Reminders of Echoes
PG-13 (mild slash)
Many, many thanks to the combined efforts of brynwulf, moosesal and coiledsoul for the awesome beta, great suggestions, and whacking me with the tense spoon.
Notes: This is fully the fault of eighth-horizon even though she had nothing to do with the story, but everything to do with the inspiration.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. 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.
They brush by like shadows, sometimes like fireflies, other times like rain that falls from a single cloud, that moves on so you've only barely registered the spatter of moisture on your skin and your clothes before it's gone, weeping over someone else.
They aren't even really ghosts. They are...shades...Sam remembers the word. Negative images imprinted on places, in time. They ignore everything around them, even each other usually. They only drift by in some half-remembered pattern mimicking life. The girl who makes the walk to the bus stop every day. When the bus comes, she disappears. The man who goes to the corner market and reaches to pull out a newspaper from the black-sided dispenser. He unfolds it to a specific section -- stock market or sports -- and then he too is gone.
Sam doesn't remember being this aware of them before; maybe once or twice when he was a kid, easily shrugging them off as a trick of the light. A trick of the dark.
They move through him, never around him. He can see it happen but he can't feel it.
They pass through Dean as well, but they hesitate, caught in their own remembrance of seeing something in the corner of their eye maybe. Then they move on, following their own patterns, their own rhythms.
Sam almost envies them.
There was a hotel room just outside of Boise where Sam watched a faint shimmer of a woman unpack her suitcase, lay the clothes carefully in the drawers, settling them over the clothes Sam had put there. She didn't notice. She finished unpacking, moved the suitcase to the narrow closet and was gone. She did it every one of the three nights they were there. When they pulled out on the morning of the fourth day, Sam could swear he saw her walking into the room, suitcase in hand.
He caught Dean watching him with an unreadable look on his face and turned around to check the map, looking for the next places to be in a long line of places he doesn't belong.
In an emergency room in Fayette, he watches a shadow of a man pace the waiting room. To the door and back again, like he's waiting for news. He hovers at the door then returns to sit in a chair that isn't really there, then gets up again. When Dean suddenly shows up in the door, jacket in his good hand, other arm in a sling, the man walks right through him to wait again and return.
"You could have done this, Sam," Dean says, sounding tired and a little put out but kind of slurred. They must have given him something for the pain.
"No, I couldn't have," Sam says. It's one thing for him to stitch up cuts and slashes -- but this was deep, into the muscle, almost to the bone. He hasn't washed the blood off himself and the dried stuff flakes and falls away when he pulls out the car keys. "Let's go."
The man in the waiting room still waits. Paces.
Sam knows how he feels.
In a diner in Wisconsin he watches an older waitress shadow a younger one, tending to customers that aren't there anymore. Her hair is perfectly teased and held in place by so much hairspray Sam is sure he could smell it if he got close enough. There's a red slash of lips when she smiles. She smiles a lot, pours coffee, and reaches out to pat hands. Flirts. Vanishes just by the pie display.
"What are you staring at?" Dean asks him around a cup of coffee and a slice of cheesecake.
Dean grins, follows his gaze to where their waitress is tallying up their bill. "Yeah, she's kind of hot."
The red lips are smiling, the dark hair is perfectly in place. The grooves around her mouth and eyes are deep, the skin on her hands loose. "Yeah. I bet she was," Sam murmurs.
Sam is driving through a small town in Southern Ohio, trying to find his way through similarly named streets to the source of reports of unearthly howling and something that's shoving people down stairs.
Three kids run out in front of the car and he slams on the brakes, arm flung out to keep a sleeping Dean from rocketing into the dash.
"Dude! What the fuck?"
"Kids," Sam says but even as Dean looks around for them, Sam knows they aren't there. The playground to his left is nearly empty. School's still in.
"What kids? There are no kids."
"There were," Sam says and wonders if maybe he's losing his mind a little bit. Sometime. Somewhen.
