Hemingway Never Slept Here
Ya'll all be sure to thank Killa for keeping me (and you) from drowning in pointless metaphors. (I wrestled her for the ones that remain.) Seriously, she's an awesome beta.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the CW. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
Yesterday's Tribune is gone
Along with youth
And the canoe that went to pieces on the beach
The year of the big storm
When the hotel burned down
At Seney, Michigan.
~Along With Youth ~ Ernest Hemingway, Paris, 1923
Dean didn't even like the ocean. He didn't mind water, or swimming, but oceans weren't really meant for swimming -- swimming in the ocean was more like an exercise in not drowning.
He was kind of glad that Sam didn't actually have a thing for swimming in it, either. He seemed more interested in either sitting and watching it, or maybe wading out to his waist (which, given his height, was still a little too far for Dean to be entirely comfortable with) and letting the waves push him around.
Dean could do the sitting and watching thing too, for awhile, but then he got bored. At least, that's what he said. His excuse for getting up and having a sudden need to pick up the sour cream they'd forgotten, or the Doritos, or soap -- anything.
Any other time, he might give Sam a hard time about getting in touch with his inner Hemmingway (Ernest or Mariel, depending on Dean's mood), about using the ocean as an excuse to think too much.
And any other time Sam would have given him a look or snarked back at him, but this time ...
"I'm not thinking. I kind of...don't...when I just sit here." Sam didn't look at him, seemed almost embarrassed to admit it.
"What? Zen and the art of ocean watching?" Dean was genuinely curious. It didn't come out like that.
Sam shrugged. "Something like that."
"I didn't know there was an off switch for that enormous dolphin brain of yours."
Dean tried. It could be kind of hypnotic, he admitted to himself, but not so much with the soothing. He kept looking for something to break the pattern...either the sound or the movement. Maybe he was trying too hard to see patterns where there weren't any.
Or maybe it was just weird to not be working a case. They'd come east on what they thought might be one, phantom lights and too many drownings along an emptyish off-season stretch of the Carolina coast. There were a hundred tales of such things, some real, some not, actual facts thin on the ground. It was too easy on an empty beach like this to hear things in the shift of sand along the dunes, of the sea birds calling out -- always like they'd lost their best friend.
Sam did his due diligence though, Dean had to give him that. Hours spent in the town's small library, pulling down every single reference book on the area. He let Dean do the interviews, talk to the permanent residents, digging for old ghosts, old tragedies.
The See Beach Inn was neither the worst nor the best place they'd stayed; cinderblock construction, basic rooms all facing the ocean, with tiny concrete patios and rusting chairs and tables. They advertised kitchenettes but those were afterthoughts to what Dean would swear had once been mechanic's bays for boats. The ceilings were too high and the thin carpeting didn't entirely mask the feel of badly filled bolt holes in the slab. The 'kitchen' consisted of a tiny bar sink and a microwave on top of a three-foot refrigerator. There was a single inset burner on the counter, but Sam couldn't get the water in the tiny kettle to boil after an hour and ended up drinking his instant coffee lukewarm.
Dean hated the place but for now he was content to stay -- content being a stretch of some magnitude -- but he hadn't missed the fact that Sam was mostly sleeping though the night. The hollowed-out cast to his face and eyes had faded.
It wasn't that he was seeing less -- if anything, he was seeing more. Not just the horrific visions portending death, but damn near everything else that slipped between what was real and tangible and whatever was past that. Dean's prohibition against talking to ghosts hadn't really done any good. Sam had gotten pretty good at ignoring the random shades that seemed to gather close to them no matter where they were. And there were times when Dean caught the edges of them; slow, minor shifts in temperature rather than the sudden drops into frigid that were a prelude to facing off with a majorly pissed-off poltergeist or spirit with mayhem on its mind.
But mostly, despite Sam's ability to soldier on, Dean could tell -- could see the slight tension in his shoulders, the tick in his jaw, the way he refused to look. It was wearing Sam out, distracting him in ways that for some reason, bugged Dean more than the horrific visions did.
Early on, Dean had teased him about being a real live ghost whisperer, but it wasn't funny any more. They'd taken to finding hotels further out, not because of the cost but because the more people, the more Sam saw. And it wasn't that they distressed him, or demanded anything of him, but it was like having constant double vision, or the way Sam described it, like having to constantly make his way through a low-lying fog. You could keep going, but inevitably you were going to trip on something.
For a while, Dean feared Sam looking at him meant he was seeing something else, or maybe only hoping to. It was the same look Sam had on his face when they visited a truck stop or diner they'd been to before.
