faege: classic boys in a classic car (please don't save me)
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Sam is sitting on the edge of the porch, in the same spot Dean sits in the evenings when he trades off drinking a beer and throwing balls for Sparrow. His fingers are plucking idly at a loose string on the hem of his shirt, the red plaid one that got ripped to shreds in Biloxi when Dean's arm went through a broken window and they needed a makeshift tourniquet. Dean sits down next to him, his breath steaming in the still night air, and folds his hands between his knees, elbows propped on his thighs.

"I like this place," Sam says. He looks very young, young the way he looked before he left for Stanford. His bangs sweep over his forehead, into his eyes, and Dean curls his fingers into a fist to resist the urge to push them out of Sam's face. He doesn't dare touch Sam. There's nothing threatening about Sam at all, not right now, but Dean has the feeling that if there's any sort of logic to Sam's younger self sitting next to him on a porch in Virginia, it's that he can't touch Sam.

For a minute, he's not even sure he can talk to Sam, but the words scrape their way out of his throat anyhow. "Me too."

Sam quirks his mouth, half of it lifting, but Dean doesn't know if he's laughing at him. He doesn't even know if Sam can hear him. He's had this dream two times before and Sam has never given any sign that he knows Dean is there. It's like they're both dreaming separate dreams of the same place and it's just chance that Dean can see Sam.

Chance or wishful thinking.

Dean shifts a little, hears the wood creak beneath him. He tosses his empty beer bottle a short distance away, waits for the clink as it rolls to a stop against the wooden stakes and moldering twine sitting in the yard. He blows out a slow breath and watches it dissipate in the night air. In the dream, his ring is heavy and cold around his finger, his amulet heavy and cold against his chest. Maybe if he tries to touch Sam, he'll find he's heavy and cold too.

The thought is uncomfortable enough to make Dean push to his feet. He casts a last lingering look over his brother, then turns away with a sigh.

"Night, Sammy."

He opens the back door, steps into the hall, and wakes up before he reaches the stairs.

--

The bell over the door rings when Dean enters the diner, the sound so familiar he hardly notices anymore. Beth waves at him from behind the counter, reaching behind her for the coffee pot and filling him a cup before whisking off to take orders. Dean takes the mug, then settles in his usual booth and opens the menu. He scans the glossy pages more out of habit than anything else, taking in the hum of conversation, the sound of pancakes cooking on the griddle, forks and knives scraping against plates as the morning crowd works through the process of getting fed and hurrying to work.

"You know what you want?"

Dean looks up with his lips pursed and hands Beth the menu. "I was thinking about shaking things up today."

Beth's mouth curls in a knowing smile. She brushes a stray hair out of her face and pulls a pen from her ponytail, flourishing the tip in midair. "Uh huh. Bacon or sausage?"

Dean's eyebrows pull together. "The oatmeal doesn't come with bacon or sausage."

Beth marks something on her pad, says, "Good thing you're getting eggs and hash browns, then," and turns away with a wink.

"Hey! I don't even get to choose my own sausage anymore?"

"Honey, you chose sausage before you walked through the door," Beth calls over her shoulder. She's back a minute later to slap a newspaper in front of him and top off his coffee. Dean nods his thanks, then unfolds the newspaper and spreads it across the table. He pins one corner with his coffee cup and uses his elbows to hold down the rest, pen clenched between his teeth as he surveys the obituaries with a practiced eye. 

A year ago he wouldn't have dared look for hunts. A year ago he'd had his hands full, all his energy focused on keeping Sam from going after anything and everything, from burning out like the time bomb he was convinced he was. Hunting had been the last thing on Dean's mind. Now, though... He reads one of the obituary entries twice over, something about it nagging at him. He flips to the front page to skim the side columns--a robbery, oil drilling in Alaska, some man's Rottweiler mauled by a bear. The usual tragedies, but hiding a connection that teases at Dean's mind.

