a/n: Edison really was trying to build a machine to communicate with the dead and measure life units when he died. References to Skin and more obscure weird-ass poetry added as a bonus!
At first the light seemed fine on his eyelids, perfectly normal since he'd been knocked on his ass by it earlier. Of course there was light, just not visible. And God said, let there be light, and there was, and it kicked his ass.
It was also perfectly normal to smirk to himself over something that dumb. But he was wet and cold and if they were camping again, he didn't remember anything that led up to it.
Sam opened his eyes to early morning sunlight filtered through a row of evergreen bushes. They were so straight that it was obvious they were bordering something, and the grass he was lying on hadn't been mowed in weeks but it was still someone's yard anyway. There was a very large brown tabby staring at him from the edge of the lawn, unblinking yellow-green eyes finding him an idiot.
When everything came back, Sam startled so hard that he scared the cat into sliding away in a long, low blur. He sat up and felt the stiffness of a night on the ground, but below that was a hell of a lot of something else catching him close and forcing him to work to gather it. The washed out, lemon-cyan sky meant only early morning, but morning nonetheless and hours spent away from where he'd meant to be. There was a night behind him of promising not to burn the house, and trying to capture gossamer edges that felt and tasted of his brother out of the places where they'd sunk right into the earth. Winding them along his fingers and wrapping them across arms and chest, calling to something not quite sentient anymore because the components had drifted. He only imagined these things; there were no pieces he could sift through and he hadn't really been able to quantify whatever it was he'd done. His brain understood patterns and the idea of assigning physicality to something that he had no understanding of except that he could recognize its existence. If he could assign the idea of touch to whatever he held, then the weightless second skin of it was something he'd held before, edges folded together so temporarily just the week before. This was familiar in the right combination. Not his, but something that might blend in a little at a time if he asked, something that might match his steps and lend its light to his own.
He was running across the grass then, intent on getting to the car and getting the hell out of there without looking back, because the longer he waited the more sense it made to keep waiting. He didn't check to see if the elemental was still visible to him; he didn't care. There would be no flinching or pausing because the afterimages of what had been or could be were crowding his tweaked sensitivity. He wasn't going to let any of it happen this time. He'd get back to Dean and put them both back together and then they'd be gone. They'd be gone and stay gone until Sam was sure nothing like any of it happened again. He was only a couple of miles away and he could hold it together at least that long.
He tried not to let the suggestion of what had gone on in his sleep spill over into his conscious mind. There were dreams or maybe just memories in that, a sense of things that didn't belong to him. None of it mattered because he had everything draped over his shoulders and refusing to stay tamped down. He would just drive, and not think, and if he could just get back to Dean then it would work itself out somehow or he would just fit square pegs into round holes until the world changed and that became the way to do things.
He didn't actually remember the drive the way he didn't remember what had happened after he laid down in the grass near the house. What stood out to him was that the door to their room was open .
Sam's mind flipped back and forth with alarming speed between how it didn't mean anything and how he was going to survive finding Dean dead or missing. He tucked the .38 that was usually under the passenger seat into the small of his back as he got out of the car. Tom was going to look at him like he'd lost his mind, good, that was fine, and in the meantime his knees were locking and sweat was pouring off him while he tried to get across the parking lot without falling. Not quite himself anymore and not quite anyone else, just needing something to happen that would help him find a direction to take or maybe just force his hand.
He pushed the door the rest of the way open without pausing outside, stepping in and staring at Dean, lying just the way he'd left him. Nothing else had been changed or touched, and when he tried to flip the lights on from the doorway nothing happened.
It wasn't that big of a leap to think that the bulbs had never been changed and the light had come from somewhere else; maybe the door had been left open just to let him know things were okay and there was nothing to fear. Dean was warm and breathing and when he checked his eyes, neither was bloodshot, like whatever had happened had never hurt him, like he hadn't really shattered.
Sam tossed the gun on the other bed and didn't really care that the door was still open. He rolled Dean onto his back and listened, finding himself just sitting on the edge of the bed and waiting for something to be right and real. Dean was not a jar of sand he could just redistribute and pour into a mold.