At night Sam's nightmares still hammer at him like physical blows. He doesn't always wake Dean up when he wakes himself, but sometimes...sometimes Dean is there, hand on Sam's chest, hip next to his, looking rumpled and disgruntled and annoyed in the way Dean can only when he's worried.
During the day there are times when Sam can feel the pain start to lance through his temples. He knows what's coming, what should be coming and sometimes it does but mostly it's just a warning, and he alternately finds himself tensing up against what he might see and trying to relax into it and let it flow. Neither method seems to produce any appreciable difference in results. He either sees something or he doesn't. His head either explodes with a migraine or it doesn't.
In Des Moines they get a great rate on an off-season guest cottage that's better than most places they stay; the kitchenette is welcome to Sam at least. He still hasn't gotten used to diner food again, or the lack of recognizable vegetables.
Sam sits on a bench outside the cottage and watches an older woman come out every morning to hang out laundry between two trees. There's no line, but the sheets and towels and clothes linger and flap for as long as she's touching them. When she moves on to the next item in her basket, they vanish.
Dean comes out too early for him and hands Sam a cup of coffee, sits next to him. "What are you looking at?"
"She's doing her laundry," Sam says and sips at the coffee. She lingers a long time. Big family, he supposes. There's a lot of laundry. When it's all hung up carefully, she picks up her basket, brushes a stray hair from her eye and starts walking back to wherever her house used to be.
Dean stares, blinks, and takes a deep drink of his own coffee. "It's just trees."
Sam nods. "Now."
Sam nods again, rubs at his eyes, and feels Dean's hand at the back of his neck, rubbing out the tension there with thumb and forefinger. "That's got to be a kind of hell."
Sam chuckles and leans back; Dean's hand flattens on the back of his neck and shoulders, rubs. "Maybe, but I don't think so. She seems…" he's not sure. "Like she knows her place."
Dean doesn't say anything until he gets up, ruffling Sam's hair. "Next time you see her, ask her if she'll do our laundry," he says and goes inside.
In Okemah, Oklahoma, Sam nearly drowns under the malevolent vengeance of a young man who meant to murder his best friend and ended up drowning himself instead. It happened sixty years ago and the best friend died six months ago--a long-time sufferer of depression, delusions, and an irrational fear of bodies of water bigger than mud puddles. Revenge thwarted, the ghost is picking people at random on the north bank of the town's small lake.
Sam comes back to himself spitting up water and with the lingering pressure of Dean's mouth on his from trying to force air into his lungs. They are both soaked to the skin and yet Dean is ready to go now, to the cemetery, and dig the son of a bitch up just so he can put him down again permanently. His hands fist in Sam's hair and sodden jacket, cursing the whole time, until Sam stops coughing up water.
Jack Anders laid to rest, Sam wants to sleep for a week and he can't quite get the taste of the lake water out of his mouth. Dean wants to be out of town as quickly as possible. They leave.
Three towns over and Sam's still coughing, though not water, and Dean stops them early, and goes into a pharmacy to get cough syrup and a Menthol rub. Sam cruises the food aisle for boxes of instant soup and soda crackers, then watches the flickering shadow of a man behind the prescription counter, carefully measuring out medications and hand writing the labels for the glass bottles.
The man looks up and Sam holds his breath when the shade looks right at him.
They've never looked back before, not really.
He comes from behind the counter and Sam is aware of Dean out of the corner of his eyes, checking out the condom display. For some reason, Dean finds the sheer number of styles of condoms to be hysterically funny and he always looks. Sometimes he buys the ones with the silliest promises then drops post cards to the manufacturers when they don't perform as promised. Sam tries to tell Dean it's not the condoms but Dean is too confident to believe him.
The pharmacist moves up an aisle and waits and Sam moves toward him, watches his hand reach out to offer something to Sam. There's nothing in his hand, and then he's gone.
Sam checks anyway and sees bottles of older, medicinal standards. A dark bottle of cola syrup rests on the shelf and he picks it up. It's for nausea and Sam can still taste lake water in his throat; algae and dead fish and duck droppings.