A waitress comes by with his breakfast and Dean folds up the newspaper, tossing it on the booth beside him. He douses his eggs with Tabasco and digs in, mind turning over the obituary as he chews a forkful of hash browns. Five minutes later, he still hasn't made the connection and his shift is starting at the garage. He leaves a tip for the waitress and an extra five for Beth, then takes a cup of coffee to go. It's probably nothing, but he takes the newspaper, too. Just in case.

--

The garage is only six minutes away with stoplights, but Dean thumbs his phone open anyhow. Bobby picks up after the second ring, his voice cautious when he says, "Dean?"

"Hey, Bobby," Dean says, wincing as he waits for what's coming.

Yelling would be better than the careful way Bobby asks, "Everything okay over there? I left you a couple o' messages on Wednesday, never heard back."

Wednesday. November 2nd.

Dean licks his lips. "Yeah, I got 'em. Sorry."

Bobby pauses like he's waiting for an explanation, maybe hoping for one. When Dean doesn't say anything else, he says, "Well. So long as you're doing all right. It's good to hear from you, boy."

The quiet admission makes guilt curl in Dean's gut, but he's learned from experience that stopping to acknowledge pain can cripple. Last year, as hard as it was, he had had Sam. This year, Mary's anniversary was spent alone. Ignoring Bobby had been a choice between crumbling under the weight of grief or carrying on, and Dean's not going to apologize for a few missed calls.

"Listen, Bobby, I've got a question for you. You don't by chance know of a way to tamper with someone's dreams, do you? Like that dream root, or, I dunno, astral projection."

Bobby takes the change of subject in stride. "The short answer to your question is yes. But first I want to know why you're asking," he says in the same tone he used when Dean wanted to know how to make balloon bombs as a kid.

Dean chews his lip, then says, "I've been having these dreams lately. The same one, over and over again."

"Like a recurring dream?"

"Exactly. I keep dreaming about...me and Sam sitting out here on the porch. Sometimes he's a kid, sometimes he's older, but he never talks to me. It's like he doesn't even know I'm there, like--like we're dreaming the same thing but I'm not in his dream, he's just in mine."

There's a beat where Bobby thinks. Then he says, "I hate to say it, Dean, but that's probably because you're not. I don't--" The connection crackles, but Dean can hear the sound of Bobby running a hand over his beard, a nervous habit he'd shared with John Winchester. "I don't know that Sam is dreaming anything where he is. I mean, we just...we just don't know."

The words aren't different from any that Dean's told himself at night, angry and grieving and hating the unknown of what happened to Sam, of not knowing where he is. It hurts hearing someone else say it, though, and he clenches his jaw, one breath away from hanging up without a word.

Bobby must sense it because he concedes with a sigh, "I'll do some research if you want. See if I can't dig up anything."

"Nah, don't," Dean says, short. "I'm sure you've got a lot of other things to do. I just wondered." He hangs up before he says something he'll regret. He'll call back and apologize later anyhow, but he's short on sleep and the last thing he needs to hear is that his brother is somewhere that doesn't involve rest and dreams.

He takes the last corner a little sharp, and the newspaper slides off the seat as he pulls into work and parks behind the main building. He reaches over to grab it, then, after a moment's hesitation, he uncaps his pen, circles the obituary, then flips back to the side column on the front page and underlines a few key words. Whatever killed Paul Chambers's Rottweiler also took a bite out of Robert Mason--a bite that included his heart. The side column says bear and Robert Mason's family is blaming his death on a car accident, but Dean has read enough obituaries to pick up on what this one doesn't say.

Black dog, he decides, folding the newspaper back up and sliding the pen in his pocket. Or a werewolf. Either one could go for the heart, both are territorial.

A knock on the window almost has him jumping out of his skin. Grant grins at him on the other side and Dean flips him off good-naturedly. He gets out of the car and heads to the lockers with Grant, thoughts of the hunt pushed to the back of his mind.

