″Dean, Donnie called, asked if we’d be okay with meeting up today since he’s in town?″
Sam’s hands were curled around the doorway’s edge, letting his arms take his weight as he leaned into the room without actually stepping inside. Dean could tell his mood was nowhere near as relaxed as his stance—the smile he gave Dean was tight, not to mention the tidy distance he was keeping between them. He was dressed too, looking like he’d been up for a few hours—probably had been because Dean could smell coffee brewing.
He held out hope that whatever was up with Sam, the fact he’d made coffee was a good sign.
It took a minute or two to pull himself upright, and then Dean eased his legs over the edge of the couch—his knees were bitching up a storm. It added to his feeling out of sorts. He sat wondering why he was on the couch until the memory of the incredible early morning he’d had with Sam hit him like a runaway train. How the hell had his brain even withheld that from him? It’d been a fuckin’ miraculous morning—he’d come so hard it knocked him right out, and Sam too. So why the hell was Sam not on the couch with him now? After what they’d shared, Sam should be here, right on Dean’s ass. So to speak.
″Oh, unh, yeah Sam, sure, that sounds good. You know, let’s stop at the diner before. Cooking’s out for the next day or two since I disconnected the stove.″
He could see Sam was struggling to keep a neutral expression, but he’d never had been all that good at covering up his feelings from Dean; Sam not meeting Dean’s eyes was always a huge ass tip-off that he was hiding something, and Dean’s gut lurched with a sick feeling. Sam was having some kind of negative feelings about last night. Had to be about last night. Fuck...wouldn’t it be just his luck, Dean thought, that in thinking he’d opened the door to healing them, he’d screwed them up even worse? Fuckin’ doing it again, taking the lead without considering the consequences….
Sam pulled back and crossed his arms, gave Dean another one of those tight, little smiles. ″All right, that sounds good. I’ll call him back and let him know we’re coming. Gonna run Fidus first—grab a cup of coffee when you get out of the shower, it’s all set.″ Sam unfolded, patting the door frame—a little sign that meant he was done talking.
″Cool, I’ll be ready in a few.″ Dean stood, and yawned, grimacing as he stretched. Fuck, he really felt like he’d thrown himself from a moving car instead of sleeping a couple hours on the couch—maybe Sam was right about getting new furniture. He heard a little gasp, a familiar sound that in good times would usually have been followed by Sam latching onto some part of him. Dean made a bigger show of stretching, feeling somewhat more hopeful, but he turned to find an empty doorway.
Yep. That was some short-lived hope. Dean sighed. Didn’t matter. Dean knew they were right there, and last night proved it. He was not going to spend the rest of his damn life wondering what if I'd done this, or not done this. Screw that. He was going to fix them. He was going to get his relationship with brother back if he had to drag Sammy kicking and screaming into it. Okay, maybe not kicking and screaming because that sounded counterproductive, but back to being Sammy and him together, brothers, best friends, and that other thing. End of story.
Hunh. The diner looked exactly the same, Dean thought, as their car doors opened and shut in sync. Not that he’d really expected it to look any different. They never really changed all that much, diners; they seldom got more than an updated menu, prices raised, or maybe their bathrooms fixed up. He was probably one of the few people around who could say that with certainty. The thought made him laugh—what a life. Sam made a little inquiring noise, but Dean just shook his head, opening the door for Sam with a sheepish grin and a shrug. Earned him a sliver of a smile back from Sam.
Walking into the place made the hair on Dean’s neck rise, just for a moment—not in a necessarily unpleasant way. He and Shel had eaten here a lot, but strangely, he’d never brought Sam here. It made for an odd moment, looking across the table and seeing Sam slide into the booth across from him. He picked up the menu and let out a little breath. Yeah, this was better.
A young girl came up to the table, pulling a pen out of her tumble of jet black hair. She smiled at them, wide and professional, as she flipped open her order pad. "What can I get you guys?″ she asked, and Dean wondered when the hot waitresses had all turned into little babies. Shame, that. Seemed unfair….