Later that night when he's throwing up so much he thinks he'd rather have drowned, the cola syrup is all he can keep down and he's not sure why; it's cloyingly sweet and thick but it works after the second dose. The nausea remains but it's not bad if he doesn't move too much.
It's kind of impossible for Dean to sleep with Sam upchucking or trying to, so he sits on the bed, watching the late night-early morning infomercials play in near silence, doses Sam when the nausea rises again. Studies the bottle.
"The pharmacist suggested it," Sam says. "He showed me where to find it."
"The pharmacist was a woman."
Dean chews on his lip. "He saw you?"
Sam gives a half-hearted shrug. "I guess he thought I'd need it."
Dean uses a finger to taste syrup and makes a face. "That's kind of creepy, Sam."
Sam finds that incredibly funny, and would laugh if he wasn't sure it would just make him start throwing up again. "I guess he was trying to help. They've never noticed me before."
Dean is quiet for a long time. "Do they notice me?" he asks after awhile, sounding embarrassed.
Sam thinks of all the times they've hesitated when passing through Dean, passing by him. Never really turning to look, but aware. And he thinks of the woman and her laundry, and the waitress. People who know, or knew, their place, what they were supposed to do, who they were supposed to be. "Yeah. Kind of. I mean I think they recognize you're there."
Until now, this time, they'd never acknowledged Sam at all.
Dean pulled the blankets up over Sam. "It's still creepy. Creepier."
Sam was right; laughing made him want to throw up again, but he didn't. He fell asleep with the feeling of Dean's fingers threading through his hair. He didn't think Dean realized he was doing it.
They stayed two days. Dean went back to the pharmacy twice, EMF meter in his pocket. He was bored out of his mind. Sam went back the morning they left to pick up more of the syrup to add to the first aid kit.
He got a smile from the pharmacist. Both of them.
The cemetery in Huntsville, Utah, is housed on a narrow strip of land that juts into the Pineview Reservoir. Dean threatens to kick Sam's ass if he goes anywhere near the water.
Something is unearthing the bodies, stealing bones, but the bones kept showing up in the oddest places; --on people's porches and the steps of the post office, on dining room tables and sofas. On the third night, Sam heard the clack-clack when there was no wind to move the tree branches and no locals walking their pets on the concrete walkways.
She is haggish with sharp features and grey-black hair, body bent. Her dress is gypsy-bright. Sam can't find a name for her, but he thinks she might be related to the Aztec myth of ghosts who gather the bones of their ancestors to carry them on to the next world.
"She can't be related to all these people," Dean says. Rock salt only made her leave for a little bit, bones scattered along the path. "And why does she keep leaving what she's gathered all over Huntsville?"
"I don't know," Sam says. There is pressure building behind his eyes and along his sinuses from what he hopes is the dust but already knows isn't. The library in Huntsville is neither old nor particularly extensive and yet there is a woman in dated dress shelving books carefully, up and down the aisles of the reference section. He feels Dean's thumb press lightly right between his eyes.
"What are you seeing?"
"Maybe she can help."
"She doesn't see me."
Dean stands up and looks around. "Where?"
Sam points to the aisle and Dean walks down it. She stiffens when he passes through her but she doesn't look at Dean. She looks at Sam for a long moment.
The pressure beneath his facial bones increases.
She sets her books down and walks to another aisle, fingers lingering on the spine of a book. Then she is gone.
Dean comes up to him as Sam is opening it, Sam seeing the ghostly imprint of a much more delicate hand turning the pages. "A magadelena….cleaning the evil spirits…wait. A Ghost doing exorcisms?" Dean asks, putting the book back.
"I don't think that's…"
The librarian is staring at him, a fraction off from Dean 's face. She turns her head toward the shelf and Sam looks.
The book is out of order. He pulls it back out and moves it down a few places until it is in order. She smiles at him.
"We need to look at the graves. The ones she's digging up," Sam says, pinching the bridge of his nose. He only barely feels Dean grip his arms. "She's trying to put them right…"
He is pretty sure Dean is saying something to him but he can't hear him and Dean becomes as insubstantial as the shades are -- or Sam does. It's hard to tell and he can't figure it out before the world whites out and goes blank.
