glasslogic: (Fortress)
[personal profile] glasslogic







Section III

They eventually made it back downstairs, Sam in the suit pants he seldom had call to wear anymore and a button-up from the same collection of JC Penny’s finest, and Dean in a t-shirt and belted shorts that at least pretended to match, long, dark hair straggling wet over his shoulders. Jody and Bobby were sitting next to each other at the table, sipping coffee and chatting. Sheriff Mills straightened up when Sam and Dean walked in, her manner vastly more relaxed than earlier and a sparkle of good humor in her otherwise serious expression.

“You look better cleaned up, Deborah. Certainly better than the last time I saw you. You know what kind of hysteria they’ve been having at the hospital over you?”

Dean shrugged and took one of the empty chairs. “Sorry. I wasn’t myself when I woke up.” Bobby rolled his eyes behind Jody’s back. “I just needed to get out, get some air. Think things over.”

“And you came here?”

“Ah,” Bobby cut in, “Deborah May and I--”

“I was looking for Sam,” Dean interrupted. “We met kind of randomly a long time ago in town; turned out he was a friend of Mr. Singer’s and was staying here. It didn’t work out then, but… after what happened, I thought it was time to make some changes, so I headed out here and Bobby was kind enough to call him for me.”

“We got some calls about a woman matching your description wandering down the highway this direction in a sheet. We’ve been checking the area systematically. Was there some reason you couldn’t call and let people know you were all right? The hospital had your belongings; you could have called a cab.”

“It was a confusing time. I wasn’t thinking clearly, Sheriff Mills.”

“But you’re thinking clearly now.” Jody’s tone conveyed a healthy amount of skepticism

“Yeah, I am. I think we both know my life wasn’t all roses before. I feel… safer here.”

“What about your kids?” the Sheriff asked.

Dean crossed one shapely leg over the other. “I’m still working out a plan.”

Jody raised a brow, eyes never leaving Dean’s face. “I thought Sam was your plan?”

Dean’s pasted smile was back in place. “Still more things to think about. I just need some time.”

“Uh huh.” Jody switched lines of questioning. “Do you remember the accident?”

“No.”

“Any chance you would be willing to come with me back to the hospital and let them run some tests?”

“I think I’ve been poked enough. They had me at their mercy for a month to run anything they wanted.”

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”

“I really think I’m good. I’m awake, I’m sane, I’m happy. What else are they going to tell me?”

“You weren’t supposed to wake up,” she said bluntly. “Maybe they can find something in you that would help other people in your condition.”

“Not without a pentagram and some salt,” Sam muttered. Dean coughed and elbowed him hard.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” Dean smiled and Sam groaned inwardly, recognizing the expression. “Sam’s just worried about me seeing any doctors. It’s his religion; they don’t believe in modern medicine, you know?”

Sheriff Mills gave Sam a look like he was an especially questionable something she’d found on her shoe. “Is that right.” It wasn’t a question. Sam ground his teeth, but forced himself to nod anyways.

“Sheriff Mills,” Dean leaned in, features radiating sincerity, “I would really, really appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone else where I am.”

“Deborah--”

“I need some peace, and I won’t have it if every bored local reporter starts banging on the door. And you know they will. Random accident victims aren’t news, but medical miracles are. I’m not ready to face people yet, and we both know that if word gets out I’ll either have to face them or run, and I don’t want to run. I’m tired, and confused, and just… really need a little time.”

Jody’s expression softened a bit. “Half the county’s looking for you; I can’t just sit on the information indefinitely and let them waste all that manpower. We’ve got real crimes to solve, and you’ve got real friends and family who shouldn’t be left wondering where you’ve gone.”

“I know, but… maybe a week? Can you give me that long?”

“Please, Jody,” Bobby said quietly.

Jody sighed. “One week. And at the end of it you go get yourself checked out by a professional, regardless of what bigfoot here thinks.” She glowered at Sam.

“I will, I promise. Thank you.”

“With that, I guess I’d better get back out there.” Jody drained the last of her coffee and handed Bobby the mug. “Thanks for the coffee and the conversation, Singer, it was… interesting as always.”

“Let me walk you to your car.”

The screen door banged gently closed behind them. When the footsteps had receded down the steps and their voices faded, Sam leaned back in his own chair. “A week, Dean?”

Dean slumped back, looking pensive. “I didn’t think she would agree to much longer. I think we’ve only got whatever weird chemistry’s going on between her and Bobby to thank for this much of a reprieve.”

