Also, the Oscar telecast seemed incredibly dull to me. Granted I only watched bits and pieces and I've seen like . . . zero of the films nominated, so that's probably why I was uninvested.
But. Fic! And I bet someone's already used this title, too, but if I've seen it, I've forgotten. Or blocked it.
Title: The Song Remains the Same
Author: SullenSiren (sullensiren(at)gmail(dot)com)
Characters: Sam, Dean
Summary: “Where else am I gonna go, Sammy?” Dean can’t quite let go.
Word Count: 2000
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Kripke’s driving the wagon, I’m just along for the ride.
Author's Notes: My first finished Supernatural fic. Thanks to tygress and she_belongs, for the letting me chatter at them about it while writing The section headings are the five stages of grieving. Title taken from the Zeppelin song of the same name. I couldn’t wrangle a beta, so mistakes are my own, and my apologies for them.
”My familiar ghost again
Stands or squats where suits him best;
Critic, son of Conscious Brain,
Listens, watches, takes no rest.”
-- Robert Graves, "Fairies and Fusiliers"
"I can't believe this is happening." Sam ran his hand over his face, feeling the solid familiarity of calluses on his palms as he slumped down to sit on the bed, bony elbows digging into his knees.
"Yeah well, what are you gonna do?" Dean asked flippantly, sprawling across the other bed, loose and unworried – the way he only was when he was scared and trying not to show it. Sam hated that he knew Dean so well, sometimes, because he knew that it meant Dean knew him even better.
"Something," Sam answered, putting a hard certainty he didn't feel in his voice. Beneath him the polyester was scratchy against his palm when he dropped his hand against it. The mattress bumping. His senses registered tactile sensation with a ferocity that seemed almost out of place, as if he was already trying to compensate for something he could never touch.
Dean didn't answer, but the look on his face called bullshit, and Sam wilted under it, head bowing.
Dean reached for the remote, watching impassively as his hand passed through it, into the cheap nightstand. Sam wondered what would happen if it hit a Gideon’s Bible. "Dude. Put on HBO."
Sam flipped the channels obediently. He forgot to turn up the sound, and Dean didn't notice, his eyes fixed on the TV with the steadiness of someone who wasn't seeing it. "Dean . . . you're dead."
The TV light didn't reflect off Dean's face, didn't paint shapes into his eyes. It wrapped around him, through him. Like he wasn't there. An odd lack of resonance, something vacant in a solid world. "I know."
"You can't be here. This isn't real. Why are you here? There's salt around the room." Mundane fact. Salt around the room, runes by the door. These facts Sam knew. Understood. Relied on. He reached across the space between the bed and his fingers passed through Dean's arm. The space where Dean was and wasn’t felt cold, an absence of warmth or life. Sam didn’t know anything about this. Not when it was Dean. “Why are you here?”
Dean looked at him, and Sam couldn’t find his own face in his eyes. Couldn’t verify himself in the reflection Dean gave him. He just saw eyes that didn’t catch the light and shine. "Where else am I gonna go, Sammy?"
Three weeks later, Sam still rented rooms with two beds, and Dean sometimes dropped through his during the nights, when he forgot to watch the TV. Sam would wake, and Dean would be gone, and Sam would hurt, because Dean didn't believe in heaven, so if he wasn't here, where did that leave him to go? But then Dean would emerge from cheap mattresses and shaky frames, and Sam would hurt because he was still there. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Story of their lives.
He didn't work any cases, though Dean bitched. He kept moving partly because staying still seemed like a betrayal of the family he'd outlived, and partly because sometimes he thought he could outrun his demons, if not his ghosts.
Dean didn't talk about it. When Sam brought it up, Dean would grin, change the subject, insist he switch the channel. Sam kept trying, but he didn't know what he wanted to hear. Dean knew the same rules Sam did. Had seen the truth behind the same unexplained phenomena Sam had. He didn't have any magic explanation that made sense of this.
