hands

collected fic bits: Respite [spn]

I started this two summers ago, during my last day up at the lake in Massachusetts, as a series of vignettes that eventually accumulated a plot of some sort, based on the caterpillar crisis they were having that year. If all goes according to plan, by the time you're reading this I've managed to bash it into a more cohesive shape and tacked on some kind of ending. But in any case, here's all the bits and pieces collected into a single post instead of scattered across the fiction fragments tag.


(Beginning)

They probably would’ve wound up kicking around Fall River, waiting for the dead bodies to rack up, if not for some newspaper editor’s idea of a snappy headline: ‘Plague of Biblical Proportions’.

“Lead?” Dean suggests, jogging Sam’s elbow at just the right moment for him to inhale his coffee instead of drinking it. While everyone’s distracted by Sam’s coughing extravaganza, Dean somehow procures his own copy of the paper.

“Probably just some cyclical thing.” Once he’s able to breathe again, Sam snags the paper from Dean and flips to the back for the part of the article containing actual details. “Yeah—here’s a list of past cases.” He slides it back over so Dean can take a look. “It’s just been a couple of decades since the last one.” But Dean is engrossed in what looks like the police blotter from the lone section of the paper he’d managed to retain, so it’s Sam’s turn to ask, “Lead?”

“Dunno yet.” Dean lays his section of the paper down on top of Sam’s. “Check it out—Wells State Park is smack in the middle of the madness.”

“So...?”

“So, last night a mysterious fire burned a camper to the ground—with 5 people inside. No signs they even tried to get out, and no one in the surrounding campsites saw or heard anything until everything was up in flames.”

“Accidents do happen, Dean.” But Sam starts reading the blurb—it’s not really long enough to qualify as an article—in question.

“Just like people really are mauled to death by wildlife?” Dean spreads his hands, eyebrows up in a show of skepticism. “Just finished buffing the Impala’s new paint job from our last milk-run.”

“Okay, you kind of have a point there,” Sam admits, “but what about Amara? I thought you wanted to go canvassing the neighborhood.”

“Sturbridge is a two-hour drive, tops. If it’s nothing, we can be back here before dinner time.”

*

For the site of a biblical plague, things look peaceful enough, but Sam’s been through Massachusetts often enough to know he should be staring up at a verdant canopy right now, not open sky. And in the relative quite of the park, if he closes his eyes and listens closely, he can hear the not-so-distant chewing of a hundred thousand caterpillars, like tiny living machines grinding away everything green.

“Disgusting, isn’t it?” The ranger (Ralph this time, not Rick) sounds like he’d like spit if not for the presence of Sam’s notebook. Instead, he scuffs his books in the fine black grit that’s scatter all across the road and the empty lot they’re standing beside. “I’ve had to warn people to put tarps up over their food and anything they want to keep clean.”

“Oh—“ Sam says, startled and a little grossed out, stooping to get a closer look at what he’d *thought* was some form of gravel or ash. “You mean—?” He glances back up at the nearly non-existent canopy, fighting the urge to shield his eyes this time.

“Yup.” The ranger grinds one boot-heel a little more, clearly wishing it was the caterpillars themselves that he was turning to powder and not just their leavings.

“When did you realize this was, well, a ‘plague’, and not just the usual?” By this point it seems pretty unlikely that this is the type of catastrophe he and Dean deal in, but Sam has to ask.

“A month, maybe? Though we were worried it would happen given the warm winter and general lack of snow—we need wet and cold to keep their numbers down.” And that pretty much seals the lack of a case, so Sam reaches for a question he’s pretty sure will shut down the interview in short order.

“So would you say this is yet another consequence of global warning...?”

*

He winds up waiting on the tiny public beach for a good 15 minutes before Dean arrives: still smeared with ash in a couple of places, disappointment visible in his gait. “No luck?” Sam asks, shifting over on the wooden bench to make room.

Dean shakes his head and drops heavily down beside Sam; the bench creaks and wobbles a little, but holds. “How about your end?” he asks in turn, running a weary hand through his hair, slumping enough to touch shoulder and hip with Sam.

“Pretty sure it’s natural—something to do with the temperature this past winter.”

“Crap,” Dean says with great sincerity, and drops his head back so he’s staring up at the blank blue sky. Sam turns back to look across the narrow end of the lake, trying to ignore the gaping pit up dread reopening in his stomach.

“You want to hear something kinda funny,” he says at last, after a pair of kingfishers have finished their elaborate ballet and retired to no applause but their own filled bellies.

