The slipping became a gathering and Sam began to realize what was happening at the door.
The Unlocker Of Doors had found them again. Like things weren ' t bad enough already, like Dean wasn ' t already spilling out of his hands.
Luckily grief is easily mutable into so many other things.
He had no idea whether physically opening the door would make any difference; he didn ' t stop to think about what it was or what it could do. He would just barrel through until he found a way to stop it. It didn ' t matter what that was. He had something to focus his desperation on and that was better than doing nothing. He couldn ' t figure out how to deal with the bigger threat of Dean pouring himself out into the world, but he could act on this one thing, this thing directly making it worse. Grabbing Dean two nights earlier and the shock it caused him had been his last warning that he could never fold Dean together again, that a line had been crisscrossed to the point of obliteration. He had managed to channel Dean ' s accidentally pent up energy, whatever had been bleeding from the cracks he ' d left behind by folding Dean back together without knowing what he was doing. He should have understood right then that he ' d only masked a greater problem. Their escape had been only a result of the thing ' s confusion.
Sam remembered how overshadowed he ' d been, all locked up in his own properly constructed shell, whole but maybe the oddest shaped puzzle piece in the great life-web he ' d had a glimpse of while trying to shield Dean from the Unlocker, part of an interconnected everything made of the walking sparks of the lives lived for miles around. He wasn ' t sure if what he ' d seen was just hallucination and it didn ' t matter then because one thing had become glaringly true: Dean no longer fit in the scheme. There was no longer a shape to him; the puzzle couldn ' t hold him. Sam hadn ' t been able to let go any more than any electrocution victim could release the live wires that locked muscles in place while the tiny electrical impulses that held them together were overloaded and destroyed.
Sam had wanted to believe that he wasn ' t responsible for changing Dean ' s shape until he no longer fit the scheme. Or for changing his shape until it was easy for the vulture at the door to siphon him off.
When he turned the knob, Sam felt the pulling that Dean must have, but it was nothing that could harm him, just a testing of his defenses somehow, a jackal waiting for an opening while weeding the herd, voracious but harmless if you were put together correctly.
It was worse to find out that it was nothing more than a barely sentient thing of hunger picking up a trail. There was nothing malevolent in the attack now that he was this close to it; it passed Sam off as he opened the door because Sam was not ideal prey even if he felt like his soul was bleeding.
There was nothing solid to attack or curse; the doorway was empty in too many ways. What was there was not there for him, and as a result he couldn ' t get a grip on it any more than it could plant hooks in him.
He was familiar with what it held, though.
He reached out the same way he ' d reached for Dean moments earlier, but without hands. Something more ephemeral than the cloth he ' d held but no less woven together slipped through his fingers while he tried to find the right combination between himself and what he sought that would make them compatible. It was blind instinct and hope and not much else, since he had no idea what the hell he was doing on a conscious level. It wasn ' t as if he ' d make it worse by trying.
He was never sure what he saw after that. He remembered an afternoon one summer just after his fourteenth birthday, when his height finally equaled Dean ' s, but his muscle mass hadn ' t caught up and Dean had said quit wearing my shirts and an attempt to wrestle one in question away from him had become a tug of war of epic proportions. It had ended up outside in the parking lot of the motor lodge they were staying in. The moment of surprise on Dean ' s face once he realized that nothing would be easy with Sam from then on had begun a contest that, horrifyingly enough, attracted bystanders after it went on for more than twenty minutes. How the shirt had managed to hold up as long as it did was a mystery. They ' d both been so stubborn, too stubborn to give up even when they gave ground. Dean had looked grateful for an instant, puzzling Sam for a long time afterward.
Sam got it, finally. Dean had been waiting for him.
It felt like tug of war then, over cloth that was no less than the journeywork of twenty seven years, fibers shaped by the heart and hands and decisions of his brother. He could do no less than wrap his hands in it and fight as if it were his own.
He pulled with everything he was, even though to any onlooker he was just some tall, weary-looking young man with tear tracks on his face, standing in an open doorway with his hand on the inside knob, eyes closed, face a study of concentration. He stood as conduit between Dean and the Unlocker for a moment without the same debilitating draining of his own life that had occurred with direct contact. He held on and on, flashpoint memories and impressions passing him or hitting him between the shoulderblades, all choosing him over what stood in the doorway and finding a home with him. He didn ' t hear the glass in the single window facing the parking lot crack; he didn ' t hear the mirror of the vanity just outside the bathroom door crack inward from the corners and fall out of its frame. He didn ' t hear the lightbulbs of both table lamps and the overhead switch-light burst and scatter glass everywhere and didn ' t see the light leave the room. The same odd pattern began behind his eyes again, of overlapping threads spreading away from him or toward him, the same thing he ' d seen two nights earlier. Dean was not just a single thread in the web but several, woven through and around him, severed and trailing loose away into the dark. He was only able to grab the edge of one, the final one, the last of everything.
When he could make sense of sight and sound again, he was aware of sitting cross-legged on a hard surface that was still warm from a day of sun even though it had been dark for awhile. When he opened his eyes, his head was turned to the left, the neon of a strip mall half a mile down the road making him blink. It was silent, too silent for a rent-by-the-night place so close to a major road. He was in the parking lot, sitting in the middle of the damn parking lot, waiting to get run over.
He turned his head and found Dean sitting across from him, mirroring his pose, knees almost touching his. Sam wasn ' t surprised, somehow. Dean looked obliquely amused.
" Dean, " Sam said.