Checking out the menu, he ordered for Sam and himself while his brother looked on in interest, his chin resting on his hand and the faint ghost of the smile he’d given Dean earlier softening his mouth.
"Great,″ the waitress said, tucking the pen back into the thicket of her curls. "It’ll be up in a moment. My shift is ending so another waitress’ll be bringing your food. You guys have a nice day.″
When they were alone again, Sam asked in a deceptively gentle voice that wasn’t fooling Dean one damn bit, "Ever occur to you that I don't like when you order for me?″
″I—I – oh. It’s not something I do a lot. Is it?″ Dean asked, suddenly not entirely sure that ordering for Sam every so often wasn’t some sort of bullying, uber-controlling thing. ″I just. I don't know, sometimes you don't eat enough.″
″And that’s always been a problem of ours—that you can’t seem to get a handle on separating yourself from me. Or what you’re feeling from what I'm feeling. I love you, Dean, a lot; I just want to be my own person as I’m doing it.″
″And that’s why, Sam. That right there is why I stepped aside when we got back on the road. So you weren’t chained to me with that as well—″
"See? That’s just the sort of thing I’m afraid of. That you’d forget what you said last night, or, or didn’t mean it, the same way you did when we were here the first time. That’s why I automatically try and protect myself from you, Dean.″ You hurt me glittered in Sam’s eyes.
"Sam, of course I meant it. I do. Maybe it’s my fault, I pull away, but you, you just let it happen so I think, 'it can’t mean as much to him as it does to me’, and why would it...sometimes, Sam, I hardly know what the fuck to think. I just know one thing—" Dean realized he was getting loud when he saw the little kids sitting in front of them were staring wide-eyed and fascinated over the back of their booth. ″Let’s talk about this later, okay? And I mean it, we will talk. Swear.″
Someone came up to their table and Dean shoved his napkin aside so the waitress had room to set plates down.
″Good to see you back, handsome.″
Dean jerked his eyes up and smiled when he recognized who’d spoken. ″Hee-ey Doris. How’ve you been?″
The sixty-some year old waitress gave him the once-over and smirked. ″I’ve been good, hon. Looks like time’s been good to you, too. And who’s this handsome friend of yours?″
″Ah-ah-ah. You're gonna have to keep your hands to yourself. That one’s mine.″ Dean said. He could feel the blush rise on his cheeks, but he kept the cheeky grin on his face by sheer will-power. Sam and Doris both gawped at him, identical looks of surprise on their faces, but okay, Dean got it. He’d never acknowledged Sam outside of the bubble of safety this place had felt like, never out in the general world before. But it had been for Sam's sake he did it, to protect him from the idiots and creeps in the real world. Who knew that Sam was taking it as rejection?
Dean closed his eyes. He should have known. He was such a fuckin’ idiot…
″Good taste, darlin’.″ Doris winked at him. ″You enjoy your...breakfast,″ she drawled and sauntered off, swinging her hips like she was twenty.
″Wow.″ Sam said, reaching for his fork and knife. His cheeks were a little pink, and he had the most pleased smile on his face. "Okay, that was...″
″Yes, it was.″ Dean winked at Sam over the rim of his cup.
Taking a healthy bite of his egg white omelet, Sam chewed thoughtfully for a few minutes, his eyes fixed over Dean’s shoulder. He swallowed and shifted focus to Dean. ″Thanks,″ he said.
″Hey, I know what you like.″
″No, I meant—″
″I know,″ Dean said.
″Oh. Well...okay, then.″
They finished breakfast in silence, but it was a pretty good silence, Dean thought. Maybe he’d been cheating on his Undercover Seduction Master Plan, what with blowing Sam into compliance last night, and then practically jumping up and claiming him in public, but look what it got him—that expression on Sam’s face, and the way Sam was currently hooking his foot around Dean’s….
"Want me to warm that up?″ the sultry voice came again, and Doris wasn’t fooling anyone, Dean thought. "Nope. Got this one all on my own, thanks.″
They swung by their house to gather up Fi, then headed over to Donnie and—to Donnie’s. Dean figured there was probably never going to be a time when he wouldn’t automatically add Ford’s name to Donnie's.