“I could use a laugh,” Dean admits without turning to look at Sam. “But your jokes are never funny, man. When I laugh it’s just ‘cause I feel bad for you.” A younger Sam might have kicked him in the ankle; in his maturity, Sam settles for rolling his eyes.

“Funny ‘weird coincidence’, not funny ‘haha’,” he clarifies, nudging Dean with his elbow to get him to straighten up. “If you look across the lake—about 2 o’clock—I’m pretty sure that’s the place Jess and I were going to stay at for a week if my law school interview went well.” It’s an old memory, covered with mental dust, lost to him until unearthed by being in this place. “I feel kinda guilty about it, but I can’t even remember whose house it was, or how we talked our way into the invitation.” He could probably find the name if he dug around, but some things are better left buried—that life is long over.

“Huh.” Dean sits unmoving for a moment before lifting his head just enough to look at Sam. “You want to—” he hesitates, and Sam can almost see him rewriting the sentence before he finishes, “want to get lunch? I saw a BBQ place on our way into town. Feel like some pulled pork?”

“Yeah, okay.” His stomach is empty, and—well, Dean is Dean. “Just don’t call me a pansy if I order something that includes a vegetable.”

Dean squints at him. “Don’t bitch about my arteries and it’s a deal.”

They shake on it, like they used to when Sam was small and Dean’s one purpose in life was to keep him from turning into a feral wolf-child.

*

The lunch line at BT’s Smokehouse runs from door to counter, wrapping around the condiment island along the way; walking into the building is like being struck across the ears with a 2x4 of sound, bare walls and floor turning rock music, sports TV, and the chatter of waiting customers into a never-ending wave of *noise*. It’s a shock after the quiet of Wells Park and Dean’s subdued silence in the car, and within five minutes Sam begins to drown.

He doesn’t say anything—food remains one of Dean’s few surviving consolations, and he doesn’t want to spoil that—but Dean must sense Sam’s growing tension because after another five minutes (and five feet shuffled forward), he tugs Sam down so he can shout into Sam’s ear, “You want to go keep an eye on the car, make sure no one parks us in?”

“Get me something *naturally* green,” Sam bargains, like he’s the one doing Dean a favor, and escapes out into the parking lot—just in time to rescue the Impala from getting boxed in, so perhaps it wasn’t merely sensitivity on Dean’s part.

He’s never minded this kind of waiting: Impala serving as seat or shelter, with a bit of shade and a steady stream of cars going by, and the promise of food and welcome company at the end of it. So he strips off the sports jacket he’d been wearing for the part of ‘annoying ecology reporter’, bundling it behind his head and sprawling out across the Impala’s windshield like when he was young and the car the only home he’d ever known.

Of course, just as he’s got himself comfortable, his phone starts vibrating a subtle jig against his thigh, and the pockets on this pair of jeans are tight enough that it takes him nearly a minute of awkward fumbling and wriggling to get the thing out (leaving him hugely grateful that the lack of windows in the smokehouse means he’s safe from being seen by Dean). While driving over from Fall River he’d set up alerts on his phone for anything in the area that might point to more soul-sucking by Amera—but once he finally gets the phone out and unlocked, the only message is a text from Dean: a picture of an enormous platter of corn dogs with the accompanying question, “Sure you want something green?”

“YES”, Sam sends back, and then adds (for peace of mind), “NO FOOD COLORING”, because the memory of that one incident when he was eleven still turns his stomach.

*

He has his eyes closed against the summer sun’s glare when Dean’s piercing wolf-whistle jerks him upright and scrambling to make sure he still has his phone safely in hand. “Hey there, Aurora,” Dean drawls. “Thought I asked you to guard the car, not use her for a bed.” He’s carrying a paper bag almost the size of his torso, with faint grease stains spreading across one side, wafting out a smell so delicious Sam’s tempted to just grab the thing from Dean so he can stick his head all the way inside and inhale.

The lot has emptied a little since Sam first came out, leaving Dean with enough room to give the Impala a full 360° inspection— “Since you were sleeping on the job, Sam. Last time I give you sentry duty—next time you can spend half an hour jammed between a biker who hasn’t taken a shower since 2005 and a mom with a screaming baby and five kids who keep hitting each other.”

“I really was just resting my eyes,” Sam all but laughs, because this is the Dean he loves so dearly and has almost lost—almost killed—too many times. “I opened them whenever I heard a car engine, I promise.” He shimmies off the hood and shoehorns himself in the passenger side of the car in a motion worn smooth from a lifetime of practice.