" Stay inside, Sam, " Dean said in a distantly kind tone.
Sam twisted back to look at the door to their room. It was open, with a single light on inside that didn ' t look normal, some sort of faint blue-amber flicker painting the walls.
When he turned back, Dean was gone.
" Hey! "
Sam startled, eyes open to a blinding white light.
" Get outta the way, dumbass! "
Not sitting. Standing, in the middle of the parking lot, in the beams of headlights.
He stumbled back and the car passed him as he looked around for Dean. Parked cars and safety lights and the open door to their room, the memory of something wrapped in his hands. He hadn ' t let go. Whatever it was hadn ' t been separate from what he was already put together with, so he didn ' t feel it well at first, but it was there.
Running back to the room didn ' t seem possible; he felt like he ' d been sleeping for days. Nothing tried to stop him or look him over; he ' d chased the vulture off.
How much different had the revenant been, really? The hunger had channeled itself into desperation in that case instead of a need for...sustenance.
I wish I had locked him in.
I could have kept him together until I found a way to fix it. I could have found a way to get him out.
He wasn ' t sure where the fatalism was coming from; he ' d stopped what was at the door. He ' d patch Dean together any way he could, no matter what he said, and then they ' d find a way. They always found a way. He would find the edges and hold them together even if it meant nonstop contact -
(you just wanna hold hands)
Sam paused at the spot where the asphalt met the yellowed, aged cement of the walkway, feet from the door. One more line of demarcation. Always one more. He had heard Dean as clearly as he had just sitting in the ' lot. Only, he had never been sitting in the ' lot and if someone had told him he was actually smearing the air as he walked because he was spread too thin, he ' d have believed them.
The room felt empty.
" Dean, " he said aloud to the dark. He could only see a few feet in because of the outside safety lights. Dean would answer him and then he wouldn ' t have to step forward and find anything. Dean would be sitting on the bed and holding it together and calling him a girl. Because Dean, his Dean, would never have said let me go . Not on his worst day, not even while trying to hold his own guts in after being eviscerated. He would say just get me some gauze and we have shit to do and quit lookin ' at me.
He stepped up to the door and his knees tried to buckle because he ' d always liked trying but he ' d never actually been good at bullshitting himself. Dean was sprawled backward on the bed, not like he ' d meant to but looking the way people did once they ' d simply slumped into whatever configuration gravity bestowed on them when there was nothing else to counteract it. His feet were still on the floor and the room had felt empty to Sam because it was. He could just make out rapidly drying green eyes, one bloodshot to opacity, open to the ceiling. Windows shuttered for the night.
Sam didn ' t realize he was gesturing with his hands in midair or that he kept making several false starts toward the bed because he was panicking. The definition of insanity was the act of repeating the same task over and over and hoping for a different result, and Sam spent several moments liberated from anything resembling rational thought while his eyes darted away and back like he could see something tolerable if he just kept trying.
" Okay, " he said finally, not anywhere near acceptance, just a kind of acknowledgment that he was still upright and that whatever had happened in the ' lot was not happening in front of him now. He wasn ' t peeling back a world-layer and checking for things he was missing. He wasn ' t capable of that. He wasn ' t.
He didn ' t realize his face and hands were numb from hyperventilating until he tried to touch Dean ' s face and couldn ' t feel it. The backs of his fingers against a finally-untroubled brow registered warmth after a moment and there was breath against his wrist. Dean was still alive, maybe just unable to stay conscious now that so much was missing. That was all.
Sam sat cross-legged on the bed and leaned over Dean at chest height with one arm braced over him, waiting for the shell to do more than breathe.
He was perfectly calm when he gently closed Dean ' s eyes and calmer still when he pressed his lips to Dean ' s forehead. The shell was empty.
He wasn ' t sure how long he sat, dry eyed, one hand against the side of Dean ' s face while he waited for some last twinge of hope that didn ' t come. It was already done. Nothing left to run after or struggle for. Just a breathing corpse that seemed familiar on the surface. Nothing left but a little mercy.
He thought about the last step with a detached precision that visited the emotionally bereft once they reached a stunned understanding of what was best or right.
Don ' t let me run loose in the dark, Sam.
Dean was already running loose, and no one survived that intact. All he had to do was reach for one of the pillows and press gently and Dean would be free of that world altogether and no longer beholden to anything. Sam could be brave this one last time and do something more than lower his forehead to Dean ' s chest and sob like a child or repeat that he couldn ' t.
Couldn ' t do this, couldn ' t go on , it was all the same thing.
When he tried to raise his head again it seemed as if it was heavier than it should have been, more than he could blame on the pain and enough to shake him into paying attention. Something drew away from him and toward Dean, catching them together like a nail that had a ragged notch and was catching at everything with a weave. He thought again of the way the Unlocker had unraveled Dean and realized that edges didn ' t necessarily mean smooth surfaces. The thing at the door had accidentally taught him something.
The wretched surprise of hope made him lean away a little and breathe. Something answered when he laid his hands on Dean ' s chest, on his shell.
Dean had left it entirely but wasn ' t gone. Whatever Sam had slapped out of the jaws of the thing at the door was all that was left, coiled up one arm unseen the way an extension cord was rewound, elbow to thumb over and over, stored for better days. Sam was not alone but he sure as hell felt it anyway.
Stitches would not do this time. It had nothing to do with stitches or patching and it never had. He ' d have to be as bad as the thing at the door to even have a chance of keeping Dean alive.
He ' d live with that.
He needed to keep the shell safe while he found a way to wind the better days between his hands again.