When he gets home that night, though, he spreads the newspaper over the kitchen counter, double-checking the articles while Sparrow spreads her kibble all over the floor. The hunt's not far, a couple hours' drive at most, but he's not stupid enough to think he's ready for that kind of job right now. He's off his game, softer than he's been in a long time.

But he's also tired of waiting--for Sam to come back, for something to happen, for some sort of direction in life.

Sparrow finishes the last bite of her kibble and plunks down on the floor to chew on the hem of Dean's jeans--a clear signal that she's ready to head out for her evening walk in the fields. Dean shakes her off and folds the newspaper up, sliding it beneath the glass of feathers he keeps on the counter. His eyes linger on their green-blue barbs, and the decision comes to him like a lightning strike.

He's going to start hunting. Starting with whatever's in the woods.

--

Dean wakes up the next morning with his hands clenched into fists. Sam had been sick in his dream, coughing and shivering on the back porch, and he hadn't said a word to himself or Dean. It had taken all of Dean's self control to keep his arms at his sides, and even the heat from the shower isn't enough to soothe the soreness in his shoulders. Bending to drag the battered army green duffel out from under the bed has him wincing, but he shakes off the stiffness and spreads his supplies on the bed while Sparrow plays with the hawthorn stake he saves for vampires.

It's grounding, laying everything out with the beginnings of a hunt forming in his mind. He's not ready to commit to the life--not just yet--but the feathers in their glass, physical reminders that the supernatural hasn't left him behind, have been scratching at the back of his mind, the itch building with every day he stays quiet and goes about his business, and he can't ignore it anymore.

He's interrupted by the hawthorn stake rolling out from under Sparrow's paw and lodging under the bed. Sparrow crawls halfway under the bed frame, whining like she expects Dean to get down there with her, before giving up and scooting back out, making a groaning noise as she looks at Dean with guileless blue eyes. Dean puts down the rope he was packing and utters a short curse, hands folded on his head.

"Well, crap."

Whatever was on the roof is corporeal--it pushed Dean to the ground and left a fistful of feathers behind--and he'd been counting on trapping the thing. Which means the only thing he'd be sure to catch is Sparrow. He could keep her in the house... Dean abandons that thought almost immediately. It'd be miserable for both of them and there's no guaranty it would work, especially if this thing is as smart as Dean suspects. A trap that could seize on the creature's supernatural aspects, if it has any, would be better, but Dean doesn't even know where to start with that. Sam would find a way. The thought comes quietly, accompanied by grief, squeezing his lungs with its force. He blinks away the image of Sam poring over a dusty book, heartrending in its familiarity, and sucks in a deep breath.

Sam's not here and if Dean's going to do this, he'll have to be hunter and researcher both.

--

Sparrow must sense that he's not exactly in fighting form because she doesn't shove her way to the back door when Dean leads them both downstairs and only gives his bootlace a stray nip before taking off into the dry grass of the field. She comes easily when he whistles, ears pricking when he reaches the edge of the woods and keeps going, EMF meter in hand. It doesn't so much as make a sound, but it feels good to hold it, concrete. He hasn't exactly missed hunting in the year he's been out--he's had enough on his plate with everything happening to Sam--but he has missed the sense of purpose that comes with it. Even now, staying along the fringe of the woods and doing nothing more than keeping an eye out for anything unusual, a sense of calm settles over him, like he's been racing around trying to settle somewhere and has finally found a niche that doesn't make him feel like he's missing something.

Which isn't exactly true. But he made his peace long ago with the fact that without Sam he's never going to be fully-functional in the way most people are.

Sparrow's head lifts, suddenly alert, and Dean raises the EMF meter and puts a hand on the gun at his back. The meter doesn't make a sound, and a moment later Sparrow scampers off to sniff at an old hollow log. Dean shakes out the tense line of his shoulders, taking a deep breath and letting it out slow. Then, frowning, he does it again.