He wakes up in the emergency room. There are no ghosts or shades, but Dean could have passed for either, sitting in a plastic chair across from Sam's bed. He doesn't say anything, mouth set in a fixed hard line.
The doctor comes in, surprised and pleased that he is awake. Sam's blood pressure was a little low, heart rate a little fast. "May be left over from your near drowning but we could run some tests."
"I'm okay." He feels fine. He's surprised Dean said anything about the incident at the lake.
"You have to stop talking to ghosts," Dean says after the doctor leaves and as Sam is getting dressed.
"I don't talk to them," Sam answers. "And I don't think they're ghosts."
"If they aren't living, breathing, fucking, and picking up a paycheck every two weeks, they're ghosts. Stop talking to them," Dean says flatly.
Sam wants to laugh but he doesn't dare."You're the one who walked through the librarian." He fumbles with the buttons on his shirt until Dean reaches over and does them for him.
"If I'd known she was going to put a whammy on your brain, I'd have filled her full of rock salt, instead," Dean says.
Dean grunts and goes to get the car.
The magadalena -- and the librarian -- were right. Seems there had been something a few years back, storm or ice. A lot of the headstones had come down, cracked…been replaced. The plots were read wrong, the wrong names with the wrong graves. Not easy to put right and Dean wasn't up to moving bodies around. It would take weeks. They settled for some well-placed graffiti, putting the right names with the right graves and hightailed it out of town. The magadalena put bones down. She just wanted things to be in their place. Sam bet she was a hell of housekeeper once.
In Waldorf, Minnesota, the shades hang out on the street corners of the small town. There's a ghost among them, a real ghost, and they don't seem to mind or care. She's visiting the babies, rocking them, singing to them, scaring their parents. She doesn’t hurt them, but sometimes she takes them. They keep showing up in the town's one small park, crying in the middle of the night.
Three decades earlier there had been a kidnapping. The child was never found. The young mother killed herself. Now she answers the call of other crying babies, takes them to where her own was stolen.
It takes them ten days to realize that the reason she's here now is because of a new arrival; a man and his family who moved from Chicago to this small town in the middle of nowhere. Because he saw the name on a map, because it looked interesting. John Halliwell doesn’t know why but the place feels like home. He's got an infant son.
Melissa Ramsey wants her son back. Halliwell doesn't believe them until she takes his son. He still doesn't believe them even when he sees her with his child.
Her grief drives Sam to his knees, sets every child in town screaming, and pisses Dean off like nothing else could. He manhandles Halliwell forward, ignores his fear and Sam's bent over form. "Just say it. Say it!"
Halliwell's hesitant, "Momma?" brings it all to a stop.
Dean shoves the baby into his father's arms and hauls Sam to his feet. "She's buried in the town cemetery. You might want to take her flowers," Dean snarls at Halliwell.
The shades on the street corners watch Sam and Dean as they make their way back to the car.
The cola syrup doesn't help much, but Dean's hands on his neck, his solid warmth at his side, the hypnotic rub of his hand on Sam's bare back makes it bearable.
"What did I tell you about talking to ghosts?" Dean asks gruffly.
Laughter helps more.
It's a werewolf outside of Rosedale, Indiana, that kind of forces the issue. Not that Sam knew there was an issue really, until there was.
The good thing about werewolves is, that much like their lupine counterparts, they really don't set out to hunt humans. They'll go for small game, for pets, for deer, or larger game before they'll turn on humans. They tend not to despoil or hunt in their own backyards, ranging further out to hunt. But even then, it's usually something like being injured, either in their lupine form or as a human, that causes the problem. Unfortunately, once they start hunting humans, they don't stop.
It's the savaged body of a motorist that sets off the alarms. Local authorities are looking for some wild animal -- they're half right. There's already a search going on which increases the threat. More people looking means it's more likely someone will get bitten but not killed. Werewolves hunt because they are hungry or threatened.