Dean’s still grumbling to himself as he drops their lunch into the back seat. “You and I ever carried on like that, Dad would have tanned our hides right here in the parking lot.” Which had happened, exactly once, and the thought of it sobers Sam a little.

“I hope you’re not going to make us wait on the food until we get back to Fall River,” he says as Dean guides the car out of the lot and into the stream of traffic. “The smell will probably drive me mad long before we get there.”

“Nah,” Dean answers, casting a casual arm across the back of the seat and slouching a little. “Figured we might as well enjoy the scenery a little before we get back on the highway.” He glances over at Sam, unease suddenly palpable. “Unless you got an alert on your phone—?”

Now it’s Sam’s turn to reassure—he shakes his head. “Nothing except your text message. And dude, when I have ever said yes to corn dogs?”

Dean grins at him, tension gone like it had never existed. “When you were nine and ate five in one sitting.”

“Yeah, and then I spent all night making best friends with the toilet bowl.” For an instant Sam’s mouth is filled with remembered taste of those corn dogs coming back up, spoiling the smell of their waiting lunch and tangling his stomach into knots. “And don’t tell me yet again that it was probably the fried chicken that did it.”

“Okay, I won’t,” Dean agrees, amiable in a way that would have set off warning bells in times past. Now, though, Sam’s simply inexpressibly happy to have his brother well and truly back to be anything but grateful for it.

They ride in comfortable silence for a could more minutes, which is broken only by a muttered insult from Dean when someone runs a light on them during a lefthand turn. But Sam doesn’t bat an eye at it, or even turn away from studying the gypsy moth-blighted scenery out his window—Dean driving the Impala is still the safest thing he knows.

*

He’s so intent on the view—elbow propped against the window frame and hair blowing a bit in the wind—that he doesn’t realize they’re not where they should be until the car’s suddenly jolting down a deeply rutted gravel road, Dean swearing under his breath and cooing a little to the car at every bad bounce.

It’s a short road, though—just as Sam’s about to ask where the heck they are, they’re rolling to a stop in shaggy grass, boxed in by the lake on two sides and a steep hill on the other. Stairs lead up to an old wood-clapboard house, with a garage door set into the side of the hill below. “This kind of looks like private property,” Sam points out, but it’s a pro forma protest—he’s already halfway into the backseat, fishing out a couple of beers and the bag from the smokehouse.

“No signs,” Dean counters, stretching as he gets out of the car. He wanders over to the garage door and peers inside while Sam unpacks lunch across the Impala’s hood. “No car,” he reports a minute later. “Lots of cobwebs, though.” Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than the house’s occupants don’t usually park there, but it’s enough to allow Sam to focus on his food instead of keeping an eye out for someone coming to run them off. Food, and the gentle lap of the lake against the shore.

“It is a nice view,” he allows; Dean’s too occupied with his pulled pork to do more than make a vague affirmative noise. Sam’s own sandwich is greasier than he’d prefer, but the flavor’s rich and sits comfortably on his tongue; the collard greens have to be drained through a fork before they’re palatable. The real prize, though, is an enormous, overflowing container of apple crisp, still slightly warm, which they pass back and forth in near-silence, disturbed only by the rustle of leaves and the distant hum of a highway.

“‘S peaceful,” Dean says eventually, around the antepenultimate forkful of crisp. It’s almost cold now, so Sam waves for him to finish it.

“Yeah,” he agrees. The stillness around the bunker has a different feel to it—more cautious, even restrained, which is appropriate to a place almost as muggle-proof as Hogwarts. This place, in contrast, breathes with all the little noises that come from things simply living—quiet, but still full of motion.

The moment is broken by Dean shoving the meal’s debris noisily back into the paper bag and strolling two houses up the road to drop it into someone’s waiting trash can. When he returns, Sam expects him to get back into the car and head straight on to Fall River, but instead Dean leans up against the car, next to Sam, and bumps him with an elbow.

“Any alerts yet?”

“No,” Sam says, though he reflexively checks his phone a moment later. “Why—?”

But Dean’s already pulled away again and is climbing the stairs up towards the house. “Since we’re here, you want to look around?” he calls back to Sam without slowing.

“Since we’re where?” Sam demands, but despite his irritation he’s already following on Dean’s heels.

