(c)2006 b stearns
They were silent when they checked in to another small-town inn just after the bars closed. They were both buzzed, but not drunk. By unspoken agreement, neither of them wanted to be stuck playing designated driver but neither wanted to let their guard down either. Sam had appointed himself sentinel over what Dean might let loose, and Dean was just following his normal habits without conscious thought. Sam is jumpy, watch Sam .
Not even bothering to flip channels, Dean threw himself faceup on his bed - the color scheme of which was some fascinating mix of department store kitsch - and folded his hands under his head. Sam tucked weapons in easily reached places out of sight, then did the same. His feet dangled off the edge of the bed, eliciting the same sigh it had from him for months. Basketball players probably didn't have to deal with it; their riders likely had all kinds of stipulations about furniture size.
"Lightning starts on the ground," he said.
Dean was silent for a long moment. Then he said, "Random."
"No," Sam said. "A positive charge builds up on the ground because the negative charge in the bottoms of clouds forces the negative charge on the ground to repel the positive, and they're always trying to get to each other. They have to."
"Opposites attract," Dean said, but it was slow and distant, as if he'd meant to say something else. Or as if he was saying something else.
"The positive charge sort of...reaches up," Sam said.
"Until a negative charge decides to shake hands," Dean said. "Good, fine. Go to sleep, Sam."
"All kinds of things can generate a positive charge," Sam said. "And lightning was usually a sign that any god of choice was pissed off about something."
"'He sent out arrows, and scattered them; lightning bolts, and He vanquished them'," Dean said. "The Book of Samuel, New King James version. You can always blame somebody up there, huh? You're not suggesting the big guy is - "
"No," Sam said. "Just...you know. Thinking aloud." He didn't even come close to asking why Dean had the Book of Samuel memorized. Dean probably had the Bible memorized. And the Koran. "It might not be anything. But if you want to really make a point or you're trying to get attention, it's a really good way of doing it. There's just no way it's a concidence - the lights, the lightning."
"St. Elmo's fire?" Dean said.
"But on cloudless days?" Sam said. "The negative charge has nowhere to start from."
"Sure it does," Dean said. "And we'll get to that right after coffee in the morning. You're just as bad now as you were when you were five. Don't wanna go to bed, have to watch one more show, have to read one more story, have to theorize on zombies."
Sam rolled over and shut the light off. "Whatever, Dean," he said. But he was asleep after only another minute or two of thinking into the dark.
A bare hour of time had passed undisturbed when Dean felt his brain click on again. Some latent sense kicked in, and he knew he hadn't heard anything. He lay still, waiting for something more, hovering right between the comforting layers of sleep and waking. When he opened his eyes to the dark, there was a soft-focus face only inches from his.
He recoiled hard, scooting back across the bed, one hand making a practiced sweep under the pillow for his knife, the other shoving him back and away. The blade caught a slash of brightness from the safety lights in the parking lot when he raised it, still moving away, and the face - pale and disembodied, just holes for eyes - hovered soulless and waiting in place.
He never turned his back on it; his feet met the floor on the other side of the bed in a silent crouch. He held the blade out in front of him, between Sam and the intruder, hilt angled along his palm for the best leverage. He froze there, eyes catching the last of the light, shining with readiness.
The face faded without retreating; it dimmed until it matched the background of the room. Dean held his position, careful not to move, eyes searching the dark for anything that suggested movement or a change in the light. He never let a moment of doubt touch him; he'd seen it. He hadn't been dreaming. He hadn't had that much to drink. He trusted his senses and reactions, and once he had his other hand on the shotgun under the bed he trusted that too. He kept his breathing even, knowing he needed the air but not too much of it, not enough to make him lightheaded. He didn't feel anything odd - that was Sam's department - but it didn't matter. The room hadn't grown cold, there was no change in the air pressure. Sam remained asleep behind him, and he knew that not only because Sam wasn't already on the floor beside him but because he could sense the status of his presence. He didn't question it or wonder why that was.
Nothing came out of the dark for him. A minute passed, two, and he felt his calves begin to cramp from the position he was in. He should move, he should wake Sam....
A smear of almost-light moved across the far wall, something slow and trailing, fading as it wavered at chest height. A pale face with open, missing eyes. He'd barely registered what he was seeing when a second, smaller apparition flourished into view in midair like an intake of breath.
The blast was enough of a shock that he might as well have set off a bomb. He'd lifted the shotgun without hesitation, taking aim at the larger of the two faces and putting a salt-charge scatter of shot into the wall. Both faces winked out as Dean opened his eyes to the post-shot dark; he'd saved his eyes from some of the flash by blinking in the right spot.
The silence that followed was loud above the ringing of his ears, but he heard one of Sam's knees hit the floor. When he could risk turning his head, he was met with the sight of Sam aiming a 9mm steadily at the walls from across his own bed, eyes wide but calm. Silent. Ready, always ready.