They pulled up to the front of the Sprigg’s house, parking behind a moving truck that was pulling off. The front door was open and Donnie was in the open doorway, waving to them. "Coming,″ he called out, stepping onto the porch. Fi started jumping back and forth in the rear, totally ignoring all the rules of car travel: sit still, no slobbering on the driver’s neck, no jumping around, and no shedding ever.
Sam opened his door before Dean could get out a warning—fortunately, Sam was already moving out of the way as Fidus leaped over the seat back. The furball still managed to hit Sam’s lap before hurtling out of the door, and Dean struggled hard not to burst into laughter—the face on Sam—it was goddamn hilarious. Lucky for Sam, Fi’d just planted a heavy paw in his thigh. It could have been way worse, way way worse.
Dean snorted, unable to hold back just a little bit of a laugh, and Sam jabbed him in the gut. "Shut up,″ Sam groaned, "Damn it, Fidus.″
Fi paid no mind; he was tearing up the short sidewalk, tail waving wildly. He stopped just short of jumping up on Donnie, as if he knew that though it would definitely be allowed, jumping on Donnie would be painful for his old bones. Instead he leaned against Donnie and licked his hands thoroughly. Fi generously allowed Donnie to make the appropriate fuss over him, and then went loping out to the garden, to sniff around for any changes that might have occurred in his absence.
Dean was still trying to muffle laughter when he got out of the car, until he caught sight of Donnie. Donnie had changed; he was thinner, and a little stooped, and looked older than the two years they’d been gone. Still, the smile he gave them was bright and wide, and he looked genuinely pleased to see them.
"The minute I heard you boys were back in town, I told Shel to send you out here. It's damn good to see you," he said, spreading his arms wide. Sam, and then Dean, hugged the old guy, and respectfully ignored the way he wiped at his eyes.
Sam followed him inside, Dean took up the rear, looking around in surprise. It didn’t look like same house—and then Dean realized it was just emptier than he’d been expecting. The walls were bare, and some of the larger pieces of furniture were gone, like that big table in the dining room where they’d had dinner together, and the buffet thing Dean remembered being laid out with deserts when they’d spent Thanksgiving with the boys. The couch Sam had slept on while they cleaned up after was still there, but the puffy cushions, and the thick, fuzzy throw that Ford had made tucked around Sammy were gone. There was just a general air of sadness, as if the life in that house had been sucked out. Sam glanced at Dean, his eyes gone dark and serious, and Dean understood what he was thinking; how difficult, how painful it was to go on without the person who made your life worth living. He nodded, a subtle tilt of his head, but it was enough to make Sam smile softly at him.
How sad, Dean thought, the way grief could sink into the bones of a house and change it. The welcome that Ford and Donnie's house had always had was muted now, nearly gone. Maybe it was good that Donnie was leaving. Dean couldn’t imagine the man would be able to stay, not with daily reminders that he’d lost Ford.
Sam moved around Dean, his hands gliding gently over Dean’s waist as he passed him, and went to Donnie. He laid his hand on the man’s shoulder, squeezing a bit before stepping back. ″You seem tired, Donnie. It’s hard packing up, isn’t it? Going through all your stuff and...″
Sam’s voice trailed off as Donnie took in a loud, shaky breath. ″Oh, yes. I...″ he wiped his face, and sighed. ″Yes. it’s hard, boys, it’s very hard.″ He let Sam wrap him up in his mile-long arms and pull him in against his chest. Dean knew just how good those hugs could be. Like finally finding water after being lost in the freakin’ desert. Just good and...safe.
Yeah. Sam always was better at that stuff than Dean was.
They spent the afternoon with Donnie, talking about the times past they’d shared, the changes coming in the future—Sam promised Donnie they’d come back soon.
″Call us when you’re here packing, so we can help you out. We mean it, Mr. Don,″ Dean said, stooping a little to meet Donnie’s eyes, and not leaving until Donnie agreed to the help.