They already know what it is before they get there, what they don't know is who; since they get to Rosedale on the first night of the full moon, they are already out of time to figure it out.
They start where the motorist was killed, armed with flashlights, shotguns, silver bullets in their hand guns, other supplies in the backpacks they carry. They start looking well before dark, looking for signs, for tracks.
Dean's got an excellent sense of direction, always has. He rarely gets lost except on purpose, and sometimes Sam wonders if there isn't a charm somewhere in the Impala, because Dean always seems to know where he is in relation to his car.
He kind of has the same sense of Sam, which has saved Sam's life more than once.
It does here as well.
They don't even hear it. Don't smell it or sense it before it rushes them, lunging out of the underbrush just as the moon crests. Dean's hand grips Sam's jacket as he pulls him back and even so, Sam doesn't hesitate to pull his gun and fire. The bullet skims a haunch and the creature shrieks and snarls, crashing through the underbrush.
"Heading for the road!" Dean yells and they both start running. The woods along the side of the road aren't that dense but there's enough underbrush to make it tricky.
Sam's longer legs serve him well at jumping over deadfalls, and he can hear the crashing in the woods ahead of him, of them.
He makes the mistake or has the instinct to glance back and check on Dean and sees the shadow moving before he actually knows what it is he's seeing. He thought it was in front of them. He fires even as he's twisting around, calling Dean's name. Dean lets out a yell and heads into the damn thing, making it overshoot its leap but they still both end up in a rolling, snarling pile of fur, leather, cursing, and the too clear sound of snapping jaws.
Sam can't shoot, too afraid of hitting Dean (and completely ignoring the fact that if the thing gets in a good bite he might have to anyway). Whatever gift he might have for telekinesis seems to pick and choose its own moments and this isn't one of them, so he does the only thing he can think of -- which later Dean will tell him was possibly the stupidest idea ever, even though it works.
He tackles the werewolf.
It's easily his size, probably has another thirty pounds on him, but it's enough to get the thing to roll off Dean. Sam feels kind of like one of those animal wranglers on the Nature Channel when he hooks both arms under the werewolf's forelegs and locks his hands behind its neck; snarling jaws still trying to get a bite into his arms, back legs clawing at Sam's and the dirt with a ferocity that's making Sam's grip tenuous at best.
Dean rolls to his knees and scrabbles for his gun, gripping it just as Sam feels his grip giving way. "Move, Sam!" Dean barks out and Sam does even as the werewolf lunges forward and up, right toward Dean.
Dean doesn't miss -- he's too close to, really, but he still has to lunge sideways as the thing goes for him then drops back, snarling and whining and ultimately screaming in an all too-human voice. Sam has to roll again when it thrashes and snaps, death throes as dangerous as any living attack. Claws rake his legs as he tries to scrabble out of the way, but finally it's down. It convulses a few more times and the light in its blue-tinged eyes goes out.
The only thing Sam can hear is the sound of his and Dean's harsh breathing for long moments, both of them staring at the unmoving carcass. It doesn't change back. Something Sam's always been grateful for, but hard on the heels of that is the fact that the creature between them, no matter what it looks like now, is someone's son or father, somebody's husband or brother. He supposes it could be female although it's kind of on the big side and he really doesn't want to know badly enough to check.
It's still someone who won't ever go home again, won't return to work or school, won't go back to their family. Somebody who'll just be among the missing, possibly chalked up as another victim of whatever killed the motorist, which Sam supposes is true.
The worst thing about killing a werewolf is you can't tell anyone. You can't explain it, you can't make them not wonder, not hope. You can't make whoever got left behind not wait for an answer they'll never get.
"Did it get you?" Dean asks him. What he means is did it bite you, and Sam honestly isn't sure. He feels pretty much mauled and gouged up one side and down the other. Dean doesn't look any better; he's got blood on his face, his T-shirt is torn and soaked with blood. The left leg of his jeans is in shreds.
"I don't think so," Sam says and manages to roll to his knees to find his backpack, pulling out salt and kerosene and holy water.