"You're late," Dean said softly, eyes back on the walls.
"Are you okay?" Sam said.
"Yeah, but we've got company. I don't know what it is."
Light flooded the room from the lamp on Sam's nightstand. "We've gotta get out of here anyway," Sam said. "You just blew a hole in the fuckin' wall."
Dean stood, blade dangling from one hand, shotgun from the other, wary and beginning to feel the negative effects of the adrenaline creeping in on him. Trembling that started in the center, a feeling of disconnection. A door slammed on the other side of the wall, and he could hear feet making a dash for safety somewhere in the hallway beyond.
They gathered their stuff with the speed of anyone who had a lot of practice in moving on at a moment's notice, knowing where each thing was and grabbing without needing to look. They were gone long before the first siren split everything down the middle.
Sam drove by unspoken default so that Dean could keep his eyes on as much of the darkness as he could take in at once and gesture with his hands while he talked. He described what he'd seen in detail so that Sam would have it too, so they could both see it and so Sam would be able to help him piece it all together. His voice was matter-of-fact.
"They weren't male or female, they didn't make any aggressive moves, I got the impression they could see me even though they didn't have eyes. They looked like things do when they try to be human."
"And it was right by your face when you woke up," Sam said.
"Yeah," Dean said. "Whatever it was, it had me dead to rights, and all it did was stare."
"Did it seem like it had been there awhile?" Sam said, voice pitched lower. Dean wasn't outwardly shaken but Sam was going to be careful because if it had been him, he would be scared.
Dean paused long enough to make it clear he was weighing the question. "Yeah."
"Like maybe we've attracted something and it's found us," Sam said. They shared a glance, acknowledging what ran beneath. We and us and none of it coming as any surprise.
"Well, good for it," Dean said. "Now it can fuck off."
"Can I make a suggestion?" Sam said in that soft and earnest tone Dean imagined would have gone over well in any courtroom. Dean shrugged in his peripheral vision. "Next time it would be great if you didn't wake me with a shotgun, Dean."
"Dude, seems to me that's what it took ," Dean said. "You should have been awake long before that. Can't hold your liquor."
Sam shook his head, stepping on a grin as he kept his eyes on the road. "So what hangs around just to stare?" he said. "It...they...could have had us both before we woke up."
"Hangs around to stare without eyes ," Dean corrected.
"Did it seem like the salt actually drove them off, or just the noise?" Sam said.
" Don't interview me ," Dean said sharply, sliding down in the passenger seat.
"Okay," Sam said in his most deliberate it's gotta be like this voice. "How about 'keep talking because Sam is dragging ass even though his brother scared the shit out of him ten minutes ago'? Keep me awake and figure this out." He was getting better at lying again, even to Dean. If he could keep Dean from shutting down on him, he could get him to stay with him in ways that meant more than just sitting with him in the car.
"Sure as hell had nothing to do with what we're here for," Dean said. "They weren't spooklights or orbs, or even full manifestations."
"Then we wait for them to show up again and ask them what they want," Sam said. He grinned when Dean stared at him. "Man, if it turns out the salt didn't affect them, it's because we might've run into something for once that isn't trying to kill anybody."
"Never happen," Dean said.
"Yeah, you can probably convince just about anything that killing you is necessary," Sam added. "You're so, so good at it."
Getting the hell out of sight was a good idea, and to do that they headed two towns over and parked behind a small one-story motel. The twenty-something behind the counter didn't look as if he found anything odd about anyone checking in at 3:30. Dean tried to reciprocate by not finding anything odd about the fact that their room key came with a Winnie The Pooh keychain.
They sat with the lights off, Sam on one of the beds and Dean at the desk against the wall next to the TV stand.
"Don't fall asleep on me," Dean whispered.
"I'm not one of your dates," Sam said.
"Ooh, you're a mean drunk, Sammy," Dean said. "Real bad-tempered."
Sam chose not to respond. He kept an eye on Dean's outline in the dark, watching him put his feet up on the desk and tip his chair back. He tried to remember the last time he'd been on a genuine stakeout with Dean, and nothing came to mind if he ruled out the week before. Things found them if they placed themselves in the right places. They so rarely had to wait. And they so rarely knew exactly what to expect.
They both heard it when the chain slid itself off the door. Dean put his feet down, and Sam froze. They shared a glance in the dark, automatically looking at each other even if they couldn't clearly see. Sight wasn't necessary to make the connection. Neither of them got to their feet until the deadbolt and the automatic lock in the knob clicked open at the same time. Then it was a repeat of the moment two hours earlier with weapons at the ready and hands steady, shoulder to shoulder facing the door.
The door didn't open. Whatever it was, it had paused at just touching the locks. It wanted them to know it was there and that the locks didn't matter. The chain continued to swing, catching ambient bits of light from outside. The darkness had changed a fraction. The darkest hour before dawn hovered above, the coming day hesitating and holding its breath.