“I thought the process was going to take weeks, plural. Wasn’t that what that fit you pitched about? I seem to remember not being able to breathe for part of it.”

“I’ll make it work.”

“And then what happens to--” Sam gestured to Dean’s body.

“What do you think, Sam? She was a vegetable when I found her; she’ll be a vegetable when I leave her. It’s not a big deal; these medical miracles are notoriously hard to predict.”

“Sheriff Mills is going to love that.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll go visit her at the station when I have my little moving day. That way she can see it with her own eyes and spare everyone the tedious questions.”

“She’s not going to be real happy with Bobby either.”

“What do you want from me, Sam?”

“Nothing, just making an observation.”

“Well, go observe something else. I’ve got more important things to worry about than Bobby’s love life.”

~~~~~

“She looks skinnier,” Bobby commented. He shoved a beer in Sam’s direction and sank onto the porch step with a gusty sigh. “Old bones aren’t what they used to be.”

Sam twisted the bottle cap off with the edge of his shirt. “She is skinnier. What he’s doing is burning up the physical resources of his host as much as his own energies.”

“It’s been almost three days; he’s gotta take a break sometime. Maybe eat something, rest.”

Sam took a long pull of his beer. “I doubt he’s even feeling the drain anymore; he’s way down deep in his inner whatever. There's just a dull kind of hum when I brush against the link.”

“Like a busy signal?”

“More of a ‘get-lost’ signal. He’s in a pretty bad mood. I think. It’s not a real communication, just a feeling.”

“Wonderful. Just as well I don’t have to listen to the bitching then.”

The object of their discussion was sitting cross-legged in the wild field, bare feet tucked neatly under pale thighs, spine rigid and face set. A casual passerby would probably, not entirely inaccurately, assume she was meditating. Her tangled dark hair was loose and glinted with the fiery shades of sunset, decorated here and there with the odd bit of dried grass the wind had blown free. Sam did a walk around a few times a day, just to check on things. Dean’s skin had been reddening with sunburn after the first day, so Sam rubbed a little sunscreen on what was exposed, but otherwise left his brother alone.

“He’s going to kill her if he doesn’t come up for air. You know that, right?” Bobby commented.

Sam finished the beer and leaned back against the step, squinting against the late afternoon sun. “It is what it is, Bobby. Some of his energy is compensating for food and water, or she’d be in worse shape by now. Do you really want Dean here, trying to talk to the press when our little reprieve runs out in four days? If he doesn’t get this done before your friend the Sheriff starts talking, our best move will probably be for him to dump this host and find a new one to finish the repair process. Maybe one less uninhabited. I don’t know about you, but I like Dean to be Dean, and not wonder whose eyes he’s going to be looking out of when I turn around.”

“Do you really?”

“Really what?” Sam asked.

“Like Dean to be Dean. It’s not escaped me that there might be some advantages to, you know, this,” Bobby motioned towards the field and its still figure with his bottle, “considering how things are between you guys and all.”

Silence fell over the yard, but an easy one, broken only by the faint rustle of grasses and the occasional lonely bird call. After a few minutes, Sam stood up and stretched. “I think I’m going in, see what I can throw together for dinner. Any preferences?”

“Cooked all the way through; no char. Go get it started while I walk out and make sure nothing’s nibbling on the new statuary.”

~~~~~

Sam finally gritted his teeth and decided to spend the next morning cleaning out the Impala’s trunk. There hadn’t been that much of a mess in the first place, and only the carpet the body had lain on seemed contaminated. He dragged everything out of the sub-compartment and checked individually just to make sure. Then Sam solved the clean-up problem by the simple expedient of cutting the carpet out of the trunk and tossing it in the rubbish pile to burn. It added a nice chemical enhanced shade to the otherwise crisp gold and orange flames as it melted down amidst the leaves and brush.

“I thought you weren’t going to clean that,” Bobby commented, when Sam walked by him with a bottle of industrial cleaner and a bucket of soapy water.

“I wasn’t, but every day the smell seeps in deeper and I don’t think standing on principle is worth putting up with the stench. I’m just going to wipe the bare metal down really well and call it a job. If Dean wants carpet back in the trunk, he can fix it himself.”