Back in the car, Sam sat quietly, tapping the dash as Dean took a few seconds to rifle through his cassette box, and change out the tape in the deck. Out of nowhere, Sam said, ″Something's wrong,″ startling Dean. He fumbled a cassette, dropping it, had to lean over and fish around under the seat to find it, no thanks to Sam, or help from him either. Dean peered up at him, pissed at first, but Sam looked totally serious, so Dean just sat back with a grunt.
″Hunh. Well, yeah, I did think he looked kinda off. But I don’t know, he’s moving, probably got too much to think of.″
″Haunted,″ Sam said firmly. ″Like he’s carrying a weight a little heavier than grief.″
Dean steered away from the curb, eyes darting towards the back seat to check on Fi, then back towards the house. There was a dark shape at the living room window...it looked a little taller than it should. ″Haunted. You mean that literally, Sammy?″
″What? Literally? Well, I’m not sure I did, but now I am wondering...″
″No way to find out without sounding crazy.″ Dean smirked. ″But that’s pretty much our stock in trade, ain’t it?″
Dean felt pretty damn good when that got a solid laugh out of Sam. ″Yeah, I guess it is. We’ll invite ourselves over for cocktails; we’ll bring the booze and EMF meters.″
″Do you think we should paint the kitchen the same color as before?″ Dean pursed his lips, staring at the walls with the concentration of a heart surgeon before they cracked a patient’s chest open.
They were already sticky and gross from taking the cabinet boxes out. Working in the small space had heated it up despite the touch of fall in the air, and Dean once again was babbling about ripping out walls and bringing the kitchen up to date and blah-blah-blahblah….
Sam looked Dean up and down, glanced around the area before shrugging. Really, as far as he was concerned, a kitchen was a kitchen was a kitchen. It was just a place where Dean cooked. Like, really really good, but still….″Yeah. I guess. I don’t know...″
″Sam, you can’t be this clueless; hork up an opinion, for god’s sake.″
Sam could see it frustrated the hell out of Dean, having a brother who was a total blank in terms of taste. His lips were plumped from chewing on them, the habit he had of licking them in thought. The worn-out old jeans he was wearing had slid down a little, pulled by the weight of the ridiculous and certainly not sexy tool belt he wore. There was nothing hot about the tight-ass A-shirt he was wearing, nothing hot about the streak of sweat down the back that darkened the fabric and clung to him, and the way the muscles in his arms rolled and bunched when he reached up to scrub a hand through his sweat-dampened hair...fuck. The way his eyes widened with outrage, and the way it just made them look that much greener and his lashes longer and darker than normal and—
Oh. My. God. Just fuck this kitchen shit—″All right then, I do have an opinion. And my opinion is I wanna fuck you in the shower. Like, right now. Can we do that?″
Dean gawped at Sam, but only for a moment before setting his tools down. He let out a long, dramatic sigh, like Sam was being ridiculously demanding. ″Okay. Well, that’s kind of out of left field, but I guess I can deal with it.″
Sam shoved him hard enough to stumble him across the small kitchen, laughing all the way. "Jerk!″ Sam yelled, and Dean only laughed harder, gasping out, "Bitch!″ in between breaths.
Sam walked over, grabbed the center of Dean’s shirt and yanked him in, planting a big, wet, kiss on him. ″Fuck, I’ve missed being able to do this whenever I wanted, missed you doing it to me. Wanna return the favor of the other night, Dean. I wanna get on my knees and suck you down—choke on your fucking beautiful dick—″
″Holy fuck. Me too, I mean, I want you to do that too. Damn, Sam,″ Dean smirked at him. "Almost forgot what a mouth you get when you go all alpha male on me.″
Sam refused to dignify that with an answer so he just dragged Dean towards the stairs.
They made it upstairs in record time, despite elbow digs and hip-checks, with a lot of snorting and giggling, and stumbling into walls. Sam saved a naked Dean from plunging headfirst into the shower when he tripped on the bathmat while stripping—he just barely avoided ripping through the shower curtain.