When the pulling started, Dean couldn't register it because it was such a foreign feeling. There was nothing physical about it but 'pulling' was as close as he could come to describing it, and he knew it was wrong, it was so fucking wrong that he'd have been screaming if he'd still had any control over his body. He had no urge to step forward or open the door. Whatever it was didn't need him to, didn't need to control him, just needed him . It felt like he was sinking, like it was able to steal whatever was trailing, but it couldn't get its hands on him the way Sam had, not yet, couldn't find dead center, but all he did was stand there like nothing was happening. It felt familiar, like he'd had a suggestion of it from the corners of his eyes before, as if he'd heard it coming, Dopplering toward him for days and days. It didn't matter if that made sense or not; he could only feel as if he'd known it all along and the piper was getting paid by stretching him out along the lines of whatever made him who he was, each grain of sand in the jar separated out by color and accounted for. He didn't realize that he was choking or that Sam heard it. He didn't realize that Sam felt a loss .
Sam grabbed him and pulled him away from the door, dropping his own gun to do it. He got both hands on Dean's shirt, and when Dean braced his feet without meaning to, Sam lifted him bodily and pushed him up against the wall.
Released just enough to get his breath back, words tumbled. " Sam what the fuck are you - !"
Sam clapped a hand over Dean's mouth in the same moment that Dean grabbed Sam's wrists, skin-on-skin contact, and Dean froze. The pulling stopped. It cut off so suddenly that he felt as if there was a recoil somewhere. The boys stood locked in place, staring at each other in wide-eyed amazement, startled by the suddenness of everything. There was just a stillness in the center, the eye of any hurricane, Sam momentarily eclipsing whatever was still visible about Dean.
The chain was still swinging, making an uneven tik tik sound against the door.
Closing the circuit didn't work the same anymore; it never quite closed. It was just looping off and looking for somewhere to land, opposite charges crossing and bleeding off energy with no final payoff. Sam figured that out right about the time he felt his knees give because he was overloading. He didn't let go, not quite understanding what was happening but not willing to stop shielding Dean, dragging them both to the floor. He'd lock his hands around Dean's neck if he had to. Dean released Sam's wrists and cupped his face instead, watching Sam's eyes roll back in his head, feeling Sam grip his wrists in return. Nothing came in the door or tried to get in any other way, and Dean understood in his own way that whatever was at the door had nothing to do with whatever was pressing on Sam.
"Sam," he said, low and gruff, not caring what heard, "...tell me what's going on."
Sam's only response was to try and cut his circulation off.
Fuck it. They'd plow through whatever was at the door and leave it behind, then come back for their stuff in the daylight. He tried to drag Sam to his feet, and they ended up in a tangle on the floor. When he could get them both up, there was nothing telling him they shouldn't just open the door. Nothing blocked them or tried to touch him, and with Sam leaning on him he got one hand on the knob and wrenched the door open without incident. Sam stumbled with him across the parking lot but kept up, hand locked around one of Dean's wrists, then locked around both when Dean tried to get him into the car.
"You've gotta let go of me," Dean said.
"I can't," Sam said, the words slurred.
"Sam, goddamnit, you have to," Dean said. "We can't get out of here unless you do."
"It'll see you," Sam said, and Dean realized what was happening, realized that he was the problem and that Sam was only in trouble because he was protecting him.
It made him cold. It made him want to slam his own head against the nearest surface.
"Sammy," he said, trying for reason, "I don't think it can see me now. If we get out of here, it won't see me. C'mon, Sam. We'll run, I promise."
Sam wavered, but Dean still had to pry his fingers loose.
When Sam awoke, it was only midmorning from what he could tell. The sun was only partly up but it was getting warm. He wasn't sure what had happened for a moment, and he didn't feel like anything much had gone on. He sat up and glanced around, realizing he was in the car and Dean wasn't.
He craned his head around, seeing they were parked off to one side of a diner. It all came back to him around then, but so did Dean.
Sam stared at him as if he'd said something profane, but he took the offered cup.
Dean came around and got in the car, staring out the windshield. "You know what?" he said with mock gravity. "Call me crazy, but I think we're being chased."
"You got that feeling too?" Sam said.
"I'm not sure I even wanna know what that was," Dean said.
"Then I guess it wasn't the faces-in-the-dark thing," Sam said.
"No. Compared to whatever just tried to unravel me, the face was just a warning."
"Who'd wanna warn us?" Sam said.
Dean sighed, raising a hand to drop it on Sam's shoulder but stopping short. He couldn't. He wasn't sure what he'd done .
"How did you know?" Dean said. "How to hide us. How did you know ?"
Sam looked at him, eyes a bloodshot blue, and he seemed so much dimmer than Dean had thought, easy enough to look at now in the morning light.
"Jesus, Sam," he said.