“I’m not sure Dean’s really going to--” The sharp jingle of a ringtone cut him off and Bobby frowned and patted his pockets until he came up with his phone. “Hello?” He paced a few steps. “I can’t understand you, Jody. Repeat that? Jody? Hello?” He paced a few more feet, then pulled the phone away from his ear and dialed a number. He stuffed the phone back in his pocket a moment later with a shrug. “Crappy service.”

“Who are you using?”

“Hers, not mine. My service works fine; can’t afford to be walking around looking for bars when someone on the other end is screaming about yetis. But whatever the county is paying for isn’t worth the paper the contract’s printed on out here. They should have negotiated for a new tower or two. She’ll find a landline and call back in a few minutes.”

“Did it sound important?”

“It sounded like static and the occasional syllable, Sam. I caught Deborah’s name, but nothing else.”

Sam cast an uneasy look towards his brother, stone still in the field. “We’ve got two days left; why would she--”

“Maybe it was about that,” Bobby said with a grim nod towards the driveway.

Sam spun to look. In the distance, a truck had turned off the highway and was kicking up dust as it bounced too fast along the gravel. Sam swore and headed over to intercept it, Bobby jogging beside him. Dean wasn’t visible from the main road, the driveway to the house, or even the front yard, where company usually parked; the burial site was mostly protected from casual view by the barn. But he could be seen from the porch, and if Sheriff Mills had been phoning in some kind of warning, then keeping their unexpected visitor from catching sight of Dean was priority number one.

“Maybe burying him in the barn wasn’t such a bad idea,” Bobby muttered as they stopped in the driveway in front of the house, giving the unknown truck driver no choice but to stop or run them over.

“Hindsight,” Sam agreed, as the wild-looking guy behind the wheel shoved open the driver’s side door and jumped out, almost vibrating with emotion.

“Something I can help you with?” Bobby asked

“Where’s my wife?” the guy demanded. “You’ve got my wife here and I want to see her, now!”

Bobby and Sam exchanged sidelong looks. “Wife? Are you… Carl?”

“Yeah, who the hell are you?” Conversation didn’t seem to be toning down his belligerence factor any.

“I’m Singer; this is my junkyard you’re trespassing in,” Bobby said dryly with a thumb-jerk towards the sign. “I usually like visitors to call first. It’s a private sort of business. Appointment only.”

“Fuck that. You’ve got my woman, and she should damn well be home with me! Deborah May!” Carl yelled, turning to face the house. “Deborah May, I know you’re in there! Get your skinny ass out here right now!”

Bobby raked Carl with a scathing look. “I was under the impression you two weren’t hitched yet.”

“What the hell does it matter to you?” Carl snarled. “The little bitch sticks me with her two brats while she lies around for a month, and then has the balls to shack up with some--” Carl paused in his rant, as if really seeing them for the first time and trying to come up with an appropriate slur.

“Weird junkyard hobo?” Sam suggested politely. Bobby gave him an irritated look.

“Yeah, that! And what the hell are you?”

The voice that answered came unexpectedly from the long shadows of the house. “It’s who, Carl. Who the hell is he. What the hell is an entirely different kind of question. One you might not like the answer to.”

Everyone in the junkyard turned toward the speaker. Dean, looking somewhat bedraggled and wind-burned after the better part of a week in the weather, walked rather gingerly onto the driveway until he’d reached Sam’s side. His eyes were a little sunken and the bones of his face more defined, but a few nights of hard drinking could have had much the same effect. Nothing about his appearance screamed other on the surface.

“You bitch!”

And oh, Dean was angry. Sam didn’t know if it was the interruption to his work, irritation in general at the situation, or just something about Carl personally, but he could feel it burning through Dean’s skin when he grabbed hold of his arm to keep him from getting any closer to their unwelcome guest. A deep, cold anger, so cold that Sam imagined he could almost see the flaring stars of entropy behind his eyes. The sun seemed almost to dim as the air’s bite turned suddenly bitter. Bobby shifted uneasily beside them, but Carl didn’t seem to notice anything.

“Sticks and stones,” Dean replied in a deadly flat voice. “But I figure you know all about that. Isn’t that why you tried to kill me?”

For the first time there was a hesitation in the rage that consumed Carl’s features. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Dean wrenched his bicep out of Sam’s grip and crossed his arms. “My little accident and your dad’s old Honda. Smart to borrow a car from across state lines, but you screwed it up just like everything else in your life. You should have made sure I was dead.”

Carl licked his lips. “Babe, I don’t know what you’re talking about. The accident… you’re all confused.”

