Supernatural, Dean/Carmen, Sam, spoilers through "What Is and What Should Never Be". Not mine, never will be. Damn.
The sting of the salt and heat of the burn. When you’re haunted inside your own head, is there any way to set the spirit free? For ink_stain, by way of spn_summerlove.
She’s been following him since Joliet.
He’s kept a heavy foot on the gas pedal, pushing the needle as far as he dares, just trying to get the hell out of Illinois. But the billboard pops up every few miles, like a tail he can’t shake. Every other marker, every county line. He’d spotted the first just outside New Lenox, caught in the glare of his high beams, the brightest thing going at four in the morning – his eyes had flicked to the clock just to see something else, and his brain had burned the numbers to memory. Last look. 4:13.
After his little trip to Oz, he should know better than to trust his brain.
Time keeps on slipping, the hits keep on coming. And he can’t not look, not when her smile is suspended in thin air and her eyes are as big as the massive head to his right.
Sam caught him staring halfway through Calumet City, after the horse trailer on the two-lane ahead of them had hit the brakes and they’d kept right on sailing. He’d laid down rubber at the bark of his name, marking the spot with streaks of black breadcrumbs, and Sam had griped through the next two sightings. You can barely drive as it is, he’d grumbled with full-on bitchface, probably pissy that Dean was driving in the first place. Do we really need to add alcohol to the mix?
“The sun,” he’s mumbling now, as they approach another. Dean had stopped counting at eight, two towns and half a tank ago.
His stomach kills, tied in knots and getting tighter by the minute, and already he's on the hunt for a rest stop. He should've let Sam drive after all.
He swipes a hand down his face, rubs at his neck until the backs of his fingers tingle. The inside of one elbow still burns beneath its bandage. “What?”
“El sol,” Sam says, a little wearily, as if Dean had asked in the first place and is too slow to remember. “It’s Spanish for ‘the sun’.”
And isn’t that just fucking perfect?
Leaning forward, Sam squints through the early-morning glare on the windshield. “Interesting name for a beer.”
Something in his voice is a question, but it’s easy to brush off – Sam finds just about everything interesting, and he can't quite bring himself to care when there's a burning hole in his gut and they’ve damn near got a toe on the state line. Not when it's this particular instance of 'interesting'.
Snorting, Dean looks up again, to a secret smile and eyes full of light. “Yeah,” he mutters, milking the gas just a little more, “you’d think so.”
daybreak : somewhere a queen is weeping
He wakes to the smell of bacon.
Not the nostril-singeing burn of a dozen greasy spoons – crap is always more carbon and leather than meat by the time it hits the table – but honest-to-god maple and hickory bacon, warm and wafting and waiting.
She doesn’t seem to hear him get out of bed, even with the spring that creaks on his side, doesn’t notice that he’s padded across the hardwood to lean in the doorjamb and watch her with crossed arms and ankles and general amusement.
He moves into the open kitchen until he’s close enough to touch her without reaching, until she finally spins and takes notice, with a gasp and a minor collision, dropping the spatula she’s been twirling like a baton. He might’ve caught it, once upon a time, but his reflexes aren’t quite what they could’ve been, and he’s too preoccupied to try – more than a little hypnotized by her messy ponytail and his grease-stained work shirt, rolled to her elbows and buttoned between her breasts.
It’d be just enough to hold on for anybody else, but he’s a ‘glass half-full and girl half-naked’ kind of guy, and a single button just means it won’t take much to get her out of it.
“Hey, sleepyhead.” She beams up at him, rises on her toes to kiss through her surprise and his morning breath, and she’s warm and soft as he falls into her, tangy and sweet on his tongue. She tastes like orange juice and pancake batter.
She pulls away too soon, turning back to the stove before he’s even registered his empty arms. “Hungry?” It’s only half a question, really – he always is, and she already knows.
The plate she shoves into his hands is piled high – the pancakes are golden brown and syrup-free (the better to stuff with meat), the eggs are hard-scrambled (no cheese, easy on the pepper), and the bacon… There’s a heaping mound of it, thick-sliced and crisp enough to crumble. And he’s looking from her to the spread and back with adoration and an open mouth, trying to decide whether to stuff his face or kiss her again.
“Eat,” she decides for him, with laughing eyes and a wave toward the couch, “before it gets cold.”
He drops to the cushions and plants the plate in his lap, rolling a jumble of bacon and egg mash into a pancake – it’s an old habit, and he still isn’t sure why, but he couldn’t care less at the moment, not when it’s heaven and bliss in breakfast form.
“Ugh.” He moans around a mouthful, rolling his eyes in exaggerated appreciation just because she’s watching. “Babe. Luckiest man alive.”