"Jesus, you're graceful as a toaster,″ Sam muttered and kicked their discarded clothes into the corner.
"Hey, what ya doin’? We’re putting those back on after.″
Sam made a face, nose wrinkling in disgust at his Neanderthal brother once again. He stepped into the tub and turned Dean so he wasn't facing the water "Noo-o, we’ll be clean then. Our clothes, however, will be rank with BO 'n sweat.″
"So picky,″ Dean mumbled, but he was already absently rubbing a little soap over the swell of Sam’s ass, licking around his nipples s he did it. When Dean grazed them with his teeth, Sam rocked into it, shivering.
"Fuck. You know I love that, yeah, when you suck them, go on...″ Sam moaned as he cupped the back of Dean’s head, trying to keep him focused there, but Dean shook his head.
"Not looking to drown in here, Sasquatch. How about you face the wall, though, let me finger you open?″
Dean slid to his knees and Sam’s own knees almost buckled. Oh. Fuck. Dean knew how much he loved that too. They didn’t fuck all that often, tending more towards blowjobs or using hands, but Sam loved Dean’s fingers in his ass as he blew him; it was his favorite, something about it was so fucking intimate.
"Just for a second, drown or not, I can’t be this close to your ass and not..″ Dean was sucking and nuzzling at an ass cheek, and muttering away about something. Sam tipped his head so he could hear him better and almost kicked him. The fucker was talking about renovating the shower, higher nozzles and a seat and grab bars and, Jesus, this remodeling stuff was a disease. Though Sam guessed he could see the benefits of grab bars..and a seat, wouldn’t mind a seat.
Dean’s fingers worked into Sam, sending pleasure sparking through him. His dick slapped against his thigh when Dean bit down—not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to get Sam’s whole attention. Way before Sam was ready for him to, Dean stood and said, "Hold this.″
Sam blinked water out of his eyes as he grabbed the thing Dean gave him—a bottle of conditioner. Dean held his hands for Sam to fill with the liquid, shoved them between Sam's thighs to smooth handfuls of slick fluid between his legs, water and conditioner making the slide absolutely perfect, then his hand was around Sam’s dick, stroking, stroking….
Seconds later, the head of Dean’s fat dick slid between his legs. It was intense, feeling Dean feeding his dick between his thighs, the way the head nudged and rubbed against his sac, and Dean’s hand speeding up the friction on his dick. He was so hot, the warm water felt cool against his skin. Dean’s touch was so fucking good, overwhelming, and for some weird reason he started to laugh, the tiles bouncing the sound back at them. Soft chuckles came from behind him.
Dean rubbed his mouth against Sam’s wet shoulder, sucking slightly, soothing the sting with his tongue. He pulled back to murmur, "Yeah? You like this, don't you? Feels good, right? You not gonna tell me how you love it, what you want me to do, Mouthy Boy?″
"No,″ Sam gasped, "you just...just do it, whatever you want, however you want it. Anything, I’ll take anything.″
"Fuck, Sam,″ Dean groaned, and Sam was sure he felt Dean’s dick thicken, he started punching into his thighs, faster harder, his free hand dropping down to grip Sam’s ass so tight, Sam was spread wide. Sam reached behind himself to rub his own hole, and Dean cursed, long, loud, jammed his dick between Sam’s quivering thighs, and came hard, mashing Sam’s hand between them, groaning 'til he sounded like he was in pain, grinding his dick between Sam’s legs. Sam tried to keep the tension constant but it was too much for him; his balls drew tight, and in seconds he was shooting strings of come against the wall before almost collapsing with the aftershock and trembling muscles.
Dean’s come dribbled down between Sam’s thighs, dripped to the floor of the tub, swirling around in the water and then down the drain. Sam looked down between his feet and tried not to jump out of the tub—it was just come, just water and it came from him and, yeah. Not really down with standing in it, but Dean was barely holding on, his head rolling between Sam's shoulder blades, breath hot and frantic on his back, and wasn’t moving for a few more minutes at least. Sam concentrated on the feeling of Dean relaxing, cuddling against him, his dick soft and warm against Sam and squashed all thoughts of semen in the tub. He was generous like that.