*

Before Sam has the chance to ask what the heck they’re doing, Dean gets his lock-picks out and has the house door open twenty seconds later

“Dude, if you have to pee, just use the bushes,” Sam protests, even as he trails into the house after Dean. It has the utter stillness and slight staleness of a space that’s been left empty for an extended period of him, which settles his fear of getting caught while trespassing.

***

- Stay in cabin instead of main house: overlooks water, added warning in case getaway is needed.

- Random details: gigantic earlike toadstool thingy; looks like a hotdog bun when they arrive but is grossly mutated by the time they leave (even though it’s just days later). Crayfish living under rock at bottom of boat ramp. The painting over the fireplace is of a buffalo fighting off a pack of wolves, winning for the moment but with enemy reinforcements (barely visible in the gloom) coming up behind.

- Almost no internet, but Sam gets up early one morning and spends a good half-hour standing in the one spot that gets a bar of someone’s unsecured WiFi, just so he can download *Dracula*, and they curl up on the futon together, eating cold Thai and mocking the top-notch security at Seward’s asylum, which allows Renfield to just wander around wherever he pleases. “Wish it’d been that easy when *we* were in the nuthouse,” Dean says, tucking noodles away in his cheek like one of the chipmunks hanging out in the cabin’s stone foundation. “Some of those nurses—” He grimaces at Sam, mouth finally stopped up.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees, telling himself that his stomach is churning from too much curry and not at the memory of old clawing rage. Mostly he’s able to forget his past anger, can bury those memories in the ash of dim regret. “Hey, swap cartons? I want some of the black bean sauce before you finish it.”

Dean wrinkles his nose at the thought of sharing but makes the exchange without actual complaint. “Next time let’s try the Ran Pan Poo or whatever. This stuff’s spicier than I expected.”

“The Rad Nah? Sure,” Sam agrees, soothed by the sweetness of the Pad See Eaw and the press of Dean’s shoulder against his, the steady slap of the water on the shore below. “Hey, Fay Wray against Mina—who wins?”

“Looks or guts?” Dean asks, eyes glued to the screen, shoveling in the curried noodles at a distinctly slower pace. “Fay Wray screams more, but Mina’s a complete pushover.”

“In the book Mina’s the brains of the operation,” Sam says, and from there it turns into an argument over whether adaptations supercede their source material and Dean reminiscing about Jamie from that weird shapeshifter case they’d done years earlier.

The movie plays along to its uncertain ending, unnoticed and forgotten.

*

Sam would take the kayak out, but can’t manage to fold his legs so they fit into the molded plastic cockpit. So he drags Dean out of bed early, while the lake is still in shadow, and they paddle the canoe along the shore, picking small sweet blueberries from the overhanging bushes, almost getting stuck when they try to investigate one of the waterlily-filled coves. Going back they have to fight the wind, which slows them enough for Dean to start going pink and freckly in the morning sun, so he rolls himself overboard just before they arrive back at shore, nearly capsizing the canoe and leaving Sam frantically backpaddling to avoid running aground on submerged boulders.

“Pancakes,” Dean announces when he emerges dripping from the lake. “With sausage and bacon and home fries. Man can’t live off berries along, Sam. Don’t talk crap to me about American Indians or whatever.” He runs a hand through his hair, spiking it up like when he was 26 and merely Sam’s big brother. For a moment it’s like time has rolled backward a decade or more, except when Sam looks at him and thinks *how could I ever live without you?* it’s with the bone-deep knowledge that he couldn’t.

“What? Is there something in my hair?” Dean demands, and Sam realizes he’s been staring, covers it up with the lie, “A very fetching lily pad,” and five minutes later he’s covered in mud and trying to prevent Dean from grinding lakeweed into his hair—finds himself nearly laughing for joy at the same thought.

*

Old Sturbridge Village is a concession on Dean’s part, albeit a foregone conclusion as soon as they spotted the signs for it at the exit for the town. Sam doesn’t even bother to ask, just says, “Today or tomorrow?” while they wait for their breakfast to arrive in the town’s only diner. “It’s supposed to get hot tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Dean says, hair still partly sticking up thanks to the lake water. If Sam leaned close, he’d be able to smell the faint residue, like brown and green things that grow. “But we’re not buying any crap at the gift shop. Just because we have the bunker doesn’t mean we should start collecting junk.” Sam doesn’t deign to reply, just lifts an eyebrow. “Don’t give me that look,” Dean warns, pointing at Sam with his fork. “We both know how this always goes.” He smiles at the waitress as she sets down his overflowing pair of plates.