When she cocks an eyebrow in answer, he’s already assembling his second. “It’s a bribe,” she says dryly. “I have ulterior motives.”
“This an ‘indecent proposal’ kind of bribe? Because I am not above selling myself for food.” His mouth couldn’t be any fuller, and it’s a wonder she can understand him at all.
“Don’t I know it.” Her head shakes, but it’s sweet and affectionate and cute as all hell, so he lets it slide. “And for your information, I’m saving all the bribery brownie points. Like… frequent flyer miles.”
“Ever want a first class ride, you know where to find me.”
His eyebrows rise and fall and his lips quirk at the corners. The shtick isn’t new, and might be more effective without protruding cheeks full of pancake, but it’s gotten a laugh – she winks and bends, gravity pushing deep, throaty chuckles from her lungs as she scoops the spatula between her fingertips and turns to the sink and the dishes – and that’s what he was going for.
For now, at least.
“You gonna eat?” The water’s running through the clink of bowls and utensils, and her hair bobs and bounces as she moves. “Carmen?”
She puts her chin to her shoulder but doesn’t look back, the sliver of her lips curving into sadness. All of the sudden he’s forgotten how to swallow.
The rush breaks free, spilling over the edge to slap the tile and submerge her bare feet. Beside her, the glow of numbers on the stove is a sickly green blur. 7:43.
“Maybe tomorrow,” she answers. Her voice is a hope and a prayer, but there’s nothing but dread in his chest, and he’s already in motion.
He blinks and she’s gone, the flood filling her footprints as the bacon turns to ash on his tongue.
( whispers )
Sam elbows him awake when they stop at a roadside diner on the outskirts of Merrillville, then pockets the keys like they’re his, and only the sharp stab of pain behind Dean’s eyes stands between his brother and a beat down. He drags himself out of the car instead, with a groan and a grimace that belong to a hangover he doesn’t have.
Everything inside could've been ripped from any other Mom and Pop place; torn booths and worn tabletops, faded menus and faceless waitresses who wear name tags as though it matters. He’s always strung them together before, between dirt roads and dots on a map, shady bars and shabby motel rooms, all fuzzy-familiar, blurring at the edges until they fit together like home when he has none. But his last decent meal was at his mother’s table – served with her hands and tasting of her love, even in his head – and for once this all looks as foreign as it should.
A hand flips his cup on its saucer before he can ask, fills it too full, and he gulps half of it down black before Sam’s cracked a menu.
He reaches for sugar to cut the bitterness as a cloudy coffee pot hits the table – turns out the hand’s attached to a body that lingers, with thick ankles poured into scuffed tennis shoes and tired eyes that are immune to even Sam’s smile. She works a wad of gum, pulls a pad from a speckled apron and a pencil free of her hair, knocking her battered badge askew. Doris.
“You boys ready?”
Her voice is grittier than the muck in his mug. The sugar’s still flowing – coffee’s not coffee until the spoon stands up on its own – so Dean’s got nothing better to do than snort and wonder when they’d stumbled into a bad buddy movie.
“I’ll have the, uh… pancake platter,” Sam hedges, like the choices are anything new. “Eggs over easy, all bacon, and hash browns.” He tries the smile again, but Doris is already turning away. Boy never did learn.
His own menu is still folded on the table, and just looking at it makes his stomach turn over like a bad engine. “Toast’s good for me.”
He damn near chokes on his coffee, and chuckles through the burn. John Winchester had been good at a lot of things, but the ability to make the single syllable of his name sound like anything but – duty, disappointment, disapproval – had been a rare gift. One he’d obviously passed down. Hell of a legacy.
Sam’s syllable is warning. A plea. Doris, he notes, hasn’t even written down his order.
“What he’s having,” he grunts – on this one, it’s easier to fold than bluff, “but scrambled and grits.” She scrawls for a second and tucks her pad away, reaching toward the table, and he holds a hand out. “You can leave the pot.”
“Only one I got, honey.” She scoops it up, cracks her gum between her teeth, and has sense enough to top him off before shuffling off.
“You know,” Sam starts, and Dean drops his chin to his chest – at least Dad had let up when a loaded bark got the message across. Sam piles it on and says the words anyway. “When the doctor said ‘rest, recoup and refuel’, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean ‘exist entirely on carbs and caffeine.’”
‘It works for cops’ isn’t even plausible in his head.
He swallows another shot of sludge, shuffling sweetener packets between his fingers like cards and counting down to a statement of the obvious. The last stop on Sam’s concern-o-meter.
“You need to eat, Dean.” Six seconds flat.
What he really needs, he suspects, is a fucking exorcist. And maybe another pint of blood.
“Guess it’s good I ordered food, then.” Pink and blue packets spin and scatter as he tosses them aside to slap his hands flat on the tabletop. “So where we headed?”