“I think you should leave. Now.” Bobby’s voice was as cool as the air.

“Not without my wife,” Carl snarled.

“We’re not married.”

“Not yet,” Carl’s voice took on a wheedling edge, “but… these assholes, the accident… it’s screwing with your mind. You need to come home, with me and the kids, rest up some so your memory comes back. I didn’t mean to be so nasty, honey; I’m just scared. You’ve been so sick… just come on home so I can take care of you.”

All three of them gazed at Carl with varying levels of irritation and disgust. After a moment, Dean snorted. “Did this kind of crap really work on her? No wonder she felt battered like a piñata.”

Carl’s face flushed ruddily and his eyes darkened with fury. He didn’t seem to notice Dean’s odd use of pronouns, but stepped forward and reached out as if he was going to physically drag Deborah May away with him. Sam was angry too, but not furious enough to let Dean unleash the energy Sam could feel prickling just under the thin façade of Deborah May’s fragile skin. He wouldn’t cry if Carl was vaporized, but if people had known he was coming here… Too many complications. Sam stepped neatly out in front of Dean before Carl’s fingers could connect and slammed his closed fist into Carl’s jaw as hard as he could.

Carl staggered back an impressive number of feet and fell like a stunned ox, blinking at the sky.

Dean gave Sam a sidelong look and Sam could feel the building energy dissipate back into its source. Dean was still angry, but it was tempered now with amusement.

“My hero.”

“Shut up, Dean.” Sam flexed the fingers of his right hand gingerly. It’d been awhile since he’d punched someone like that and it didn’t do much to make him feel better. His own building temper couldn’t be voiced until their unwanted guest had been dealt with.

“What the fuck,” Carl slurred as he levered himself into a sitting position. Bobby, quite fed up with the entire situation, stalked over and hauled Carl to his feet by the shirt, stuffed the truck keys into his hand, then half walked, half dragged him back to the cab.

“This is private property and you aren’t welcome,” Bobby said firmly. “You’ve said your piece and seen Deborah May. She doesn’t want to go home with you--”

“She’s a lying bitch,” Carl snarled, staring at Dean with unbridled hatred. Dean stared back impassively.

“--and if I see you here again, it might be the last place anyone sees you at all.” Bobby smiled, all teeth. “Understand?”

“Are you threatening me, old man?”

“Just so there won’t be any confusion later. Now get your ass off my property before I’ve got another mess to explain to the sheriff.” He stepped back in clear invitation for Carl to leave. Carl did, throwing the truck into reverse with a spray of gravel and enough torque to tear up the grass as he spun it around.

“You haven’t heard the last of this, Deborah May,” he yelled out his window as he headed down the driveway. “You and me are gonna--” But whatever they were going to do was lost to distance.

“Well, that was fun,” Dean said finally. Inside the house, the telephone started ringing.

“That’s probably Jody,” Bobby sighed.

“Why don’t you get her a new cell phone plan for Christmas,” Sam suggested, grabbing hold of Dean again when it looked like he was going to follow Bobby into the house. Dean looked at him questioningly, but Sam didn’t meet his eyes, focusing instead on Bobby, who was also watching the interaction while the phone continued to shrill.

“Go on,” Sam said. “I just need to talk to Dean for a minute.”

“Yell all you want, but no hitting,” Bobby said finally, after a long, assessing look. “You’re too big for me to carry your ass into bed anymore when he swats you like a fly.”

Sam gave him a sharp smile in response and watched until Bobby was well inside the house, then released Dean as if he couldn’t stand to touch him anymore.

“Sam, what the--”

“You lied to me! I can’t believe-- you looked me straight in the eyes and you lied!”

Sam--” Dean tried to cut in again.

“You told me she was dead!”

“She is dead. I don’t know--”

“You do know,” Sam hissed. “That’s the problem; you seem to know a lot. You knew about the kids--”

“I showed you the scar--” Dean snapped.

“What about the accident, Dean? What about attempted murder? You have a scar to show for that?”

“Lots,” Dean growled. “Calm the fuck down, Sam; I didn’t lie to you.”

There was betrayal in Sam’s eyes, and a towering anger. Dean swore and raked his hair back out of his face, yanking his fingers free with disgust when the tangling strands wouldn’t let go. “I didn’t lie,” Dean repeated. “I just… left out a few things.”