Sam asked once, late at night, when neither was sleeping (because Dean didn't sleep, now, just stared through the screen of the always-on TV), if Dean thought he had to stay to protect him. Dean had laughed, short and brittle, nails on a chalkboard. "What can I save you from now, Sammy?"
Myself, Sam thought, but he didn't say it, and he burned with the need to say that he didn't need Dean. As if the admission would call in the white lights and set Dean free to ascend.
He couldn't say it. Even Sam wasn't that good a liar. And even if he was, he didn’t think he was the one that tied Dean here.
So they passed the time with movement and silence hidden behind white noise. Dean sat in the passenger seat of a car Sam would never love as well as Dean had, and each day Sam stretched a little thinner, and Dean bulked a little smaller in his eyes, though he knew it was just perceptions playing tricks on him.
"Dude. What are you doing? Bare tits, Sammy. You don't flip past bare tits!" Dean complained once too often, somewhere in Kansas, voice threading through the thoughts that spun on repeat through Sam's too-tired mind. (Because it felt like a lie to sleep when Dean never could.)
Sam hadn't even been watching, and he sat up, flinging the remote at his brother's ghost, watching it launch through the worn tee shirt he didn't really wear. (It was still wadded in the bags Sam couldn't imagine getting rid of, yet.) "You don't even have a dick, Dean! What good are tits going to do you? You can't jerk off. Can't touch. You're not even here! You're not ANYTHING."
Dean stood, and if Sam looked hard enough, he thought he could see the pattern of the tacky wallpaper through his throat, where a pulse still pretended to beat beneath a clenched jaw. "You think I wanted this, Sam? I'm on the bench. A freaking spectator. And you've still got a bat, but you're not swinging. You’re not-"
"My brother died, Dean! He died, and he's still HERE, watching TV and bitching about the radio. You're not here, but you won't leave, and what the hell am I supposed to do with that?"
"Get used to it. You've been around enough ghosts, Egon. You should be used to it." Dean turned then, walking through the door. Sam hated when he did that. Hated the reminder of what he was.
He'd seen a thousand ghosts. He'd vanquished them, hunted them, researched them.
He'd never loved one.
They were in Oregon when Dean learned how to touch. Brief bursts of energy that left him falling through beds and floors afterward. He didn't use it much. Sam thought he was afraid that if he did, he'd just fade away. Or maybe that's what Sam was afraid of.
So it startled him when his computer suddenly slammed shut, nearly taking off the tips of his fingers. "What the HELL, Dean? Just watch whatever's ON!" Sam complained, waving his fingers and glaring, though he'd snatched them away before any damage was done.
Dean was glaring back, arms folded over his chest now, grinding teeth he didn't have. (Sam had asked him if he could feel himself, his teeth, his tongue, his own hand resting on his thigh. "When I think about it, I can't," Dean had said. Sam thought he never felt. He just remembered having once felt something.) "Stop it."
Sam widened his eyes, let his bangs flop over his forehead, looked innocent. "What?"
"Sam," Dean growled.
Sam looked away. "There's ways . . . rituals. Medicine men. There's a million legends about it, Dean. We don't know that it isn't true. I could-"
"I know that nothing comes for free. You remember that, Sam? Tried it twice. Gonna find another faith healer with a murdering bitch for a wife? Or how about making deals with devils? Bring me back while you die.” Dean’s voice was sharp, flaying through Sam’s skin.
Sam cringed inwardly, but outwardly he just met Dean’s angry, flat gaze. “I would. To bring you back.”
Dean flinched. “I’d hate you for it.”
“I’d want to.”
Stalemate. “Dean . . .”
“Sammy. Please. Don’t. Let me go.” Dean’s voice cracked, a line in a dam that’s barely holding back the flood.
Sam didn’t know how to let go of someone who wouldn’t let go of you, but he nodded. Set the computer aside.
It rained for two weeks straight, and Sam stayed in one place, daring fate. He waited for footsteps at his door and yellow eyes to take down the last Winchester. They never came. It wasn’t until a week in that Sam began to wonder if maybe he wasn’t hoping for it.
He hated the idea that maybe this - him, alone, unprotected and adrift - had always been the plan.