Sam’s face is cautious, then carefully blank. “Nowhere in particular,” he lies. Badly.
“I think Bobby’d say otherwise.” Dean lets one eyebrow reach for his hairline. “Unless he called for girl talk… which, let’s face it, isn’t much of a stretch for you.”
The blank turns sour with a scoff and a shake of his head. “Franklin, Tennessee,” Sam sighs – tight-lipped and under-whelmed, like Dean’s pulling teeth. “About twenty miles south of Nashville.”
“And what’s in Franklin?”
“Alan Hayes.” The name sounds like defeat. “A ten-year-old boy who allegedly barricaded his parents in their bedroom and stabbed his six-year-old sister with a straight razor.”
Allegedly. Times like this, he wonders if his brother will ever stop thinking like the lawyer he should’ve been. “Close shave,” he mutters. “What do we know?”
Sam leans forward to prop his elbows on the table, ticking off the facts on long fingers. “He’s got a history of night terrors, chronic seizures, some strange occurrences they’ve blamed on sleepwalking…” His hands spread wide, as if they already hold the answers. “The parents have all but had him committed. The little girl swears it was his invisible friend.”
Dean rolls the cooling coffee cup between his palms, nodding. “Poltergeist?”
“That’s the theory. They’re in a relatively new housing development. There’s nothing like this in his medical history that pre-dates the move; it’s all recent. The sleepwalking episodes are textbook – odd noises, shifted objects, doors locked from the inside. And as far as I can tell, the ‘seizures’ sound more like ball lightening.”
Sam leans a little closer, shoulders bunching around his ears, and his eyes seem to be searching for something in particular. “Dean, if you’re not… we don’t have to do this.”
‘Not what?’ nearly leaves his lips, but it’s more pride than curiosity. He twists them into a tight line instead, and it’s half smile, half sneer – his whole life is ‘have to’. “Sure,” he says, clipped and flat. “Hell, I could use a vacation. We’ll just sit this one out and let this kid and his wet sheets go into the light.”
“Bobby could always put someone else on it.” There’s reason in there somewhere; he can almost see Sam trying to conjure it from thin air, shove it down his throat ‘til it sticks. “The Roadhouse –”
“Bobby called us, Sam.” It hangs there for a second, heavy. He and reason don’t much get along.
Doris picks this moment to slide steaming plates in front of them, through the tension and on top of the strain, prompting a scowl and another wasted smile. The former, he’s sure, doesn’t go unnoticed – she’s come with food but without coffee, and she mumbles something about a refill before she’s gone again.
Green eyes are still boring holes in his skull, and he lets his dig right back, unearth the words Sam wants to hear. He never did bury them too deep.
“Work does a body good, Sammy.” He polishes off his lukewarm coffee with a wince and a shrug. Maybe it’ll do his mind some good, too. “It’ll be in and out – little shake and bake behind the drywall and we’re golden. Unless it’s you who needs the break. I’m not the one who got strung up by a household appliance last go ‘round.”
“Funny.” It’s dry, but there’s relief underneath, release, hidden as badly as his brother tucks away everything else. All at once, Dean’s grateful for the job – soul-sick and bone-weary as he is, Sam needs an ass to save that isn’t his.
Coffee makes a welcome reappearance, and he laces it all over again and pretends the sight of Sam sawing his fork into runny eggs isn’t making his stomach lurch.
“If we drive straight through we can make Tennessee by tonight.” Sam pauses to inhale another forkful, nodding to a spot over Dean’s shoulder that makes him turn – there’s a clock above the counter, caged and missing half its second hand. 7:43.
Which has to be coincidence, because life just isn’t that fucked up. Even his.
“Yeah.” His fingers rub circles over bleary eyes, and his back slides down the vinyl. “Sounds good.”
“You sure?” The fork has frozen in midair, sending a chunk of syrup-slick egg white sliding back to the plate. Sam doesn’t seem to notice. “Because we can stop. Grab a room for a few hours.”
“No,” he counters, picking at the closest thing on his plate. Sleep is the last thing he wants right now. “Let’s get it done and get the hell out of dodge.”
He shoves the strip of meat into his mouth, chews once, and stops.
“I’ll be damned.”
Sam’s eyebrows slam together, above curious eyes and one inflated cheek. “What?”
Swallowing takes some effort, since he can’t decide whether to chuckle or choke. “It’s bacon.”
“Yeah.” It’s a feeler – too slow, too careful. Curiosity’s morphed into confusion, which means concern isn’t too far behind. “That’s… what you ordered.”
“There a problem with your meal?” Doris drops the check facedown on the table just as he wrenches around again, blocking his view and slashing her tip. It’s getting dangerously close to single digits.