The first real clue Dean had that there was a problem came out of annoyance.
"Would you stop looking at me?" he snapped after a rough hunt, a long day on the road, and a less than appealing meal.
Sam dropped his gaze immediately. "Sorry," he said, and moved his food around on his plate.
"Seriously, dude. What is it? I feel like I have an enormous zit on my forehead."
Sam smiled a little and shook his head. "No...no. I'm not really looking at at you."
"You been staring at me for ten minutes."
"I'm...I'm sorry. I'm just... I need to focus on something and you're right there."
"Focus on what? Are you trying that skeevy telekinesis thing again?"
"No. God...no," Sam said and that was heartfelt -- because he had tried and while the results hadn't been spectacular, the side affects had Sam puking for two days just from making a pencil roll across a table. "There's just a lot of...there's a lot of people here."
Dean had stared around the diner, making note of exactly three other people, plus the cook and the waitress and the kid bussing tables -- who did have an enormous zit in the middle of his forehead.
When he looked back, Sam was staring intently at his green bean casserole. At least they thought that's what it was. And then Sam flinched, just a little, like something got too close.
It took a moment. "Like, how many?"
Sam shrugged, cut his eyes to the tables beyond Dean's shoulders. "A dozen, maybe more. I think they're dancing."
Dean stared at his food. "Um, are you sure these are all those...you know, the boring ones and maybe not a few who are hanging around waiting for the dessert they never got because they died of food poisoning?"
Sam started to answer, then closed his mouth and looked again. Then he called for the check. He didn't stop laughing at the expression on Dean's face until they were back on the road.
He didn't give it all up, even then. Dean poked and prodded at him for a few days before Sam admitted it was getting close to being constant. That on the road was the only time he didn't see things -- usually. There were only so many hours either of them could stand being folded into the car.
Sam focused on him and everything else faded into the background. Kind of like sighting a target, Dean supposed, but it was still a little freaky, because despite Sam swearing he wasn't really staring, he totally was.
It was better than Sam sitting around with his hands over his eyes, just too weary to look.
Sometimes Dean just kissed him or touched him to get Sam to close his eyes, to get him to stop looking, to stop seeing, while he let his own eyes drink their fill.
He'd stopped asking for permission or forgiveness somewhere around Wichita, a final check of a post office box before they closed it, empty for the third time in as many months. Everyone who needed to know knew, and the mail had increased in the P.O. box Dean kept in Cleveland.
Physically, he was as healed as he was going to get, minor aches and pains settling more because of repeated injury than lingering damage. Sam took to the beach in the mornings, chasing the tide line. Dean had tried it but the shifting sands played hell with the knee that would never be as agile again. He bitched Sam out for being an up-at-dawn freak, and Sam let him sleep in, only Dean never did. He'd wake and make coffee and whatever was passing for breakfast -- usually leftovers from the night before. Sam never called him on it. In the evenings he ran with Dean along the empty sidewalks, to the pier and back.
Dean stretched their resources thin, heading into Shallotte or Myrtle when he needed to add to the kitty. They were coming up fast on the season and would have to leave, but when Sam said something, Dean put him off.
Dean could complain about the long boring days all he wanted. The nights were the reason they stayed. Nights for Sam to sleep, nights for Dean to wonder if there was something else for them, something he could bear.
The room had two doubles but they only used one, the one closest to the sliding glass door, left cracked even when the May nights were chillier than they had any right to be. Dean felt the goosebumps rise on Sam's skin when the breeze forced its way in. He warmed them with the rub of his hands, and knew the shivers that racked Sam's body had nothing to do with the chill.
Sam's soft, breathy gasps when Dean worked him with hands and mouth and body got lost under the sound of waves under the beach and the thrum of insects in the dry grasses holding the sea back from the land. Sand followed them everywhere, whipped up by stiff, nearly warm breezes during the day, clinging to their clothes and hair. They shook the sheets out morning and night but Dean could still feel the grit against his tongue, when he nipped and bit across Sam's shoulders, could feel the heat in Sam's skin from sitting for hours beneath the sun. It was turning Sam's skin dark, washing out the pallor of a year or more of fatigue and grief. Dean had new freckles along his arms and back, and he was sure Sam wouldn't be satisfied until he'd touched or tasted every one of them.
He wasn't used to sex being this quiet or intense, but he wasn't surprised. Sam took everything too seriously; it made those rare bursts of shining joy almost too much for Dean to stand, even though he craved them the way he craved Sam's hands on him.