Thomas Edison had believed that each living thing was composed of a certain number of life units that when assembled the right way became certain predisposed forms - a tree, an elephant, a sibling. Sam had always liked the idea that when you were done with your assigned units, they wandered off to become other things. He didn't like it as much now that there was a possibility that he didn't have all of Dean and someone else of his own accidental making would open green eyes on him and break his heart. No one knew where the line between what was gathered over time with muscle memory or with the ridges etched into white matter was drawn with the incorporeal idea of self. Your memories were what you were made of but they had to be taken in and stored, so it all started with a physical connection with the world. Somewhere between Plato and Descartes and Hume and Kant was this impossible tangle of reality and all the crap he learned in that 200 level philosophy course he'd taken for humanities credit was pointless now.
He could think this through. He could think anything through.
Atoms were physical and could be split but there was so much room between them and inside them, and maybe they dealt with shades and spirits and the effects of a million causes every day but never did they deal with wholesale souls , not even their own . Not whole, malleable matter-that-wasn't, just the castoffs caught in one frame of sorrow or rage or searching.
What the fuck is wrong with you, Sam? Who the hell else is going to put me back?
He lifted his head again because he realized he'd said it aloud. Dean's words and inflections but in his own tones, something he'd done on purpose many times to annoy his brother.
"I don't know what I'm doing," he said aloud. They kept coming back to this same place - better to leave him the way he was or risk another color of disaster by crossing his fingers and heart and believing doing the best he could was the right thing. There would be no happy ending to the life they were living, not even the most fantastic luck of the draw would leave them all alive and whole. There was already more damage done than a lifetime of peace could assuage; Sam felt doomed and worse, felt the impermanence of what remained of his family. Things would never be okay . They would not survive the destruction of the evil that had shoved them onto their current path and didn't expect to; if they did, Dean would just find other evil to annoy until the law of averages dropped the other shoe on him.
Sam had the chance to lose him in some quiet way that didn't mean terror and pain.
He had no right to save him. He had no right to not save him.
How much more damage could he really do, no matter what he did?
That was kind of hilarious, and now that he wasn't quite sure how much of the last eight hours or so was real, it was perfectly normal to find himself in the parking lot again thinking about maybe just keeping things to himself because weren't they both better off? He'd never be Dean but Dean would kind of go on, and he was already dead anyway after the thing in St. Louis. Dean wasn't safe.
Sam wouldn't even have to miss him. He already fit like the one flannel he liked best, soft-worn cotton with just the right weight to it, stretched a little over time so that it was just his and would never fit anyone else. If he thought about it, really thought about it, Dean wouldn't mind all that much. This way Sam would never leave him, no one would ever leave him again. Maybe he'd never know it in any conscious way but he would know in all the ways that mattered. He wouldn't really be Dean, but he'd feel it somewhere. Sam would never get a call in the middle of the night saying Dean wanted me to tell you or it was quick or any number of variations to tell him the other shoe had come along.
The skinwalker had only wanted Dean's face and memories and the revenant had wanted to kick him out altogether and they were fucking saints in Sam's mind compared to what he realized he wanted.
He shook himself out of it. He was standing on the side of the road by then looking across four lanes and realizing that abandoned houses wanted to burn after they'd had enough. Dean would only stand empty for so long before there was no other choice and burning was the last bit of mercy Sam could show him.
Traffic passed him warily as if the drivers thought he meant to cross. Part of the same poem-password Tom had used came back to him.
Each man believes in his heart he will die
Many have left last thoughts and last letters
And it just wasn't okay to think about the one Stephen King book where the guy tried to get his kid back and ended up with a murderous little zombie he'd ended up killing again. King got a lot of things right but he also missed as many times as he hit and Sam had written several drunken, anonymous emails and letters to the guy that he had luckily destroyed before sending each time. He was just psyching himself out into doing nothing because he was damned if he did or didn't or got halfway or stood around hoping.
It took him that long to realize that thinking was the last thing this required.