“Everything’s great,” Sam says, sharp and searching. Boy’s answered her and questioned him in one fell swoop.
He jerks unfocused eyes in Doris’ general direction. “Huh?”
“Clock’s busted,” she repeats, hooking a thumb backward, eyes following suit. “Damn thing hasn’t worked in years.” A glance at her frayed watch has her cocking her head. “Well. Still right twice a day, I suppose.”
She pats the check with stubby fingers, and her gum pops like gunfire.
“Head on up to the register when you’re done.” She moves away, and suddenly he’s got a clear look that he doesn’t want.
“What’s going on, man? You okay?” Concern was wishful thinking – his brother’s voice has hit full-on alarm. “Dean.”
This time, it’s fear. He lingers a second too long, blinks, and turns away.
“I’ll let you know.”
high noon : broken pieces of yesterday’s life
He wakes to the sound of music.
The hills aren’t quite alive – the tune’s muffled and muted, like everything else in the room. The door’s closed and the shades are pulled tight – first rule of a day off is a mandatory late start. Daylight seeps through the cracks, streaking the sheets and striping his skin with jagged slivers of light. He doesn’t know how long he slept, but his aches are rested away and it’s too bright behind the west-facing windows to still be morning.
He rolls to the edge, rocks to his feet, hands fumbling for yesterday’s jeans and the pocket that holds his cell. The glow of the screen is only in focus if he squints. 12:02.
Light floods in as soon as he tugs the doorknob. She’s curled cross-legged on the couch, cradling the guitar in her lap and finger-picking something he hasn’t heard before, with closed eyes and hair shoved behind her ears. He’s emerged between verses, but her voice seems to hang in the air – the little twang that isn’t hers, the honey-smooth tone that’s like nothing else. She’s a torch singer wading in bluegrass.
He can't quite get behind the country, but the voice is a thing of beauty. And sometimes, when he's been a good boy, she takes requests.
“Should I break out the Zippo?”
She smiles as he crosses the room and perches on the edge of the coffee table, knees spread wide so he’s as close as he can get, and her eyes are still closed when he leans in to meet her mouth. It's soft and sun-warm, lazy - he takes his time, and she hums her contentment on key.
“I don’t think ‘Free Bird’ is on the set list today,” she whispers. They haven’t broken away, and her lips skim his with every word; somehow it’s the last thing he wants to hear right now, and he hopes she can’t taste the relief.
She presses in again, ends it with a swipe of her tongue and an exaggerated smack before she pulls away. “But if you play nice I might change my mind.”
“I play nice,” he counters, managing to inject some indignation with a straight face. “I just don’t play fair. Always works out nicely for me.” Palming her knees, he nods to the instrument. “Something new?”
Her hair breaks free with a shake of her head, a flow of molten copper in the sunlight. “Just the arrangement.” She’s plucking at the strings again, fingers playing the frets like piano keys. “The bridge wasn’t working, and I need this one for the showcase.”
One eyebrow tries to make a break for it, but he reigns it in – they’ve had this conversation. She’d quickly caught on that ‘why are you still in Lawrence?’ really meant ‘why are you still with me?’, and he’d learned even faster to stop asking.
He sits back instead, tries to reconcile happiness with a middle-of-nowhere music scene and a going-nowhere mechanic. Not to mention an ER graveyard shift. The American Dream.
Then again, this is his Latin-borne, Yankee-bred girlfriend doing her best Patsy Cline, so maybe nothing’s meant to add up.
“Yeah,” he half-coughs, “I’m supposed to remember when that is, right?”
Her expression aims for exasperation and only hits wry amusement. “Oh I don’t know, I’ve only mentioned it one or two… dozen times.” She peers at him, head craned forward and cocked to one side, and her hair spills over her shoulders. “This Friday… eight-ish…”
His fingers snap once, twice, again. “Right, right, right. And you’re headlining ‘cause everybody else sucks. As luck may have it, I am available that night.”
She’s quick, and he barely ducks the pillow she swings like a right hook. “Ass.” It’s a hiss through buoyant laughter. “You didn’t forget.”
“Never said I did. This is where that whole ‘not playing fair’ thing comes in handy.” Rising, he bends to drop a kiss on the crown of her head, and she pulls the acoustic close again. “Friday. Jerry’s. Your name in lights above the gas station. Wouldn’t miss it. Gotta get my flicking finger ready.”
“Keep it in your pants, Mr. Bic.” She frowns down at the ribbons of steel beneath her fingertips, drawing her brows together. “I don’t think there’s billing involved.”
“Too bad. I was looking forward to that.” He moves into the kitchen, fishes the coffee can out of the cabinet above the sink as she scoffs.
“Any excuse to be a pyro.”