Serious was the wrong word though -- because Sam laughed easily in bed, said ridiculous things just to watch Dean blush or squirm, viciously used his long reach and longer memory to seek out every ticklish and weak spot Dean had ever failed to protect. There were a couple of pillows they were going to end up paying for and possibly one of the lounge chairs on the patio. Dean thought they ought to get a break on that -- everything was rusted from exposure to the salt air.
They left the curtains open at night, nothing but moonlight spilling across the sand and beach. Occasionally they might see flashlights on the dunes, hear the low rumble of ATVs on the sand. Turtle watchers mostly, patrolling the beach, marking the nests. Sam gave him a report every morning.
They'd gotten out of synch a little. Sam fell asleep on his stomach, stretched crosswise on the bed, chin tilted up like he could smell the ocean. Sun darkened skin shifted from shadow to silver as the clouds moved over the moon, and Dean pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a flannel when the room got too cool and he couldn't sleep. He pulled the comforter over Sam when he burrowed into the mattress, a frown marring his face. It eased as the warmth settled and Dean gave half a thought to how it would be warmer if he just closed the glass, but instead he stole the remaining pillows and made room for himself at the head of the bed, out of the direct path of the breeze. The air ruffled Sam's hair, and the sound of the waves once more half-hypnotized Dean. Or maybe it was the steady rise and fall of Sam's back as he breathed.
Dean dozed, startling awake when the bed shifted and tilted as Sam pushed up, awake again, trying to move quietly but too sleep-addled to be graceful. He didn't turn the lights on, only dropped the covers, moving toward the bathroom by feel, more steady when his eyes adjusted.
Dean didn't move or speak, only waited, keeping his eyes down as Sam returned and glanced his way. He could feel his gaze linger, but Sam only moved past the bed to the glass door.
Maybe this was what Sam saw, all shadows and blurred edges. Shapes recognized but not really known, familiar but not graspable. Sam was silhouetted against the glass and the sea, the glint of moonlight on the metal frame making all the details blur, sharp pricks of light that made Dean's eyes water. The moon went dark again and the door frame and the glass disappeared, leaving only Sam, one arm raised against the edge. He leaned forward, hip cocked, the line of his body -- the flex of muscle and the curve of flesh over bone -- oddly distinct even in the darkness.
He looked tired, leaning his forehead against his arm. Dean almost spoke, wondering if Sam had been getting as much sleep as he thought. Before he could, Sam reached down and shut the door quietly, closing the glass against the chill, against the sound.
The sudden silence was enough to make Dean catch his breath. In a moment or two his hearing would adjust and he would hear the waves again -- they were too close to the sea for glass and concrete to block it out completely.
Sam only stared for another moment or two before turning around, putting his back to the wall, entirely in shadow, but there was enough light to show Dean the glitter of his eyes. This time Dean didn't drop his own.
He didn't lean toward poetry. He had all kinds of clever and flattering things he could say to a partner, was adept at dodging any substantial small talk, meant the murmured words of appreciation he whispered against soft skin and silky hair. He could assemble and disassemble, rearrange and reconfigure his lead-in lines, his arguments, his compliments as easily as he did his weapons. Touch and twist there and whisper here, smile and flatter and tease and cajole, and never be disappointed when he got turned down. It was the only kind of defeat he could take gracefully. With Sam it was jibes and light punches, snark and fake slaps that turned to caresses.
It wasn't like he didn't know that Sam had always filled up huge parts of him; Dean himself had put him there, packing bits of Sam, of Sammy into secret, hidden places, fearing the day when those stolen bits were all he'd have left. He was greedy enough to have packed the good with the bad -- the defiant jut of Sam's chin when he'd argued with their father, the unfeeling way he'd say I want more which Dean always heard as You're not enough. He'd displaced parts of himself to make room for more of Sam.
It never occurred to him that Sam had been gathering those pieces up like breadcrumbs, hoarding them just as greedily. He showed them now in odd moments, in whispered confessions against cooling sheets and heated skin.
In the darkness he gave them all back again. Dean wasn't ready to do the same, not yet, but he was getting there.
"You seeing ghosts?" he asked quietly.
The shadow that was Sam detached itself from the wall, backlit and framed by the window. His shape blocked out the light, or merely took it in, absorbing it like he did the sunshine. Dean wondered if Sam had gotten so big because he needed the extra space to contain all the thoughts and feelings that would have crushed Dean by now, he was sure. It was training and years of seeing the mythical made real that made Dean see him not as his brother but as some creature who would look more natural rising from the sea, not so much god as something too old and too vast to be contained by mortal flesh. Possibility not poetry.