"Damn, you hot motherfucker...″ Dean groaned. "I’m getting too fucking old for this.″
"Ah, I don’t think so. Up your vitamins, dude, train harder...we just got this back, we’re not fucking going to stop now.″
"How about a seat in here, can I have that?″
"I can definitely see the possibilities there,″ Sam said, turning to kiss Dean, a long, slow, languid kiss, full of tongue and teeth, and Dean muttering 'I love you, you know that right, can’t live without you, don’t want to.’
Sam felt every bit the same.
Dean was nice enough to wait for the next day to pick up where they’d left off, when he insisted they had to pay for the pleasure with some work, so they got back to it. They rented a truck from the home store, and picked up their brand new cherry wood cabinets. They got them hung with minimal damage to themselves and zero damage to the cabinets which Dean counted as a solid victory, and in the course of the day, decided that not only did they have to check the Spriggs house out just to make sure, they probably should tell Donnie what was going on. Sam had a feeling Donnie was indeed being haunted, and if it was who they thought it was, then Sam believed that Donnie deserved the truth.
Dean waffled a bit on that. Not that he wanted to lie to Mr. Don, it was just...he hated to break a civilian's peaceful outlook on the world. Once you knew the truth, there was never any coming back. They’d have to explain about the life, and about the supernatural, and the way it sent dark tendrils creeping out to pull ordinary people down into the darkness.
Still, if they decided they had to tell him, Donnie was a smart old guy; he’d probably deal pretty well with the knowledge. His generation had come up knowing how to keep hard truths to themselves, so there was that in favor of telling him too. Now they just had to convince him first that they weren't crazy.
Seeing as how they’d worked like indentured servants throughout the day and had spent way too many days before that avoiding the laundry—they’d finally come to the point of washing clothes or going naked. Dean carried a basket of their sweaty, paint-spattered clothes out to the tiny laundry room off the porch. He was a little annoyed—he’d argued for naked, but Sam told him he was being an asshole and go bring his disgusting boxers downstairs. No, really, Sam was seriously picky sometimes.
As usual, Sam did the bulk of the laundry work, he always had. Dean’s help with laundry work consisted of occasionally schlepping a basket of clean stuff up the stairs, or bringing dirty laundry out to the covered part of the back porch that served as their laundry room for Sam. He mostly kept Sam entertained while he did the work—a fair exchange, Dean thought. Sam must have thought so too since he hadn’t winged any detergent bottles or dirty boxers at Dean yet.
Dean hopped up and sat cross-legged on top of the washing machine, drinking a beer and watching as Sam shoved a wad of wet jeans into the dryer. Sam straightened and yawned, rubbing a giant paw over his face. He scratched his belly, and Dean peered at the shirt he was wearing. It looked familiar, a Stones tour shirt—and no wonder. Dean realized that it was actually one of his.
He frowned; he noted that the shirt was a little short, as expected, but fit fine otherwise, maybe even a little loose. Dean sure didn’t like that—once upon a time, a shirt of his would have been skin-tight on his brother's muscular frame. He took a long swallow and sighed as he set the bottle down, unhappy at seeing how skinny Sam still was. Well, Sam didn’t look like he’d been raised in a dark basement anymore, so there was that. He wasn’t getting dizzy spells anymore either, the ones Sam thought he didn’t know about, and his appetite was back, well, back to Sam-normal anyway. Greens and veggie burgers—Dean made a gagging face, to Sam’s apparent confusion.
Sam had also gone back to running in the morning again, and boy, that Dean didn’t get. Why the hell a person would voluntarily do that, outside of training, he’d never understand. Not complaining, not when it was something Sam wanted.