“Damn straight,” he answers absently, hunting through the drainer for the scoop. “I meant the marquee. ‘Open-mic extravaganza, featuring Carmen Porter, Mike the emergency vet, and the tone-deaf twins from Barton County.’ Little long, but at least you know what you’re in for.”
Behind him, she strums without a chord, and it ricochets through the dreadnought to bounce melancholy off the walls and into his skull.
"One of these days, you’ll get it right," she croons, no twang at all. It's fire and ice in his ears.
He spins back to her, the coffee slipping from his hands to scatter across the floor like topsoil, but there's nothing left but the echo.
( cries )
Sam swears they’ve stopped in Greenwood to grab gas and a wireless signal. Dean’s pretty sure it’s got something to do with their last unplanned pit stop – he’d jerked awake a few miles back, groaning for Sam to pull over so he could heave his breakfast on the shoulder like roadkill – but he gets points for trying.
He’d left Sam at a coffeehouse near the end of the main drag and gone to refuel on his own, happy to be behind the wheel again, awake and alert or else. His brother had lasted longer than expected – Dean had been gone ten whole minutes before he called to check in.
The billboard had hung high above the first station, costing him three blocks and four cents a gallon. He can’t say he regrets it. Not like the card is his, anyway.
He’s backtracking now, coasting down the tree-lined street, the wheel solid and familiar in his hands. There’s no room to squeeze into a spot across from the café, and he rounds the corner and idles at the curb, in front of a fire hydrant and a faded storefront.
Random objects are stacked beneath its awning, behind a dusty window and cracked gold leaf. Bootsy’s Resale.
He gets out because he’s got nothing better to do. He’s got to wait for Research Boy anyway, and if he can kill some time – and maybe get some cash for the Kodiak they never use – it means he won’t be dozing off in the car.
Chimes announce his arrival. Not from the door, but from dozens of clocks that fill the walls, ringing in so many keys and patterns that they all bleed together into symphonic madness.
A deep chuckle starts as the throng dies out. “They do make an impression, don’t they?”
The laugh and the words belong to a grizzly in green flannel – taller than Sam, broader than both of them, with patches of gray at his temples and stray strands of silver threading his beard. The man’s tone is warm, welcoming, though he hovers near a girl half his size, plants himself between her and the display counter that separates them all. Probably for easy access to his stashed sawed-off.
“What can we do for you today?”
“Just passing through town. Road trip.” He hooks a thumb toward the Impala – with guys like this, it never hurts to have a little all-American muscle in your corner. “Thought I’d come in and take a look.”
There’s an answering smile, a flash of acceptance in a wide show of teeth. The car never fails him.
“Well feel free. I need to step out for a few, but I’m just headed down the street.” The guy’s speaking to the young woman beside him, but the words are for Dean’s ears, and he raises his hands a little, nods to show that he gets the message.
“Turkey on wheat?”
The girl’s brown head bobs. She’s young – maybe twenty, by the skin of her teeth – wiry, with solemn eyes that seem to swallow her face. “No mayo.”
“Got it.” The man pats a big hand on her arm, and it’s awkward – the rest of him looks poised to lean down and kiss her cheek. “I’ll be back in a flash.”
He steps around the counter and is striding past Dean when the straggler sounds, a log-cabin cuckoo with a woodpecker rushing through hinged doors. Instantly, his eyes stray to the next one in line. 12:02.
“He’s a bit of a late riser,” the man says affably. The breeze as he passes is cool, and he’s long gone when the pendulum stops.
Dean moves quickly through the small shop, unsure of what he’s looking for until he finds it, but it doesn’t take long – it’s propped against the back wall, between two others, and he can see the long nick below the pick guard from across the room.
His fingers skim the neck, tracing the octagonal shapes of inlaid pearl, lingering on the brushed chrome of the heads. There’s no price tag. It doesn’t matter.
He brings it with him to the long expanse of glass, tries to pretend it isn’t shaking in his hands. With them.
This part, he can do in his sleep.
The grin he unleashes has a slow build but one hell of a punch line. “Your dad?” The kid looks stunned, as if she can’t decide whether to nod or blink – she’s younger than he thought, and in the end she does both. He’ll have to remember to kick himself later. “He doesn’t look much like a Bootsy.”
“He’s a Nate.” It cracks under the weight of all that disbelief, and she clears her throat, looking sheepish. “Bootsy was his childhood cat.”
“That’s quite a legacy. And you’re a...?”
He’s been expecting her blush, counting on it. Crimson floods her face, deep and furious, but she doesn’t try to hide it.
Damn. This would go much smoother if he didn’t like her.
“I’m a Casey.”
