a/n: References to Wendigo. The bit of poem is Epistle To Be Left In The Earth by Archibald MacLeish.
Sam would later label several things pathetic by his own estimation, when it came to that whole month.
That first week, after the revenant had decided it was going to hitchhike for awhile? Things would have been different if he'd been able to find it during the daylight hours, but no, he'd blown that completely. He'd allowed it to chase and harass him until that gun he'd laid out on the bed every night began to seem like the only way out. Then chasing Dean all the way to the goddamn overpass before finding the courage or desperation to grab him and let anything happen that would leave Dean alive.
Kind of messy, that whole thing.
He couldn't quite decide if any of that was as sad as finding himself back out in the parking lot in the middle of the night wondering if talking to Dean earlier had been nothing more than a hallucination. That was bad enough, but he was also out there with this eyes closed and his hands held out while he tried to convince himself he'd be able to feel if there were any residuals nearby he could grab hold of. He'd caught hold of one whole (last, he tried not to remind himself) thread and held on; he knew what he was looking for. There was no sense of volume or mass, just that there was more and that what he had wasn't enough to put back together. He'd backtrack everywhere they'd been, all the way back to that damn overpass in Indiana if he had to, if Dean had left himself that far and wide. He'd do that and make it work.
Of everything, what scared him the most was leaving Dean alone. It didn't seem wise to drag him around, because he wasn't sure how tenuous that last bit of life was, whatever it was that kept his brain stem active enough to allow breath and heartbeat. That could stop at any time, or never, and Sam could not leave him there unguarded in any case. Maybe he wasn't bleeding away into the world anymore, but they had left a trail and Sam imagined any number of things picking up on the fact that Dean was helpless.
And then there was always the living . More than once someone had tried their motel door in the night to see if it was locked, in any number of cities and small towns. Once, they'd both gone right after someone for it, slipping out in silence to watch two guys in their late teens test doors and prowl cars in the parking lot. There had been a giddy maliciousness to the stalking and then the obviously overdue thrashing they gave the pair, stripping them of everything they had, including their clothes, without ever saying a word. It was Dean's low, almost evil laughter that had scared them the most, Sam knew, as the guys ran off; Dean up to no good was fun to see but terrifying to hear.
Yeah, the living were harder to deal with and salt would not keep them out. He needed someone to guard Dean and keep him breathing. Someone he could trust, who could get there fast.
But who was there to help?
They didn't know anybody nearby. He thought of Hailey and Ben. They'd believe him, they'd remember him, and they'd be likely to help. But Lost Creek was...too far. If he thought about it, if he pictured the atlas they'd been using, it was over 200 miles away. Assuming they dropped everything they were doing, assuming they got there at a breakneck pace, assuming they could make it at all, he couldn't wait that long.
He had a terrible feeling that soulstuff didn't keep . He couldn't be sure. Maybe it left a trail of suggestions and maybe it didn't, maybe it kept a form for awhile, maybe it expired once left exposed too long. He had an even more terrible feeling that the only reason he'd been able to argue with the Unlocker of Doors was because he was already wearing Dean around in some way. If that was possible, then his best chance of proving it would be back at that house.
The safest thing to do would be to drop Dean off at the nearest hospital and then try and explain why he wanted him kept alive at all costs when there was no brain activity. And of course they'd understand later when he wanted to draw symbols of protection around the bed or something if a ritual was necessary to put Dean back together.
I'm just performing an exorcism in reverse, nothing to see here, move along.
Their father was not going to answer. He never had before, and Sam was not about to leave the kind of message he felt like leaving. I need someone to watch Dean's body while I look for his soul. And that would have been if he'd felt somewhat calm or stable. He was more likely to leave something incoherent into the void, a string of nothing going nowhere, heard but never heard, solving nothing and wasting what little time he felt he had.
Standing outside in the dark with his face tilted to the sky and hands held out as if he was waiting for rain or his mothership or who knew what, maybe that was wasting time too but it was all he could seem to do, at the moment.
Miracles had not been very kind to him in life that far - they made their own luck, really, so he had tried not to ask for anything in return when they tipped things a little closer to the side of good again, whatever the hell that was. He'd been sacrificing for that all his life. Not knowing his mom, not having anything even approaching a sane childhood, not getting to keep who he'd felt was the love of his life. He could at least keep his brother , his one and only constant; that wasn't too much to ask. He deserved that and had earned it, after everything else, the chance to keep the person who loved him most in the world, his only meaningful human contact, the first love of his life .