Sam looked over at Dean and smiled. "What?″
"What? Nothing. You stealing my clothes?″
Sam looked down at himself, smoothed his big hands down his chest like he was petting Fi. "Maybe. You mind?″
Dean snorted. "Have I ever?″ He took another swallow, so he wouldn’t have to talk. Memories of Toddler-Sam wearing one of Dean’s t-shirts, long as a dress on his chubby little self, swirled in his mind. Puberty-Sam defiantly and petulantly wearing them, sometimes mutilating them, much to Dean's consternation. And finally, the day it stopped, with one last purloined tee-shirt shoved in a duffle bag and carried off to Cali.
Dean slipped off the washer, set his bottle down and took Sam by the arms. Leaning in, Dean opened his lips against Sam’s startled meep, coaxing his lips apart, stroking over the inside of Sam’s mouth, tongue against tongue, sucking gently, dip and withdraw, pulling back with a tiny smack, just to make Sam giggle. Sam’s cheeks were red, and it looked beautiful against the healthy bronze glow of his skin. Sam leaned back against the dryer, long fingers kneading Dean’s waist, fingertips sneaking up under the hem to stroke Dean’s skin..
Dean laughed softly. "Nah, I guess don’t mind at all.″
It was a nice day, a little cool with the reminder that fall was settled in and waiting for winter. Still, Donnie’s garden was so nice it made it pleasant to sit outside on the back porch, and the coffee Donnie served them in big, thick mugs kept them warm. They ate snickerdoodles that Dean had made—surprisingly good, Sam thought. Fidus certainly liked them, managing to mooch most of Donnie’s from him. Their conversation wandered all over, the way it will between friends; old and current gossip in the neighborhood, how much everyone had missed Dean and Sam, and eventually, about grief.
Sam tried to guide their talk around to anything odd thing possibly happening in Donnie’s home, hoping to gently ease into explaining to their friend that the world he thought he knew didn’t exist. He felt like he was gripping at conversational straws without getting anywhere. Finally he blurted out, ″Say, are you having problems with your central air? I was wondering because when we were walking through earlier, I felt some...I don’t know, cold spots?″ Sam knew it was a pretty lame way to approach it, but other than asking 'So, Ford hanging out here, is he? Dean thought he might have seen him at your living room window’...yeah, that should go over really well.
Donnie froze, mug halfway to his mouth. He put it down carefully. "Cold spot. Well...that is an odd question, young Sam.″
Sam reached over and gave Donnie's hand a quick squeeze, said,″Maybe, but I think you know why I’m asking it. Donnie...let me start by saying you mean a lot to me and Dean. We consider you a close friend, and as friends, we’d do anything to help you.″
Absolutely,″ Dean said. "There’s nothing you can’t tell us. Nothing.″
Sam nodded, and waited for Donnie to respond, but he just ducked his head, and concentrated on the floor between his slippers. Sam plowed ahead—what the heck, if Donnie tossed them on their asses, it was what it was. ″So. Let me guess. You are having trouble. Things you can’t explain away are happening, and it’s worrying, maybe even scary. And you’re afraid you’re losing your mind. You’re not. If something feels odd, or wrong, tell us. Don’t worry. We won’t think it’s weird. Trust me, you can’t begin to imagine the things we’ve seen.″
"Understatement,″ he heard Dean mutter, and huffed himself. " We have seen a lot of really strange things. It’s our job to resolve problems that most see as impossible.″
Donnie was staring at Sam in a most familiar way; the look from civilian's that said, oh my god you’re insane, but there was possibly a touch of relief, of hope in his eyes as well. "This is not the time to play with me, young man. This better not be about 'catering to the old goat’.You have no idea what I’ve been going through. None.″
Sam set his mug down sharply, startling Fidus who’d been sleeping under Sam’s chair. He jostled Sam as he lifted himself up and padded over to Donnie, setting his muzzle down on his knee with a gusty sigh. Fidus had always been sensitive to emotion—sometimes, like now, he even managed to be comforting instead of heading off to the garage to hide. He was a semi-good dog.