“Pretty,” he drawls, makes it thoughtful. Let her decide what it means. “So Casey, here’s the thing…” He leans the guitar low, keeping it out of sight for now, and pulls the sheathed blade from his back pocket.
For a second there’s fear in her owl eyes, and he turns up the wattage to distract her from his own damn stupidity. “This was a gift from my ex –” He pauses for effect, presses his lips tight and lets his eyes drop to the countertop. When they snap back, he’s got her complete attention.
“You know the drill. Painful reminder and all that. I just need somebody to take it off my hands.” He’d unsheathe the thing, but he’s pretty sure the sight of it would have an adverse affect. “The handle’s bone and the blade’s carved; it’s worth about two hundred bucks. Any chance you’re interested?”
Casey’s definitely interested, but it’s a rush job – her father the lumberjack will be back any minute, and she knows it. “Um,” she stammers, twirling tiny fingers together, “I can’t really… I mean, I’m not supposed to, you know… actually buy anything.”
“Well that sucks.” It takes everything he’s got to plaster on disappointment when he wants to keep smiling. He chews the inside of his mouth to resist the urge. “But… you can deal, right?”
She’s barely opened her mouth when he hoists the acoustic onto the counter in front of her. “This caught my eye back there. Scratched, but it’s a decent piece. Maybe we can work something out.” The hope in his voice sounds false – for all his practice, he’s fraying at the edges. She doesn’t seem to notice.
“I don’t know,” she murmurs, and it means ‘I want to.’ She bites at her lower lip. “It wasn’t marked?”
“Nope.” That’s red flag number one. And if he were anyone else, he’d point it out to her.
Number two is falling for this little routine, but he can’t exactly tell her that, either.
He’s out the door in less than a minute, with full hands and an empty wallet. He sets the case down long enough to push a few buttons and tell Sam to move his ass, then pops the trunk open and starts shoving at their bags, trying to make room.
He wants to get the clamshell stowed away before his brother’s out of the coffee shop and her father’s within firing range, but it’s too wide to wedge it below the false bottom – the ammo tray’s got a hell of an overhang and the butt of the Remington’s in the way. Besides, God just doesn’t like him that much.
Nate’s barely back, pausing at the door with a brown paper bag and a curious wave, when the shadow falls over his face.
“What is that?”
“What is what?” he grunts, giving up. It’s left splayed across his duffel when he slams the trunk shut, and he dusts off his hands. “Find anything we can use?”
“There was another incident this morning – the Hayes’ dog was strangled to death with the garden hose. Which can’t exactly be blamed on Alan, since he’s sedated in the local children’s psych ward.” The words all run together, rushed and one-note. Usually Sam-speak for distraction. But he’s unleashed the eyebrows, and Dean isn’t sure, between them and the bitchface, which is worse.
Not that either one is all that effective, but at least the latter comes minus the angry caterpillars on parade.
“Is that seriously a guitar?”
“Could we have this conversation in motion?” He rounds to the driver’s side, and Sam’s already there when he drops into the seat, pulling his own door closed and looking vaguely confounded.
“You bought a guitar, Dean?”
The car starts with a low rumble, and he can’t throw it in gear fast enough. Nate is a shrinking dot in the rearview, pacing in the street with his hands on his head – he’d obviously discovered that his little girl had parted with a two thousand dollar instrument for sixty-two bucks and a hunting knife.
Poor kid. Maybe there’s a reason folks don’t trust guys like him with their daughters.
“You can’t even play the guitar.”
“I beg to differ.” He can play exactly six bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Slowly. “This is not just a guitar, Sam. This is a Martin J-40. In black. It’s like… the guitar grail.”
“Really.” Sam’s been nodding along, trying to find the right beat for interjection. “How much does a grail go for these days?”
“It was a steal.” He shrugs, but his brother is not appeased. He’ll be hustling that cash back soon. “Come on, Sammy. How many years worth of wet dreams have you had over that laptop? I’m overdue for something spank-worthy.”
“I thought that’s what the car was for,” Sam grumbles, shifting in his seat. “So, what, the guitar belonged to Hendrix or something?”
Dean curls his lip, appalled. “Dude, Hendrix played a ’68 Strat,” he bites flatly. “Were you raised by wolves?”
“Depends on who you ask.” Sam’s head drops to the back of the seat, still shaking, and his eyes slip closed.
They head for the highway, drive in silence through two towns and a shitload of corn. The Martin looms large in the darkness of the trunk, and he wonders how it will feel under his fingers, if it’ll sound the same for him. He wonders if he’ll ever play the damn thing at all.
For a second, he wonders if he’ll ever see her burning.
He wants the banter back – getting lost in his thoughts isn’t something he really wants to do right now.