“You told me that she was an empty host. That she was gone, really gone. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for confusion there, Dean.”

“She is an empty host. She is gone. Only…” Dean hesitated, looking for the right word, “ish.”

Ish? What do you mean ‘ish’.”

“You know, empty-ish, gone-ish.”

“So we’re back to the part where you flat out lied to me.”

“She’s not here, Sam.”

“Then how--”

Dean cut him off before he could get started again. “Not like she was, okay? There’s… traces. Flashes, chopped up memories. Mostly more recent stuff. It’s like being haunted from the inside. But she isn’t here. The brain damage she had, it’s not the kind you can survive, you know? Little bits of who she was are still sparking, but the living, thinking woman didn’t make it. Deborah May Mason died on the side of that road; there’s nothing left of her in here but echoes.”

“So she’s… in heaven? Or wherever?”

Dean shrugged noncommittally. Sam scowled.

“What do you want me to say, Sam? Death is complicated. I’m not beating down a living mind to hold this body, but if whatever tattered remnants of the previous occupant are still swirling around want to share the rent, hey, I’m an open minded kind of guy.”

“That doesn’t sound like she’s dead, Dean.”

“It does to me,” Dean replied, holding Sam’s gaze evenly. They stared at each other, both angry and unwilling to back down, until the screen door banged open and Bobby called them to come in.

~~~~~

“So our little uninvited guest was why Jody was calling.”

“I thought she was going to keep her trap shut until the end of the week?” Dean asked from where he was buried in the pantry.

Bobby’s eyes narrowed at Dean’s tone. “She did; her partner didn’t.”

“Her partner? As in another human she wasn’t supposed to be telling in the first place?” Dean demanded, emerging with a box of crackers and the peanut butter.

“Her partner thinks I’m involved in half the unsolved crimes around this county, and knows Jody and I have a, uh, relationship of sorts.” Dean snorted. Bobby glared at him. “And she had to tell him the truth so he wouldn’t just think it was bias when she said she’d cleared my property, and decide to go poking around on his own. He’s a good guy; she didn’t think it would be a problem.”

“So how does this lead us to the homicidal psycho you just ran off?”

Bobby sighed. “Well, turns out Keith and Carl used to wrestle together back in high school, and Keith didn’t want Carl all worried about his fiancée if she was okay… Jody doesn’t think Keith knew Carl was beating her up.”

“Remind me to send Keith a gift of some sort. Like rattlers, or water moccasins.”

“What’s done is done,” Bobby said firmly. “Jody’s sorry about the trouble. Keith won’t tell his priest after Jody gets done with him, and Carl--”

“Carl’s not going to tell anyone,” Dean said derisively. He polished off the last of the crackers and gave the box a wounded look.

Bobby’s expression turned grim. “Were you serious about what you accused him of earlier, or were you just trying to rattle his cage?”

“What do you think?” Dean asked. He screwed the lid back on the peanut butter and licked the knife.

“I think as far as the county is concerned, she was a tragic victim of a hit and run. But it doesn’t seem to have been much of a secret to most people that he was an abusive creep. If there’s any evidence out there, Jody would be more than happy to throw his ass in jail for awhile.”

Dean crouched to dig through a cabinet. “The only evidence I can think of might be on that car, and with a month’s head start? You know how easy it is to make those things disappear. Lotta lakes around here.”

“How did you know about it anyways?” Bobby asked, suspicion coloring the edges of his tone.

“Random flashes, bits and pieces of what happened to her before she died. Though if you ask Sam, I’m a mind-raping monster taking advantage of another helpless innocent to further my own twisted goals. Or something. I’m paraphrasing a little. Do you have any cereal?”

Bobby’s eyes flickered over Sam’s stony expression and the barely veiled hostility of his body language. “Uh huh. Check the next cabinet.”

“What about her kids?” Sam asked, speaking up for the first time in the conversation.

Dean found a box of frosted flakes and carried it back to his seat. “I don’t know, Sam. What about her kids?”

“We can’t just leave them with Carl. You think he tries to kill their mother and then becomes father of the year?”

“So… what? You think we should adopt? You, me, and a couple of rugrats bouncing along in the backseat? Hey, maybe they can help bury me next time. Kids love digging.”

Sam glared. “I’m just saying we owe her more than to--”

“We don’t owe her anything, Sam! You don’t know her; she was dead a month before you even heard her nam--”

“Ish,” Sam interrupted.

“What?”

“Like you said, Dean. Dead-ish.”

Dean set the box down with more force than was necessary, the flare of his nostrils showed just how much restraint he was exercising to keep his voice even. “What do you think we can do about it, Sam? Kidnapping? The court system? Really? Sheriff Mills is going to watch those kids like a hawk after this; one unexplained bruise and she’ll make Carl’s life a living hell. Well, more of one than it is. We have much, much bigger fish to fry.”

Sam leaned back in his chair, moody but no longer bristling every time he glanced at Dean. Not on the outside anyways. Inside, Dean wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but in the mood Sam was in, he would probably pick up on any attempt to cheat. Whatever the hell was going on in his head, Sam would just have to work through himself.

“How much longer do you need for your body?” Bobby asked, when the silence had grown oppressive.

“About a day, maybe. I’m cutting some corners, not worrying so much about things I can fix on the go. I would have been done days ago but--”

“Are you heading back out there now?” Bobby interrupted, not interested in hearing Dean’s rant about the freezer again.

“Just as soon as I eat my weight in whatever you’ve got in the fridge.”