“Yeah, we do,” Sam says, utterly neutral, as he accepts his own meal—he’s been a sucker for fruit-stuffed French toast since ... well, it’s been a long time now. Lots of things have changed since then, but not that.

How it always goes is that Dean drags his feet and pokes at things that probably shouldn’t be poked at, starts talking with the blacksmith and probably would’ve gotten invited around the partition if not for the pile of tourists standing behind him and looking vaguely miffed. “Meet you at the giftshop?” Sam tries a couple of times, but only ever half-heartedly. Dean’s rhythm is completely different from Sam’s, but it’s good to be reminded that there’s more to engaging with a place than just reading the plaques and making polite conversation with the village staff.

“I think it’s half-price if we come back tomorrow,” Sam offers when they finally take a break for lunch. Dean makes a vaguely disgruntled noise around his over-priced sandwich. Sam’s pretty much made his peace with the whole credit card fraud thing, but he’d felt a distinct pang of guilt while handing over the latest fake card—the place *is* a museum, after all. Dean must read the lingering residue of this in Sam’s face, because when he’s done chewing, he kicks Sam in the leg.

“Quit angsting and eat your soup. We can go look at the bookstore when you’re done.”

Which they do—or really, Sam does. Dean disappears further into the giftshop after five minutes, while Sam’s still sorting through books on old herbal remedies and local ghost stories. When he finally tracks Dean down again a half-hour later, Dean’s in the toy section, fiddling with a Jacob’s ladder, a bulging shopping bag hooked over one arm and a slightly green tint to his complexion. It isn’t until they’re halfway back to the lake that Sam discovers that the bag is full of fudge and Dean had sweet-talked the lady at the counter into letting him sample all 40 flavors.

*

The next day they wind up staying in. Sam runs five minutes down the road for breakfast sandwiches and picks up a menu for the pizza joint in the same strip mall, but the rest of the day they spend puttering around the cabin. Some of the stone stairs down to the water are coming loose, so they take most of the morning to carefully wedge them back in, Dean sending Sam up and down to the water in search of small stones that’ll fit right, and getting sand to even things out. By the time they finish, Sam’s so hot and sticky he skips lunch without noticing, swimming down the shore to the public beach just to get properly cooled off and work all the kinks out. He arrives back to find that Dean’s already moved on to rebuilding the set of cairns meant to mark the three gigantic boulders on one side of the beach, which lurk just below the water.

“Can you even see what you’re doing?” Sam asks, dismayed by the clouds of silt Dean’s activity has kicked up—huge swirls of sand and rotting vegetable matter that obscure pretty much everything.

“Nope,” Dean grunts; Sam can’t tell whether he’s moving something or merely wedging a pebble in to even something out. “We’ll just have to do this slow and careful, is all.” He grunts again, the muscles in his arms and shoulders suddenly on display—trying to move something, then. “Give me a hand with this, would you?”

By the end of it, they’re sporting six smashed or scraped fingers between them, and Dean’s definitely gone pink from sun. Sam, who’s merely browned evenly and (dare he say it) attractively, knows from past experience to simply dig out their nearly-depleted bottle of aloe and silently leaves it by the bathroom sink, making a mental note to buy more pronto.

He still finds himself exiled across the yard to flag down the pizza delivery guy, but that just gives him a chance to download Charlie Chaplin and a Three Stooges he’s pretty sure he hasn’t seen yet.

Dean falls asleep on him four and a half slices in, smearing sauce on Sam’s shirt and heedless of the still-raw skin on his own shoulders and face. Sam rests his chin on a top of Dean’s head and considers the logistics of disentangling himself for a good ten minutes before deciding everything already hurts too much to bother.

When he wakes in the morning his back has locked completely solid and Dean’s gone—splashing in the lake from the sound of it—but there’s pillows under his cheek and a blanket draped over his shoulders, and a cup of shitty coffee steaming on the floor beside him.

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I love this...I love how you write the brotherly interludes with the perfect mix of Winchester humor and underlying ever-present angst!

(There are some typos--do you want me to point them out?)
It holds up better than I would have expected, though I can see definitely things that I want to shift now that I have a better handle on writing them.

(Please don't--the entire thing is going to undergo massive rewrites, so anything will get caught then or removed entirely.)
That's the plan! Just have to finish nailing down the shape of the thing so it's more than disjointed vignettes.

I can hardly wait to see the refreshed version.  It has such a gentle, loving feel to it.    m.