“Hey. Sam.” He nudges hard with an elbow – a quick bullseye to the ribs – and watches him jolt. “You weren’t sleep, were you?” Sam glowers across the cabin, the alarm in his eyes fading to annoyance. It doubles with Dean’s smirk. “Nah, I didn’t think so.”
Dean stretches for more material, fumbles.
“So listen,” he mutters, smirk wiped away as his eyes squint against the midday sun. “When you have one of your freaky fever dreams, what’s it like?”
“Like?” The word is sleep-laden, groggy and full of grit.
“Yeah. What’s it feel like?”
“Oh, we’re off my wet dreams now?” Sam grouses. He drags a big hand down his face, easing his back from the seat. “It’s, uh… jumbled, I guess. Jarring. It feels like chaos. That’s the only way I can explain it.” He’s awake now, his sudden focus burning a hole in Dean’s temple. “Why?”
“Just curious. You were drooling on the leather, so I thought it might be a vision.”
Not even a glare for his trouble. Sam’s expression is all patience and pity. “Dean… it was the Djinn.”
There’s a comeback in there somewhere, but it’s out of his reach now, eclipsed by the question burning bright in his brain – ‘but what if the damn Djinn isn’t done?’ The one question he can’t ask. Not Sam, who already has more worries than he knows what to do with.
He nods tightly, once, glancing out his window so probing eyes can’t catch the grave planes of his face. “What about the girl?”
Okay, so there might be two questions.
“You brought her in from the glimpses of reality you had. From the moments you were lucid.” Despite the shop talk, it sounds like Sam’s speaking to a small, slow child. Relief makes him let it go, the graze of a bullet barely dodged. “It’s not like you magically conjured her with your brain.”
He forces himself to chuckle, and it’s an empty rattle in his chest.
“We saved that girl, Dean. You heard the doctors. She lost a lot of blood, but she’s gonna make a full recovery.”
His ghost girl had still been out when they’d split, but her mother had sobbed her gratitude. Her father was just as dead as Dean had suspected.
Sam isn’t wrong – she’ll be just fine.
She just isn’t the girl he’d meant.
twilight : shine an emptiness down on my bed
He wakes to the feel of her mouth.
She lets her lips skim his shoulder blade, linger, but they’re gone when he pries his eyes open. The rush of water fills his ears, and a lilting hum rides the current, random words breaking like waves. It sounds vaguely like a lullaby he knew once, almost foreign on her lips instead of his mother’s, but it’s not for him, anyway.
He rolls over, tangled in sheets and trying to make sense of digital numbers in the dark. They blink a frantic beat, blaring neon-red strobes in his eyes. 4:13.
Outside the window there’s still a glow on the horizon, painting the sky purple and gold and making prisms of the droplets that streak the glass. He’d slept through the storm, but figures the power was out for an hour and change, maybe came back with the sun.
It’d be easy to go back to sleep. Wait for night to slip in while his body’s still weightless and the bed is still warm. He’s tempted, torn. Light as his limbs feel, his head’s far too heavy.
He sits up with a groan, rolls the shoulder that’s been bothering him since the middle of his double shift. His watch is on the dresser where they left it – he can hear it over the deluge, the tick tick tick of the second hand she’d used to count down the rest of their days.
Next to it, he knows, the little stick is still there, with its tiny blue plus sign.
The tap shuts off with a groan of old pipes. He might be imagining the sound of deep breaths just before her footsteps.
She halts in the doorway, a silhouette of dusk and shadow while his vision fights to adjust. Her hands clutch the threshold, but she leaves the light off, and his heart pounds out gratitude above his ribcage; camouflaged, she can’t see how fucking badly he wants this.
“So,” she begins – it sounds less monumental than it is, the final deliberation before the verdict. “How long do you think I can play before my belly gets in the way?”
He’s up in a flash of movement and a flurry of blankets, crossing the space between. She meets him halfway, yielding to the swallow of arms that crushes her to his chest.
“You could always pick up the cello,” he answers, the words thick around the lump in his throat. She laughs into his skin and winds her arms around him, squeezes – so much stronger than she looks. His face falls into her damp hair, and he breathes deep, lets warmth and wonder fill his lungs and the hollow where Sam should be.
“God, this had better not be a girl,” she warns, as if he can do something about it. “The world is not ready for Daddy Dean on prom night.”
“Hey.” The objection is muffled, half-hearted – she may have a point. “That’s, what, eighteen, nineteen years from now? By then she can kick ass all by herself.” His mind conjures a little girl with dark hair and a smart mouth, his eyes and her temper, and he can’t help but hope that she’s wrong.
He lifts his head, and she tips her chin to his chest. “You sure you’re ready?”
“Well you learned from the best.” In the dimness, her smile is brilliant. “You’ll teach me.”
It’s not what he asked, but her eyes say she’s answered him all the same.