"None we need to worry about," Sam said and crouched low, crawling across the end of the bed, looking less huge, less otherworldly, individual features easier to distinguish as he came closer. Any lingering traces of myth or dream were chased away, when Sam dropped all of his not inconsiderable weight on the mattress, making the whole bed shake. His head ended up by Dean's hip, an arm flung across his thighs.
His skin was cool and his hair tangled from the breeze, from too many days of sea and salt.
"We should hit the road tomorrow." Sam rubbed his cheek against Dean's hip like a cat.
"It's off season until Friday. We can stay."
Sam rolled up and shifted the press of his hand to the bare skin under Dean's shirt. "You're bored and I'm...I'm ready to go."
Sam wasn't looking at him, was staring down at the blankets, or Dean's legs. He wasn't pressing the issue, wasn't trying to make a big deal out of it. But the truth was there. This was a rest stop, no more. They'd hit the road and Sam would deal for a few months until it got to be too much. They'd find someplace quiet and remote, and he'd rest, gear back up again.
Barring them finding some way for Sam to stop seeing what he saw, the pattern would repeat itself, over and over. Wear the same grooves in Sam's forehead, make Dean's heart pound a little too fast when the fear of Sam cracking under the weight of it all got too great.
There hadn't been any talk of Sam going back to some other kind of life in months. Dean kept trying to press the point, because he felt like it was his duty. Sam wasn't unhappy doing this, being on the road, not even really unhappy with the hunting they'd been doing. But he wasn't happy either, and Dean honestly couldn't remember the last time Sam had been happy. Before Stanford? During? They'd fought so long and so hard and lost so much, it seemed like there should be a pay-off.
For the most part Dean knew he'd found his. The sharp grief of their father's death still lingered but it was duller than it had been. The hunts they went on seemed easier or they'd just gotten better, falling back into a sense of teamwork that Dean had missed like a limb. He was happy more often than he wasn't. Sam could still be a pain in his ass but he kept Dean on his toes. Zen marathons of wave watching aside, Dean wasn't bored, not with Sam's company, not with Sam's conversation, and God knew, not with having Sam in his bed. He might still occasionally freak out or wonder what the hell they were doing, or experience any number of other emotions, good and bad -- but boring wasn't anywhere near the list.
"Got any idea where to go next?" he asked instead of voicing any of it.
Sam rolled away, eyes to the ceiling, tucking an arm under his head because Dean had all the pillows. "There were those animal attacks up in the Adirondacks. Might be something. Some cars turning up abandoned out on 569 in Mississippi. Plague of frogs in Lucasville."
"Plague of frogs?"
Sam smiled, teeth showing. "So they say."
"You're making that up."
"Huh. Frogs. Nothing about flies or locusts."
"Just frogs. Toads, actually."
"I hear they've got turtles on this beach."
"Seriously. Nesting ground for great Leatherneck turtles. We should stay up one night and see if they show."
"Leatherbacks and they have been coming, but they don't come in a herd and we've got five miles of beach."
"Turtles are slow. We could--"
"We don't need to stay."
"I know. But we can. A couple more days. End of the week. Then we'll check out the frogs. Toads."
"Yeah, okay," Sam said quietly. Dean knew him too well to miss the underlying tone of relief at that. Sam would steel himself again come Friday, but a few more days...a few days for Dean to figure out if not how to fix this, then at least make it better. A phone call or two. A place they could go, maybe work from...a place to go back to, quiet and without any ghosts at all.
"Okay," Dean said and rolled over to face him. "How come on all the nature shows they always show hundreds of little turtles all heading for the water together if turtles don't herd?"
"What? That's when they hatch. A couple of hundred eggs in one nest. Once they hit the water, they scatter. Let me have a pillow."
"No," Dean said scrunching them all under his head. "Seems like they'd have a better chance in a herd."
"Maybe, but they all live alone. Mating and hatching." He reached over to grab at the bottom-most pillow.
"Nuh uh," Dean said locking his arms around all of them. "You snoozed, you lose."
"You really are twelve," Sam said and snatched up the comforter, bunching it up under his head.
"Okay, there's only one blanket."
"One for one? I don't think so."
"How about one pillow and my sweats?"
"Why would I want your swe---"
By morning, Sam had three of the pillows and Dean had lost his shirt as well.
[ email ] [ comments ] [ index ]