He dropped his hands because he wasn't getting anywhere, didn't feel anything. He ran his hands through his hair instead, trying to settle himself. He could leave Dean there and just hope against hope that he was right, that he could find enough to work with and Dean would still be breathing when he got back. He would salt the door and pray that nothing came along, that they hadn't been followed by anything else that would just love to find Dean's empty shell and wander around in it.
No. He couldn't ever go through that again.
"You could at least let me keep my brother ," he said aloud, not talking to anyone or any deity in particular, not even hearing it just like he didn't hear someone say his name.
When a hand landed on his arm, he swung with his free arm in a wild arc without thinking. The other person ducked away and caught that free arm, spinning him and catching him off balance, shoving him face first onto the hood of the nearest car just hard enough to knock the breath out of him and little more.
Before he could roll away and lash out, a voice said, "'Do not stand in the dark at the open windows.'"
Sam froze. Even under the adrenaline and confusion, a ping of memory fired. They used code like they breathed, over phone lines and across tables and scrawled in chalk or marker across nitches in rest stop benches. Sometimes runes, or initials masquerading as vandals with crushes, or lines of poetry. It kept misunderstandings at bay, it was breadcrumbs for the path, it made friends and contacts easy to pick out even when their faces weren't familiar. Sam hadn't heard this particular phrase for years, since long before he'd left for school, one more obscure line that just sounded like some kind of warning. He remembered the answer, though.
"'Also none among us has seen God,'" he said breathlessly.
The weight was gone off Sam's back and he rolled away, taking the hand that was offered to help him straighten. The figure was backlit, Dean's height and build but their dad's age, dark hair cut almost too close to the scalp, hard to see. He was wearing a denim jacket that looked as if it had survived more than one bout of road rash.
"Hey, kid," the voice said. "You're a hell of a lot taller than the last time I saw you. Been about fifteen years, maybe. Tom Atcheson."
Sam sighed and stopped wracking his brain. A contact of their dad's. He had a dim memory of a week in the Catskills that included a lot of survival training in the wilderness that had become a game. He remembered a grin and a wink as the man before him told his father boy's a natural in the woods and Sam had been careful not to admit that the trees had helped him.
"How did you - "
"You boys aren't hard to track, to the right eyes," Tom said. "I got a tip that you might need some help. Your dad's a little worried."
Sam could do nothing but stare for a moment. He glanced back toward the still-open door of their room.
"A man knows when his boys need help," Tom said. "And I was in the area. He's okay, Sam. Question is, are you?"
Sam wanted to revise his internal understanding of miracles when he had time. He also wanted to try and wrap his head around the idea that something big enough had happened to get his dad's attention through their network or possibly more unconventional means. He could be paranoid later and question the very idea that he'd been out there calling for help and help had come, because shit like that did not happen. "I don't have time to explain everything," he said, realizing somewhere in the back of his mind that he was probably looking and sounding as frantic as he felt. "I need you to watch Dean and make sure he doesn't..." He paused just short of saying make sure he doesn't die . "Make sure he keeps breathing."
Okay, so, he wasn't making that sound worse than it was, even though it did come out as something pretty dramatic. He'd earned a little drama.
While Tom followed him back to the room Sam realized he was babbling about revenants and edges and stitches and lightning, all out of order and out of line. He only stopped when Tom used his flashlight to check Dean's eyes and reflexes (pupils dilated and fixed, and a big no on any reflexes) and said Oh, Sam, he's gone. Or that's what Sam thought he heard.
"No," Sam said quickly. "Just out, for awhile, and I have enough to get started but not enough to keep going. You have to believe me. After all the other stuff that's out there, after the stuff we've seen and done, this can't be impossible. I can get him back, I just need you to give me time. Don't let him go."
Tom stared at him expressionlessly, and for just a moment, lit only haphazardly from the parking lot, Sam could have sworn he wavered and became less opaque. Then Tom said, "Need lightbulbs first. Stay put while I bug the desk clerk."
Practicality was a good sign.
Sam sat on the bed next to Dean with one hand on his brother's chest and thought about how long he could get away with carrying him around, these unseen parts of him, until something gave. It wasn't that there wouldn't be enough room. It was that he was already attached to what he had, and how much of himself would he lose in the eventual mix?
What scared him was that he wasn't sure he minded all that much. That, and he was losing it.
He never heard Tom come back. His first warning was the lamp on the nightstand switching back on and half blinding him.
"How'd you manage to blow all the lights?" Tom said.
"Must've been a power surge," Sam said, then tried not to laugh because it would become a sob. Yeah. Losing it.
"Someone's gonna break out and tell me the whole story on this one eventually, right?" Tom said.