When she draws him down, the pull of a palm at the back of his head, he means it to be sweet. Deep down, he knows better – the heat is always lurking, just waiting for a spark, and she tastes too much like acceptance, like absolution, to leave it there.
Her lips slip down to trace the line of his jaw, trailing fire across his flesh until the tip of her tongue finds his pulse and licks flames to the beat, and that’s all it takes – he’s in motion, backing her to the wall because the bed’s feet too far.
She’s swathed in the damn robe she loves, worn soft and thin from too many washings. He pulls at the knot, delves underneath until satin gives way to silk and it’s just him wrapped around her. Her skin’s still shower-warm, and his fingers find all the places that will change, map the curve of her stomach and swell of her breasts.
“Dean.” His name is a whispered promise, a vow in eager lips and searching fingertips.
They shove at cotton and tug at elastic – it falls forgotten, a puddle at his ankles. His hands hook behind her knees, lift her feet from the floor, and she locks her legs behind his thighs, links her hands in his hair to hold him there like an anchor. He’s still not close enough.
It occurs to him, then, that he’s already inside her, and it takes everything he’s got to hang on.
The bite of fingertips against his scalp makes him move, press low where she’s slick and ready, until he’s buried, surrounded, lost in heat and hope and twin heartbeats pounding at his chest. She drags blunt teeth across his collarbone as he retreats, sobs pleasure into his shoulder when they fall into rhythm – pulls all his strings, sings to him with her body.
“Fuck.” It tumbles off his tongue and into her mouth, sweeter than it should be. “Carmen…”
He surges as she sinks, and suddenly he’s deeper than he’s ever been. Her hands slide around to cup his face, and he grips her hips in desperate fingers, holds on just a little tighter.
“Baby,” she breathes – eyes sad, thumb tracing his lower lip, “you should know this by now.”
He tumbles forward with a shudder, palms flat on the drywall and nothing in between, as the scent of shampoo and whisper of warmth fade with the last of the light.
( screams )
This one is different.
The tables are just as worn, with the same old splits in the seats, but there’s a jukebox in the corner blaring nonstop honky tonk and the special scrawled on the chalkboard behind the register is the ‘Eggs Over Opry.’ Just thinking about it is enough to make him shake his head.
Listening to it is worse.
Sam’s already demolished his dinner, chicken and biscuits smothered in lumpy gray gravy, and vacated the premises – gone to hit the head and pick up a paper, he’d claimed. But his face had been pained for most of the meal, and Dean’s willing to bet it wasn’t the gravy that did it.
He’s still on his stool, nursing the third cup of coffee that won’t keep him awake, when he spots her.
The ad’s tacked to an old corkboard beside the order window, like the billboard in miniature, with time-dulled colors and one jagged edge. It’s swimming in a sea of yellowed clippings and ticket stubs, and polaroids are pinned along the bottom – she grins out at him from the curb of the Bluebird Café, the parking lot of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, bright as the signs in the background.
Looping lines of black marker spill over the edges to bleed into the film. His coffee goes down like battery acid.
He tosses a wad of crumpled bills to the countertop, enough to cover the food he didn’t touch and the southern hospitality from Loretta, the no-nonsense forty-something redhead who reminds him more than a little of Ellen.
There’s a maze of big hats and bigger hair between him and fresh air – he dodges dish-laden trays and weaves through a huddle of waiting families, shoves his way through the door, cell in hand and already dialing.
Outside, perched on a stone bench between the loaded ashtrays, she’s waiting for him.
He freezes, blinks to make sure his mind isn’t playing tricks on him. Not while he’s awake, anyhow.
She’s still there when his eyes slide open, flesh and blood in front of him, bent in half and scrawling something in a battered notebook, with a long stretch of bare leg and an aproned uniform the color of hospital scrubs.
He’s trying to decide whether to fall at her feet or pump her full of rock salt when he remembers the phone in his hand.
“– newsstand down the street,” Sam is saying. He sounds a world away. “Do I need to head back? Dean? Dean.” It snaps through the receiver, and Dean raises it to his ear, slow and easy – half-dazed, half-afraid he’ll spook her.
“I’ll call you back, Sammy.”
Her head comes up at the sound of his voice, and if she’s startled, she doesn’t show it. The smile she offers is wide and warm, but her eyes are amused. He knows that look, sees it every time he closes his own.
He doesn’t even need to look at a clock.
She gives a little wave, as if it’s perfectly normal for him to be standing there staring like a slack-jawed idiot. Her wrist is tattooed with a tiny black clef.
Her chipped name tag reads Maria.
This time, he doesn’t need Sam to translate.
Lyrics (sliced, diced and mutilated) courtesy of Jimi Hendrix.