~~~~~

Midnight came and went. Sam lay in the twin bed alone, drifting in and out of dreams and nightmares. They didn’t carry the stamp of his gift or the whisper of voices from above and below, but they were unsettling just the same. Dreams of hammering hopelessly on imprisoning glass while around him, the world turned on, oblivious. Of strangers with familiar eyes, his own hands bloody with an innocent life, and a dark-haired woman who rocked mindlessly, trapped in a cage of thorns. It seemed to Sam that he had barely closed his eyes before he was blinking awake again, with scant minutes passed on the clock.

The nightmares weren’t hard to decipher; a tangled hodgepodge of his experiences at the hands of the demon Meg more than a decade in the past, and his fears about Dean’s latest host. Sam had no recollection of his own experience hosting Dean, and the only other host Dean had taken during their travels together just hadn’t bothered Sam the way Deborah May did.

Maybe it was because there had been no deception, no clouding of the issue in that instance; Sam had known every single minute that it was wrong. He had never looked at Dean in the stranger’s body and felt anything but revulsion and unease for what was basically spiritual rape-- Dean’s assurances that the guy wouldn’t remember anything later hardly reassuring against the magnitude of the crime.

This time was different. This time he’d relaxed. He’d enjoyed the change of pace, enjoyed her. Dean had promised the vessel was empty, and Sam hadn’t even blinked, just gone along as if it was something as simple as Dean trying on new clothes. And all along, all along, there had been another person inside. Another victim. She’d been trapped, like he’d been trapped once, and Sam hadn’t even known to care. Even if Dean made her sleep like he had the one before, it didn’t make it okay. Some things could never just be okay.

Sam closed his eyes, trying to sleep again. He felt Meg’s hands, her sharp nails biting into his skin as her hand fastened like a band around his wrist, sinking into his pores; her voice, whispering from the inside… A leg slid over Sam’s waist and startled him from sleep, but the hand pressed firmly over his mouth caused him to bite back the cry that tried to instinctively escape. The only light in the room came from the crescent moon outside, filtered through the blinds. In the darkness, Sam could barely make out Deborah May’s long, dark hair, framing the pale oval of her face in shadow and the dark, cavernous holes of her eyes.

Sam tried to free a hand, intending to fumble the nightstand lamp on, but Dean had managed to pin both of his arms to his sides when he’d climbed on top. He gave a bone-crushing squeeze of warning when Sam tried to toss him off.

But at least he moved his hand.

“Stop that,” Dean hissed.

“Get off!” Sam hissed back.

“No. Shut up and lay still,” Dean whispered. “We’re going to have a little chat, and if you’re very good and keep the struggling and shouting to a minimum, we won’t have Bobby in here with us by the time we’re done.”

“I mean it Dean. Off.” Sam wiggled more determinedly, gasping when Dean dug his knees in again.

“I didn’t take you for a threesome kind of guy, Sam. Learn something every day, I suppose.”

Sam ceased struggling and glared. “Why are we whispering?”

Dean grinned, a flash of white teeth. “I just snuck into your bedroom in the middle of the night; it seemed like the thing to do.”

“What do you want?” Sam demanded in a more normal voice.

“I want to show you something.”

“I think I’ve seen everything you’ve got.”

“That was mean, Sam. You’re gonna hurt poor Deborah May’s feelings if you keep that up.”