Sam barely registered the fact that he couldn't quite focus on the other man. It just wasn't important. He wouldn't have cared if someone in a sparkly dress had dropped out of the sky mumbling about pumpkins and told him to get back by midnight, so long as it got things done. "When this is all over, I will," Sam said. "I can put him back together, I know I can."
He stood and repeated what he'd done earlier, making motions toward the door and back toward the bed, chest aching while he tried to decide if he should say goodbye or I'll be right back , because he wasn't sure if any of it would work and it had just finally occurred to him that Dean might not want to come back. He hadn't even asked, he hadn't bothered to consider that maybe Dean was done with all this, as impossible as that seemed to Sam. Dean wouldn't just give up, but it had been Sam who'd said stuff might not look or feel the same after you're dead.
"He's not dead," Sam said aloud.
"Sam," Tom said.
"Just don't let him go until I'm sure," Sam said, suddenly calm. He crossed back to the bed and hooked an arm under Dean's knees, swinging his legs onto the bed and rolling him gently onto one side so that his back was to the door. He would look like he was sleeping that way; he could leave Dean looking like he was sleeping.
The man standing to one side looking at him with a guarded pity had once told John Winchester that even half out of his wits with panic, the younger of the two Winchester boys was beyond dangerous in ways that had nothing to do with violence.
"Don't let anything get him," Sam said.
At first he couldn't find it again. He had a moment of believing the house had never been there, none of it had actually happened and he'd been having another hallucination.
Just get a grip, Sam, he thought. This is one of those things you just do, this has to be a job.
When he did find it again, and parked in the same place down the block, his relief was intensified by the fact that there was no one there milling around or investigating anything. Everyone was too busy covering up their own windows to care that an abandoned house had been ground zero for the whole thing in the first place. Someone would write it all off as a sonic boom from a low flying jet or a mysterious gas leak they'd never find. All he cared about was the quiet and solitude and that no one would be bothering him while he...searched.
When he could be sure he was right about being alone, he left the car and kept to the shadowed part of the street, thinking even in the middle of his desperation to get close to the house that he was forgetting something. He didn't know or care what that was until he tried to step onto the lawn from the street and had to stop.
He paused there and waited, then stepped forward again. That time, it got all his attention.
It doesn't want me.
Dean had said that, about the house.
"What the hell wouldn't want you?" Sam said aloud. He turned his head to the right and caught a glimpse of the dark figure at the edge of his vision that vanished when he tried to look at it head-on. Something guarding the property. Dean, leaning up against the car only an hour earlier, staring off into the dark, saying elemental and if you let go of me I think it'll quit about separate things. Sam was having trouble with the idea of separate things since Dean had gone supernova.
Dean had meant to burn the house. And it hadn't let him in.
Sam could see streetlight-glint off the jagged edges of the glass left in the empty windowframes from there, right where he'd come to rest earlier. Something along the edges of his vision was kaleidoscoping in grays and greens while he stood with one foot on the lawn and one under the world, knee deep in the other side of forever with a day pass because he was almost two for the price of one. He struggled not to look. Whatever had come before was none of his business and nothing he wanted to see.
He thought about the saltline he'd kept Once out with, and decided not to agree with the power the thing near the property line had been assigned. It was sunny and they were standing in some parking lot again and Dean was saying we didn't set the rules and maybe none of this stuff has any real power. Dew-soaked darkness in his present and a hint of summer around it and something sparking near the house, something amber-blue and waiting. He was afraid that if he looked at the house too closely he'd see the shape of his own outline would be burned into the side of it, the only unscathed place after a flashpoint of something too bright to bear.
I won't burn the house. I promise.
There was a little girl with a ball under one arm standing in the yard near the rear corner, an outline with faltering patterns that frayed at the edges, not holding for much longer or maybe not holding at all. Butterflies painted on the walls for as long as the walls stood. Someone moved inside past the empty window, and before he could shut it out there was a brief moment where he was standing in a crowd of half-lit figures. He closed his eyes for a moment and a radiating pattern of amber-blue spread out along the yard, Dean's last stand shown as the center point of a spider web. He was too grateful to be snared to keep being frightened.
I promise, I won't touch the house, I won't bother the land.
It didn't matter how long the thing had been there or who had set it; the builder, the original owner two houses ago, maybe someone who'd camped there when it was hillside and undeveloped. He never would have seen or felt it if he was himself, and Dean would never have been troubled by it if he'd been seamless. All that really mattered was that when he stepped forward again, he could walk across the grass toward the house and get home, walk right into the center point of what Dean had left behind. He could lay on the grass in the middle of it and gather it like a blanket, just wrap himself in it so easily.