Mostly they just make sure neither of them is going to bleed to death before finishing what they came here for.
They have to wait for the fire to burn down, using camp shovels to cover the blackened mess with dirt and both of them are stiff as they make their way back to the car. They don't really talk about it. Unlike a lot of other things they deal with, hauntings or possessions, there's no cure they've ever heard of for lycanthropy. They might not change back into human when they die, but they would have eventually when the moon started to wane, unable to remember what happened, unable to stop themselves from killing again.
It's a couple of hours before dawn when they make it back to the motel. There's no one around. Sam tells Dean to take the shower first -- he's got the worst of the claw marks and scratches -- and he pulls extra towels from the trunk. They'll need them.
Sam manages to clean most of his own gouges in the sink outside the bathroom; he is liberal with the holy water just to be safe. Nothing foams but the muscles of his forearms and thighs are already swelling from the damage. The shower is still running but Dean's still cursing up a storm too, so Sam judges he's okay for the moment and pulls on sweatpants before heading down to get ice from the machine for ice packs.
The ice machine is across from the office, under a drive-through overhang that separates one wing of the motel from the other. He sees a maid coming out of one room, pushing her cart while he waits for the ice bucket to fill, but when she goes into the next room, the cart vanishes. Sam sucks on a piece of ice and waits, watches her come out again and grip the handle of her now visible cart and move on. She doesn't look at him, just keeps moving down the row of rooms, going in, coming out. Some of the rooms are occupied.
He sees his own door open and Dean steps out, wearing only boxers, his legs wrapped in gauze that's already showing blood, his chest sporting a white patch of gauze as well. He never uses enough padding. The maid walks right through him. Goes into their room.
Dean's voice is steady enough and he's not loud, but there's enough tension in it for Sam to pull his eyes away from the door and focus on Dean. Dean visibly relaxes when he sees him.
"I was getting ice," he says. "And watching the maid."
"Maid?" Dean glances around and Sam smiles a little.
"She parked her cart right on you," Sam says.
"Ah, one of those maids," Dean says. "Think she'll pick up the bloody towels?"
She comes out just then, right through Dean, pauses and shakes her head. Moves on.
"Doubtful," Sam says and lets Dean go in first. He makes up a couple of ice packs with the remaining clean towels and hands two of them to Dean to wrap around his leg and arm while Sam grabs a quick shower.
Dean's half asleep already when he comes out. All their gear is on one bed. Sam just drops down on the other one next to Dean.
"You tackled a werewolf, Sam," Dean says through a sleepy growl. "Could you possibly think of anything dumber to do?"
Sam tucks his arms around a pillow and buries his face half in it. He hurts all over and it will be worse after they've slept, but right now sleep is all he wants. Actually, he'd like to get drunk but it would require too much effort to get up and grab the bottle of Jack he knows is in the trunk. "Possibly. If I'd had to think about it."
"I could have come up with something dumber than tackling it, if I'd had time to think about it."
Dean cuffs the back of his neck, then lets his hand stay there, thumb stroking along the side of Sam's throat, pushing his wet hair aside, behind his ears. "I thought it had me," Dean says quietly.
Sam opens his eyes to see Dean leaning over him. "Me too," he says.
Dean drops to his side and Sam rolls a little bit so they are facing each other. Sam presses his hand to the white bandage on Dean's chest. It's damp but not sopping with blood. It'll hold. Dean's thumb rubs over the bandage on Sam's upper arm, making the wound underneath throb. He's too tired to worry about what else is throbbing slightly; mostly his head at this point.
Dean's lips brush over his forehead and Sam shifts his hand to touch Dean's lips before closing his eyes. Dean's breathing grows steady and shallow and even before Sam falls asleep.
Outside he swears he can hear the sound of squeaky wheels retreating down the walkway.
They only stay a couple of days in Rosedale; both of them want to move on before the inevitable happens and they find out more about the body they've laid to rest in the woods than they want to know. Sometimes they really don't need to know more than that they accomplished what they meant to. They just head east afterward, drive for a day and find a place that has convenient food, a view of more than the highway, and a discount or thrift store. They both need to replace some clothes.