Sam’s eyes widened, but Dean cut off his outrage by clamping a hand across his mouth again. “No, you got to yell earlier. I get to talk now. Unless you really do want to wake up Bobby. I don’t know about you, Sam, but Singer looks like he can use all the beauty rest he can get to me.”

“You told me she was gone!” Sam hissed once he was released.

“She is-- Oh, I’m not having this fight again. You’re going to chill out, we’re going to do things my way, and then you can bitch at me all you like. Got it?”

“Get your knee out of my kidney.”

“What, do you bruise easily now? I’ll move my knee when you agree.”

“Fine.”

“Fantastic. Your enthusiasm is touching.” Dean relaxed until Sam could barely feel the press of sharp knees anymore. He cautiously pulled his hands free too, shaking feeling back into them when Dean didn’t object.

“Now what?” Sam asked.

“Now…” Dean leaned down until the dark curtain of his hair fell over them both, surrounding Sam with the sweet scent of dried grasses and fresh earth. He felt a tugging in the back of his mind, in that place he thought of as Dean’s. Where the silvery cord of the curse twisted with entropy and bound them together. It was a place that had been unusually quiet lately, a dull hum of other that was almost exactly as Sam remembered it from the early days, back when Ruby had held his leash and he had little else to occupy his time but resentment and grief. Now Dean was tapping at the proverbial door, asking permission for an access that had almost been taken for granted in the last year. Sam was tempted to refuse out of sheer irritation, but it was late and he was tired. It was obvious Dean wasn’t going to go away just out of wishing.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked, surprised when the sense of Dean stayed static even after he had dropped what little shielding he could control.

“You need to kind of, um, push this way? Try to follow it across towards me.”

“I’ve been there before,” Sam said warily. “A couple of times. I’m not in a big hurry to experience it again.”

Dean straightened up and shook his hair back over his shoulders. Sam could feel his annoyance like it was being broadcasted. “That was when everything was crumbling and open; it’s not like that now. More’s the pity,” Dean added under his breath. “Look, just do it. You can always back out.”

“Why would I possibly want to do this, again?”

“Well, I don’t know, Sam. I guess you’ll just have to try it and find out.”

They glared at each other in the dark for a minute, then Sam muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath and closed his eyes, concentrating on chasing that twisting tendril through the snags and snarls of his own inner space. Sam had no real awareness of when that space was no longer his own and he’d entered shared territory. One moment he was firmly within his own mind, and the next there were pinpricks of light, like stars in the reaches of space. He drifted close to one and it engulfed him, wrapping him in the heartbeat of another person’s life.

Wooden floors, rough and grimy with lack of care. They scraped splinters into the palms he used to break his fall. It felt like all his ribs on his right side were cracked and fire lanced around like a crushing fist with every shallow breath he drew. Movement from the corner of his eye showed approaching boots. His shoulders tensed, anticipating the next blow.

Darkness again. Another star. Another flare that swallowed his senses. Warm water, heavy with suds that clung to his wrists as he washed. Out in the yard, a children’s swing set was rusting by a narrow stream.

More darkness, more pinpricks of light, enveloping him when he drifted close. Another, and another. Colliding together, some too fast to catch more than a fragment of song, a hint of color. He fell through them for minutes or hours in an endless stretch of infinite space, and then finally it was dusk. A cool breeze cut through the last hint of summer warmth. A car was approaching, headlights cutting through the evening gloom. Tall weeds at the side of the highway scraped against bare skin as he shuffled through the mail, sorting out the bills while he walked back to the driveway. A squeal of tires and the car left pavement, tearing into the grass of the shoulder and barreling down on him. He froze for an instant, transfixed as fast by headlights as any deer, one heartbeat to squint against the glare and recognize both car and driver and then… nothing.

Sam’s eyes flew open, and it was still dark. But this darkness held no vastness of mystery; the tiny bedroom was almost as familiar to him as the interior of the Impala. Dean hadn’t moved aside, but now he was curled over, face pressed into Sam’s shoulder.

Sam blew a strand of Deborah May’s dark hair off his own face and had to swallow twice before he trusted his voice. “How long?”

After a moment, he felt Dean’s head turn to glance at the bedside clock. “A few minutes.”

“It felt like days. Just… all those pieces.”

“That’s all there is now. Little fragments, random flashes.”

“She’s really gone then.”

“I told you.”

“Yeah, you did.”

