Whatever was lingering by the back door would probably never notice the house was gone.

There was a whump when the kitchen cupboards caught, and the bright orange glow lit his face along with part of the yard. It would burn hot and fast and there'd be no investigation over a house set for demolition. No point putting it out to try and save anything, as long as it didn't endanger any other property.

He crossed the driveway into the woods without looking back. Job done, nothing left to mess with.

But he was shaking.

The house went on screaming behind him, not because it was burning but because so much had been left unfinished and it was dying before its time. Someone would put two or three homes where one had been, modern things with short term tenants. He wondered if he should come back and salt the place down before they left, and then refuse to answer Sam when he asked why. He'd bring Sam. He'd let Sam's presence ground him, if nothing else. That wasn't new, but he'd never thought about it on a conscious level until that summer. Trying not to think about it didn't help.

He didn't remember being scattered all over. There was a large chunk of missing time that felt of safe and Sam whenever he tried to remember. There were no tunnels or bright lights or anybody telling him to go back, stay, or bug off.

He heard glass break behind him. The master bedroom windows had given in the heat.

He remembered telling Sam to let go of him, and then waking up on the floor in front of an open door, thinking only minutes had passed. He'd snapped on like a light, cold and stiff and choking on a dry throat, head filled with a need to get to Sam that was a thousand times worse than the one he'd felt over that damn hole in the middle of nowhere. He'd known where to go because he'd been pulled, and resistance had never even occurred to him.

He'd wondered since whether spirits or demons experienced something similar while being summoned. It was a humbling experience and one he hoped never to feel again...except that he knew he would.

He'd torn himself to shreds that first time, trying to boot the revenant out, and it would never get easier but he knew where the loose threads were. That last time had been an accident, but Sam had gathered everything back together. It had taken a toll on them both but it was possible, it was an option no one but he and Sam knew they had.

The revenant had been old and powerful and canny, and still they had fried it between them when it had tried to take them both. There were different kinds of exorcism than spoken Latin and holy water. There were different kinds of holy , and agreements that superseded ancient rite.

He stood in the woods and heard something in the house give with a loud pop .

Sam would hate it. Sam would argue and rail and struggle, but sooner or later he'd see the beauty of it. Dean wished it was someone else, anyone else, but it was the connection they held that allowed it all in the first place. There was no reason to believe the demon they were hunting would fare any better between them than the revenant had. All Dean had to do was offer himself and hope it would ignore Sam long enough to take him up on it.

He just had to wrap his head around the idea of inviting it in.

His shoulderblades itched just thinking about it.

The strongest rituals worked best and then held hardest when wrapped in sacrifice. Blood and bone would heal once Sam called him back. Sacrifice, on a string.

The house swam back into focus. It was burning even faster than he'd thought it would; sparks were climbing out of the chimney, red-gold orbs spiraling on an updraft of heat.

He'd forgotten the marshmallows.

He'd get Sam to forgive him ahead of the transgression this time. It would work, and they'd go on. He didn't want it exorcized back to Hell - whatever that really was - or some limbo. He wanted it destroyed.

He turned away from the house and followed the worn trail back into the park, headed for the car. He couldn't think about it anymore. He wanted a beer and to watch Sam sleep, and to stop smelling like destruction.

Destruction and mercy often smelled the same.

Fire cleansed so many things and usually cleared his head, but not this time. Not with so much left to burn.

-|-

Sam liked Washington State.

He'd liked it the first time they'd been there, despite all that had gone on. He'd been sorry to see the Tripod complex burn, and not just because it would likely destroy the meters.

He remembered sharing a loaded glance with Dean when they'd caught the fires on national news. Dean had cursed and gone to pull up the info he still had for the meters, reordered them with extra batteries, checked the notes they'd both made on the frequencies and coordinates. They'd had to wait for the fires to be long gone and for things to cool, had to take care of several jobs in the meantime before making plans to go back.

Not even their father would have recognized Dean's behavior as nervousness, but Sam did.

As far as he could tell, Dean didn't remember much of what had happened the night Sam had sealed him up. He'd known the hole was there beneath them, Sam knew that, but beyond that, there was no telling. Dean occasionally said something that could have meant he'd been at least slightly aware while Sam had carried him around like so much string after the thing in Colorado. But they weren't talking about it.

Sam didn't see the wrecked landscape as desolation. Everything would begin again even before the seasons turned. But he'd stood with hands in pockets, holding still to watch Dean frown over the task at hand, paused to listen. The deadfalls around them and the ground beneath were still radiating heat and Sam wondered if there would still be embers visible after dark, down deep between the ragged, charred stumps.

He'd catch Dean off guard sooner or later, or something would force the issue again, and while the former was preferable he didn't hold out much hope for it. He might have pushed harder any other time, but deep down he didn't want to talk about it either. He told himself he wanted to process all that had happened even if there was no way that was completely honest. If he opened his damn mouth he'd end up a lot more honest than he wanted. Dean didn't seem to worry about the implications of what Sam had done, because it was Sam who had been indirectly casual with his soul and had jerked him along like a dog on a leash.

If he started talking about it, those were the words he'd use. Dean would pass it off with c'mon, Sam, you're making more out of this than it deserves and Sam would follow up whether he wanted to or not with I think I'm losing it , and he'd mean it. He'd start admitting things that wouldn't even help him.

Recurring dreams meant unfinished business begging to get out. He knew that and even if it'd meant getting it to stop, he wasn't about to let the one he'd been having see light of day in a conversation, in a journal, or in a moment of waking introspection. It wasn't like him to hide, and he knew that too and didn't give a damn.

He sat on the back steps of the house in Fort Morgan, hands clasped loosely between his knees, waiting. Dawn threatened but never broke, the concrete cold beneath him, the world damp and cool and paused. The house at his back breathed its last, traded for another construct of his own making. He wasn't the original builder, no, but the better one. The final one. He felt himself grin when Dean crossed the grass toward him, faltering and gasping for air. The grin he could feel on his face was satisfaction; he'd known Dean would come, Dean on his knees feet away sobbing for breath and begging to be let go .

Sam heard himself say but you came to the world first so I wouldn't have to wait .

You're not my Sam.

But you belong to me all the same, Dean.

He always awoke at that point, struggling away from the vivid reality of it, recoiling from the ache in his chest and the inevitable realization that he was hard.

Daylight would come again and he would pretend it had never happened.

Dean hated traffic, and the west side of the Cascades was a clusterfuck of interchanges and a hundred thousand people trying to fill a space that a third of that number was meant to. But they wandered around looking the place over, and Sam welcomed the distraction. He could tell by the change in body language when Dean took particular interest in something and didn't want to broadcast it, dropping his head forward a little and glancing from beneath, lingering at traffic lights, straightening from the slouch he usually drove in. Sam was careful not to look at him, but took note of the things Dean took interest in.

The yellow ranch-style house with the huge yard, though, he knew immediately without seeing the look on Dean's face that Dean would be going back for it. Dean had taken a moment to look at him from the doorway of their motel room, not inviting conversation but taking him in, and Sam had known it was about more than the urge to burn a house.

They had things to say and no one was talking. Not aloud, anyway.

He was in bed with the lights out when Dean returned that night, and he caught hints of smoke and accelerant and maybe an underlying suggestion of fear, but Dean didn't do more than lock up and resalt the door and disappear into the bathroom to wash up.

He tried not to watch Dean shadow back through the room, tried not to change his breathing when Dean sat on the edge of the other bed and was so silent, still carrying a hint of burning in ways that had nothing to do with the physical.

He tried not to dream.

But he did.


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