Adjuration is rather an earnest appeal, or a most stringent command requiring another to act, or not to act, under pain of divine visitation or the rupture of the sacred ties of reverence and love.
He would ask Dean. And whatever was conveyed, he'd honor it no matter what it meant he had to do or not do.
He locked the door to the room that time and put a chair under the knob He left a ring of salt around the bed Dean was on and propped one of the shotguns against the wall by the headboard. Handguns on the night stand and his blades at the foot of the bed, razor-sharp crescents of last resort. If he was very unlucky then one of the weapons would keep Dean from wading back out into the world as some kind of shambling horror. He wasn't going to tie him down and leave himself one last chance to hesitate.
If he could wind it, then he could also unwind it. He would see whether the patterns recognized themselves.
He stood over Dean for several long minutes, looking for some internal switch or loose thought to work from, a beginning or an end, the process in reverse. He was nothing more than a collection of atoms and Dean was only the space between. He stood there and wondered how he could be wrapped in everything Dean was and not really have it overwhelm him, not download his memories or get a better sense of him than he had just listening to his spoken and unguarded thoughts.
Hey, Dean, what the hell are you made of that your soul can come apart?
Maybe that was all anyone could do after giving so much of themselves to someone else.
It had seemed effortless to Sam to string himself out enough to keep all the edges together, edges he remembered as already being frayed and none of that done recently.
Dean's frayed edges were part of who he was , and to change any of it would be the same caliber of evil that Sam had always promised himself he'd never indulge in even if it meant losing everything otherwise. All well and good to imagine and make vows until faced with the ugly reality. He would not reseal any of the edges, he would not try and smooth certain things over, he would not reorder the bad or the good.
If not for the thing in St. Louis, it would simply be a matter of erasing Dean's memories of hunting, of father and brother, of mother-on-the-ceiling and just drop him somewhere to start over. Redemption through desecration and then a tabula rasa to walk away with and the chance to find some way to be happy. Dean would do that, Dean was built that way...to be happy.
But Dean's damage made him Dean .
Cruel to leave him alive and crueler to rob him of the only life he knew how to live.
Sam laid down on the bed on his back next to Dean and stared at the ceiling. After a moment he said, "If it'd been the other way around and I was coming to the door every night, I think you'd have gone outside sooner. If it'd been you out here and me in there." He slipped his left hand into Dean's lax but warm right, lacing their fingers together. Something spiraled away, just a suggestion of something beyond the contact itself. "You would have let it jump to you just so you could flip it shit, right?" He crossed his ankles and wished whatever he was doing then was as easy as a transfer of will. "Don't pay any attention. It's just that I wanna hold hands, right?"
If he closed his eyes and quit looking outside instead of in, then it was easier to wind the bad days with the good and the intolerable with the necessary.
He was pretty sure he said he was sorry out loud but it didn't really matter.
He'd gone wrong before by just trying to repair the damage. You didn't just try and hold something like this together, it had to be rewoven so there was nothing to unravel. That had never occurred to him even though he'd been immersed in the edges long enough to know where each was.
He didn't so much try and do anything or force or even ask as much as he just simply offered and waited. Some things put themselves together when hands were offered and the right questions were asked. He could fold one idea there and a memory over it, no particular pattern when the whole was something that ordered itself. Matter could not be created or destroyed, only changed or redistributed, and it helped that Dean had always been a force unto himself.
He remembered Dean saying Sam, you've gotta let go of me and his answer had been the only one he knew how to give: I can't. It had probably sounded like he was trapped or that whatever was running between them had looped him in but really all he could do was eclipse the one last brightness he still had so that the darker things couldn't see it.
Some of his own better days might have gone into the folding and weaving. He wasn't quite sure. It felt like it was supposed to go that way. If he had missed gathering all the parts then he could just fill in the spaces with his own.
The negative and positive charges are always trying to get to each other, they have to.
Lightning was a connection of sky and earth, order asking chaos to check in. He was going to wait and wait until his opposite number reached out to shake hands.