The air is fresh, almost icy, and his breath fogs in front of his lips the way it always does right before it snows. Dean does a full turn, watching the EMF meter as he rotates. Not a blip. A quick look through the tree branches reveals a pale blue sky without a single cloud. He breathes deep again, hissing when an electric shock shoots through his ribs. He digs a hand in his jacket pocket, stilling as his fingers close over the dark blue feather he left there from the coffee shop the week before. His fingers tingle from touching it, like blood returning to a dead limb, but the feeling soon fades, replaced by warmth that moves up his arm and across his chest the longer he holds it.

Sparrow prances into the clearing, a branch of pine needles between her teeth like a prize. She settles on her belly, branch between her paws, and starts stripping the bark from the branch with surprising daintiness, looking up curiously when Dean crouches in front of her and slowly pulls something caught in the needles.

A long feather, gleaming midnight blue.

--

He pulls up the weather forecast when he gets back to the house, then crosschecks it with a couple other websites. It's not supposed to snow for another week and even then there's more than a faint chance that it'll turn into rain instead. Which confirms Dean's suspicion that the fresh snow feeling he got out in the woods is not natural. Coupled with the new feather, which has joined the one from his pocket and the other three already in the glass on the kitchen counter, the whole thing has Dean convinced that whatever he saw on Halloween hasn't left yet. If anything, the air in that part of the woods is a sign that it's settled there, or at least has spent a large amount of time there.

Dean rubs a hand along the back of his neck and resists the urge to peer out the window. He's traipsed through every inch of the fields and most of the woods with Sparrow. He knows that that spot allows for a good view of the back of the house while still providing decent cover.

So. Corporeal, clearly supernatural, observant and smart. Dean considers the bunch of feathers on the counter, gleaming under the kitchen lights like some sort of exotic bouquet, and grits his teeth.

He's had just about enough of angels.

--

He'd planned to pack up and head out to the woods the next day after work, see if he couldn't figure out some way to trap the angel who has decided to make his backyard home, but in the end Dean leaves the woods alone for almost a week. Life catches up to him in a way that would have been utterly foreign to him a couple years ago but which seems commonplace now. The garage is busy. Carol Finley's dishwasher breaks down. Sparrow eats something that mixes with her digestive system in a bad way, and Dean spends more time than he would like cleaning up dog vomit in the living room before he moves her into the kitchen and cordons off the rest of the house until the coast is clear.

As soon as it looks like life is back to normal, it snows, the weather moving faster than the forecast. Dean wakes up to a blanket of white outside and grins, turns to Sam's empty bed--and spends the rest of the morning heaving into the toilet.

He takes a day off from work, cleaning up around the house. After half a sandwich for lunch, he works up the nerve to shovel the driveway, his jaw clenched tight enough to crack. Afterward he marches around the back of the house and paws in the layer of snow until he finds the wooden stakes and twine that are all that's left of Sam's attempt at a garden. He rolls them up and tosses them in the trash.

An hour later, he digs them back out again and sets them on the edge of the porch, the same place Sam sits in his dreams.

Dean had known it would be like this back in October when the weather started turning and Sam's last season edged closer. What he'd forgotten was the way he wouldn't be able to ignore it, even if he wanted to. It's the blessing and the curse of living in a small town: everyone knows your business and most likely wants to help.

He's at the grocery store picking up coffee and vacuum bags when someone taps him on the shoulder. He turns around to see Joanne Hubert, blond hair piled haphazardly on top of her head.

"Long time, no see, stranger," she says, and Dean can't stop the smile breaking over his face.

"Joanne, hey. The bar run out of pretzels again?"

"Always," Joanne says. "Plus Kara has been begging me to pick up popsicles, Lord knows why."

"The snow's not enough for her, huh?"

"Beats me." Joanne tilts her head, brushing a stray curl out of her eye, and gives him an assessing look. "How're you, hon?"

Dean shrugs, eyebrows lifting. "Fine."

"Rick came in to Stairway the other night, said you'd called in sick to work," Joanne presses.

Dean rolls his eyes. "Can't a man get sick in peace around here?" he mutters, and Joanne pats his arm consolingly.