Dean sat up straight. “Then why, if we’re both in agreement that the chick is toast, do you still sound all moody and distressed?”

Sam fumbled the lamp on and glanced at Dean; grateful on some level not to feel that pull of attraction anymore. He was still drawn to Dean, but that little spark of extra something wasn’t even a blip on the horizon. Now when he looked at Deborah May, all he felt was tired. And sad. She’d lived a short, unhappy life and died a pointless, violent death.

Sam didn’t know how to answer Dean's question. Dean was so Dean most of the time that dealing with the places he was other could be hard. Sometimes there seemed to be no gap between what remembered being human, and the parts of his brother that were anything but. Other times it was like this, where he seemed so oblivious or callous to obvious tragedy that Sam just wanted to haul off and hit him.

“The whole situation,” Sam finally said with a shrug. “It’s just all…”

“Stupid,” Dean filled in helpfully. Sam pushed at his hip and Dean obliged him by sliding off to the side of the bed.

“Yeah.” Close enough.

“So, we good then?”

Sam closed his eyes and relaxed against the mattress under his back. “We’re fine, Dean.”

“Still not happy?”

Sam cracked one eyelid. “Was there a great chance I would be?”

“What’s the problem now?” Dean asked, exasperated. “She’s dead, just like I promised. No one’s being tortured in the depths of their own mind; I wasn’t lying to you about one of your many angsty hang-ups--”

“She was murdered, Dean. No one knows it but us, and her kids are still living with her killer.”

“There’s a lot of injustice in the world, Sam. You want me to just pop by there and tear his head off for you?”

No.” Sam glared.

“Then what? Sheriff Jody seems pretty reasonable, all things considered, but the truth goes a little beyond reasonable.”

“She thinks you’re Deborah May; maybe you could just--”

“What? Remember getting run down by my fiancé? There’s not any evidence but my say so, and I’m the party recovering from a severe head wound. Plus, even if we could convince someone to press charges, we’re not really in a position to hang around a few months or years for a trial, Sam! I don’t have a tape recording of her life in my head; I’ve got some crumbly pieces. The holes are going to start showing if someone starts really asking questions.”

“I wasn’t…” Sam’s voice trailed off for a moment. “I’m not seriously suggesting that. It just seems like there should be something we can do to help her. Or at least her family.”

“And we’re back to the part where I rip his head off his shoulders.”

“No. We’re not going to kill him. I mean it, Dean. There has to be another way.” It wasn’t even so much that Sam was against Carl’s death, but he couldn’t handle the thought of Dean standing over the corpse with blood on his hands and not a trace of reaction in his eyes. Just a murder, no big deal. Letting Dean play executioner crossed a line Sam struggled to keep intact, a line that let him define the boundaries of their shared world with limits he could live with. If he started making exceptions, he would wake up one morning and not even recognize himself. He could see that future as clearly as he could see his own reflection. And if it happened, it would be for a greater cause than this.

Not for Carl.

“Then what?” Dean asked simply.

“I don’t know. But I’ll think of something that doesn’t involve possibly getting Bobby tangled up in a mysterious murder. He has to live here; we don’t. Speaking of which, how’s the repair work going?”

“How would Bobby be involved?”

“Jody knows Carl was over here causing problems. She knows you’re here, and she knows weird things happen around Bobby. You don’t think if he suddenly dies, or even just vanishes, that she’s not going to have some hard looks and questions?”

Dean shrugged. “Sounds like Bobby’s problem to me.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Like I said, I’ll think of something. Repair work?”

“It’s fine. I’ll be ready in the next day or so.”

“I’ll think fast then.”

“Of a solution that punishes Carl for killing Deborah May, puts her kids out of his reach, doesn’t endanger the questionable love-life of anyone we know, and doesn’t offend your delicate moral sensibilities? Can such a miracle be possible?” Dean asked, mocking tone grinding Sam’s nerves in a way that only Dean ever seemed able to manage.

“It seems to be the season for them,” Sam retorted. “Aren’t we about to have a resurrection out in the yard?”

Dean snorted and slid off the bed.

“You want to stay?” Sam asked hesitantly. “Just to sleep?”

Dean paused with the door half open, a faint outline against the deeper expanse of the hallway. Sam could feel his weighing look. “You don’t really want me to.”

“I don’t not want you to--”

“Chill, Sam. Don’t hurt yourself squirming. I’ve got work to do anyways.”

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