Although he didn’t think any plan could take into account just how stubborn Dean was.
Dean never went far. Sam wasn’t even sure if he could. He drifted through doors, in and out of rooms. Some people saw him, most didn’t. Kids could see him a lot of the time. Dean would wait until their parents weren’t there, and then drift into the rooms of the braver ones, talking for the sake of having someone listen who wasn’t Sam.
One time, a little girl with uneven pigtails and no front teeth knocked at his door. Sam looked down at her, saw dusky skin and green eyes and thought of Cassie, Dean, and a million futures that never would have happened anyway, but never could happen now, and how that made all the difference. “He wishes you weren’t so sad,” she told him, voice small but fierce.
Sam smiled, said goodbye, closed the door, (because the last thing he needed on top of a dead brother haunting him was some mother screaming pervert at him for having her kid in his room) and fell apart. He dropped onto the bed and realized that he’d never been this tired. Something cold touched his face, all pressure without touch, nothing tactile to press into, and he opened his eyes to look into Dean’s face.
Broad fingers spanned his jaw, but he couldn’t feel them anymore, and Sam bit his lip just to feel the pain of it. “I miss you,” he breathed, and he felt the rawness of it like a wound that wouldn’t heal. A sharp ache that pulled with every movement, every thought, every wince.
“I’m right here, Sammy,” Dean answered.
Sam thought of Dean’s voice, his hand in his hair after childhood nightmares he’d never quite outgrown, of the echo of his laugh. He thought of warmth and family, familiarity and belonging, and how he’d always known he had someone to go back to, if he wanted it. “No. You’re not.”
Dean pulled his hand away, but it made no difference, save for some slight chill leaving Sam’s jaw. He sank onto the other bed and Sam turned up the volume to drown out what neither could think to say.
He thought of the car full of guns. Of hunting and being just a little too slow. Of the sleeping pills and pain meds they had stockpiled. He thought of lying down and not getting up again. Of finding out if he could believe enough to take them both somewhere without fire, or demons, or empty spaces where brothers used to be.
“Miles to go, Sammy,” Dean said, as if he knew.
If Sam wasn’t so tired, he’d say something about the poetry. Instead he closed his eyes and listened to Oprah.
He found the newspaper open on the desk of the tiny room, folds creases uneven and rushed - Dean can’t make the touch last long enough for niceties. A girl in Texas, slaughtered. Traces of sulfur. Matching murders every eleven days. Dean didn’t say anything, and Sam didn’t ask. He just started to research.
He packed the car, quietly. Efficient. He ransacked Dean’s bags, taking the clothes that would fit - ignoring Dean as he sat on the hood, bitching about how Sam folded like a girl. The rest he dropped in a good will box by the roadside diner he got coffee in. Dean read the paper over his shoulder and gave dirty answers to the crossword, just to be a dick. Sam caught himself smiling and it felt strange, like his face had forgotten how.
The Impala swallowed the blacktop as they drove west. Sam alternated the ipod he bought with Dean’s mix-tapes enough to that Dean didn’t complain - much.
He stopped in a tiny rest stop somewhere along a highway he’d forgotten the name of, but remembered which exit has the Denny’s with the twins working there that Dean brought back to their room, last year. (He’d had to sleep in the car.) He rested his eyes and let the music lull him into forgetting that Dean was and wasn’t there, for a moment. When he remembered he asked. “Is this how it’s gonna be? Sam Winchester and his ghostly sidekick?”
“Screw you, bitch. You’re still the sidekick,” Dean answered, mouth quirked in a smug smile. It didn’t reach his eyes, but nothing seemed to, now. After a moment he shrugged. “Guess so. Think you can live with that?”
“I’ll get by,” Sam answered, echoing the shrug with shoulders that felt smaller when they didn’t have to share the space with Dean’s. Hunting place to place with an echo of his brother. Sam said he could handle it.
Beside him he could see through Dean’s stomach to the door handle, and wondered if he’d always been that transparent or if it’s getting worse. Dean said he’s staying.
Sam wondered which one of them was the liar.