The town they stop in has one traffic light, three churches, a cemetery, a post office, two restaurants, and a St. Vincent de Paul's, which is kind of funny when the three churches are Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist. Still they find jeans and decent shirts, and Dean buys Sam a ratty stuffed wolf for a quarter. "Don't ever tackle a wolf bigger than that again," he warns. Sam retaliates by buying Dean a pincushion in the shape of a tomato.
Dean's stiffer than Sam, so Sam's the one who goes to pick up their food. There's a bench outside the restaurant they favor; a waiting place for the bus that comes through twice a week.
There are a lot of shades in this small Ohio town, and over the week they rest, Sam gets to know most of them. Not know so much as he gets used to them. There's the farmer who shows up every evening, heading home with a near empty wagon, like he sold everything he brought to market. There's the two girls who walk past the Lutheran church, arm in arm, carrying books and baskets. He thinks they are going on a picnic but they always disappear before he can see where they go. There's an extra barber in the shop when Sam gets his hair trimmed. He's working but Sam can't see on whom.
"Busy town?" Dean asks him the day before they plan to leave. There's a full moon in a couple of weeks and while they think they are clear, neither of them really wants to be in a town when it rises. Just in case.
Dean settles on the bench next to him, arms flung wide over the back, touching Sam without being obvious about it. He's still got his chest bandaged and a deeper gouge on his leg, but only time will take care of either of them.
"Well occupied," Sam says after a moment, watching an older woman right across from the bench.
"So, who's caught your eye?" Dean asks.
"Older woman. She's got a watering can...I think it's a garden."
"Wow. Really, Sam...the people you keep seeing...I'm still thinking it's hell. Or something. Watering your garden forever? Laundry? Cutting hair?"
Sam grins and leans back. "I think...I think I'm just seeing whatever they were happiest doing. It left an impression. Maybe not so much people as moments …"
Dean thumps the back of his head. "Laundry?"
Sam shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe she was just happy to be taking care of her family, or having clean clothes...I mean, they aren't bothering anyone. They just...are. They do their thing, the thing they are good at or happy with …"
The woman with the watering can looks up and smiles at him, then fades.
"Sam?" Dean's hand is on the back of his neck, concern coloring his tone as they both lean forward.
Sam lets out a rough chuckle. "Sorry...It's just...we -- you and me, we aren't that different from the shades."
"Hello? Living, breathing, fucking, and...okay, no paycheck. But still …"
"No, I mean, we pass through towns, we do our thing and mostly -- mostly no one notices us. We do it and move on. Over and over. What we can, what we love..."
Dean snorts. "Yeah...right. You so love this …"
It's Sam's turn to grip the back of Dean's neck...give him a little shake until Dean meets his eyes. Dean's lips part a little before he jerks his gaze away, color touching his cheeks. "If we did the same thing over and over, I'd die of boredom," Dean says and thumps Sam's knee with his fist. "You want coffee or soda with dinner?" He asks as he gets up.
"Both. And pie. The one they made today."
"Brat," Dean says but he goes inside.
Sam wonders if in a few years...maybe a hundred, someone like him might sit close to this spot and watch him and his brother argue, or glimpse them from the corner of their eyes in any of a hundred small towns.
He can regret not belonging to any one place and still feel like they kind of belong wherever they are.
He doesn’t always love what they do. But he's not sure that's what makes the difference. It's not the what, it's the why.
If he's right, then moments of happiness really do last forever. They echo and replay, never fading, never failing to be that moment. Maybe perfect, maybe just remembered. Imprinted on the world.
Dean comes out with a cardboard tray full of their drinks and a couple of bags. Sam rescues the drinks and they walk back to the motel.
As they do, the farmer appears, heading home. He looks at Sam and at Dean, tips his hat.
"Huh," Dean says, staring. "Sam, did you…"
Dean scowls. "You still aren't allowed to talk to them."