"No, honey. It's Pooles."

"Yeah, well. Sometimes a man needs his privacy."

"That why you haven't come by the bar?"

Dean freezes at the pointed question, but Joanne eases him through it like she expected that reaction. She squeezes his arm and steers him to the checkout line, then waits for him with her bag of groceries while he's counting change. She follows him outside and watches while he unclips Sparrow's leash, praises her for waiting outside, then lets her go after a quick glance at the mostly empty parking lot.

"Dean," Joanne prompts him gently. He winces. She's so much like Ellen, soft and unrelenting the way he's always imagined mothers to be.

"I can't." His voice sounds like it's been scraped through his throat. "I'm sorry I haven't... But I can't."

"Why not?"

I'm raw, is what he wants to say. This week has been crap. I puked up my guts first thing this morning, just like I did yesterday.

Sparrow is a white shape in the distance, her tail waving like a flag as she burrows in the snow, snapping at the chunks she sends flying. The memory hits so fast, it's like a kick to the gut.

Sam on his back in the snow, laughing so hard tears are running down his cheeks, his nose dripping and red. Everything Dean has ever loved sprawled out with ice melting in his hair, choking on laughter while Dean shoves a handful of snow down his shirt.

Dean doesn't even know he's hunched over, eyes watering like he's been punched, until he feels hands pushing at his shoulders. He straightens, wheezing in a breath, and Joanne's face comes into view, her eyes worried. "Dean? Honey? You okay?"

"I'm fine," Dean says, swallowing when the words come out hoarse.

"You don't have asthma, do you? Because Kara's got an inhaler, I can--"

He lifts a hand, backing away. "I don't, I'm fine. Just--" Trying to function without something vital. "Got dizzy for a second."

Joanne doesn't buy it, not completely, Dean can tell, but she lets him go after giving his shoulders a quick squeeze. Sparrow is nosing around in a grocery bag a few feet away and she sits guiltily when Joanne walks over and picks it up. "Well. I'd better get back to the bar." She gives one of Sparrow's ears a gentle tug, then fixes Dean with a look. "You need to get back to bed, young man. You want me to drive you and the dog home? It's a long walk."

"No, we've got it. Honest, I feel fine. We're good."

"All right. Listen, why don't you stop by Stairway sometime this week? I'll save you a cold one. On the house."

"No," Dean says, a little too quickly. "I can't, Joanne, I've got..." He stops himself, shakes his head. Joanne doesn't deserve excuses, not when she helped Sam through his first seizure, not when she knew when no one else did. He stares at his boots, at the asphalt-flecked chunks of ice on the edge of the parking lot, then clears his throat and tries again. "I think Sam left one of his jackets on the shelf behind the bar."

It takes a minute, but then Joanne nods, understanding soft in her eyes. "He did."

Dean blinks rapidly, dragging in an icy breath. "Keep it there for me?"

"Honey, no one's touching that jacket. I promise."

Dean nods. "Good."

"Come by next week. Thanksgiving. You can take it with you if you want."

It's not about the jacket--the jacket is the least of his problems. It's about the fact that Dean can hardly stand driving down the main street of town because he remembers picking up Sam from tutoring at the high school, can't go into the grocery store without seeing Sam pushing his ridiculous cart, can't shovel the drive without being assaulted by memories. And Stairway--Stairway would be worse. The two of them spent hours there, , shooting pool, playing cards, Dean fiddling with the jukebox in the corner while Sam finished up his shift. It was more than one of the bars they used to stop at because it was their bar, one of the first places they had gone to in this little town, the most familiar.

"I don't know if..." he starts.

"Dean." He glances up at the firmness in Joanne's voice. "You need to spend Thanksgiving with someone. I couldn't sleep at night if I knew you were spending it alone."

"Okay," Dean says. "I'll come."

The thing is, he doesn't mind spending Thanksgiving alone. It's being alone every other day that's hard.

One | Two | AO3
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