"It’s a pretty good bet we know a little bit about what’s going on. What’s happening is...″ Sam shifted, catching Dean’s eye. Dean waved him on. "Ghosts are real. We know that places, people, can be haunted, and we know what it takes to undo that. That what we’re are all about. Dean and I have spent almost all our lives trying to help people who need protection from what’s out there in the dark—"
Dean broke in with, ″Yeah, like, ah...you know, that show, Ghostfacers? Ever seen it?″ Sam cut Dean a look, and manfully restrained from rolling his eyes at Dean’s shrug.
Sam shook his head before turning his attention back to Donnie. He was quietly petting Fidus, rubbing the knot behind his ear, smiling a little when Fidus let out a little doggy groan. "I know who you mean. Seen those boys on TV. They say they cleanse haunted houses of ghosts and things. Ghosts.″ Donnie shook his head, but there was a glimmer of hope in his eyes. ″I...do you boys really believe in that stuff? You swear you’ve seen the things those Ghostbuster boys claim to have seen?″
″Ghostfacers, and yes, we have″, Sam said firmly. ″And since you haven’t thrown us out, I'm guessing, so have you?″
Donnie stared at them, blinking, throat working before finally sighing and dragging his hands over his face, rubbing hard before going on. ″Well, hell,″ he said, and pushed Fidus gently aside. He stood and took a few steps towards the deck railing, staring out over the yard before turning back to them.
″Ford...my Ford is back, somehow. And he’s trying to—I’m not sure, but I think he’s trying to watch over me, maybe? It’s scaring me, boys, and I gotta say, I don’t much like being scared of Ford. I love Ford.″ He stopped, coughed out a bitter chuckle. "Lord, I sound like I’m crazy. Do you swear this is the truth, that you actually do this kind of thing for a living?″
″Well, I don’t know about living,″ Dean started and Sam elbowed his asshole brother.
″Donnie,″ Sam said, ″We were raised doing this kind of thing, hunting down ghosts and various supernatural uglies.″
″Various…?″ Donnie went gray. ″Are you telling me that there are more things out there than ghosts? Are monster stories are real? No, can’t be. Are they?″
Sam nodded; from the corner of his eye he could see Dean frowning, but nodding as well. God, he fucking hated this part, the part where they totally fuck up a civilian’s life forever. ″Yeah. I’m sorry. It sucks to know. But we can teach you how to protect yourself, and—and we can help Ford and you. Promise.″
″Oh god, if you say so—lord, I hope you can. But you should know, it’s not a simple story.″
Donnie sighed, ushered Dean and Sam back into the house, leaving Fi sleeping again on the deck. He went into the kitchen and brought a squat bottle from the cabinet over the stove. "I think we’re going to need a little bit of Remy for this,″ he said, passing out plastic glasses. He apologized for the lack of glassware, "all I have, boys.″ He carefully sat before pouring for himself and then for Sam and Dean. Took a sip from his glass, rolling the liquor in his mouth, swallowed and let out a small, exhausted sigh.
″I guess I need to start at the beginning, and that was the funeral. It was after the funeral; started then. I was tired and raw. Completely worn down, but jittery too, you know?″
Sam nodded as Dean did. Yes, decidedly, yes.
″I kept moving, kind of flapping around, doing a whole lot of nothing. After a while, I went upstairs, planning to lay myself down, try and nap. Instead, here I go, poking through Ford’s private stuff.″ Donnie stopped, shot them a sick little smile. ″I mean, what was he going to say, right? There was a box on the upper shelf of the closet, an old, wooden jewelry box with a little gold lock on it.″ He stopped, took a fortifying sip of cognac; his eyes filled with tears.
″Ford had a kid, y’know? 'Fore he went to Nam. He and the mother had never married and when Ford came back, he wasn’t interested in pretending anymore, you know what I mean. The kid, a daughter, was old enough to know what they were fighting about, and when all his family turned their backs on Ford, she did too. The box was supposed to be hers, I guess. Anyway, I broke it open. There was a baby picture of her inside. A combat medal, a Seiko watch, that was the watch back in the day. A Zippo lighter with his in-country date engraved on it.″
Donnie stopped, and rubbed at his eyes roughly. This time, Dean grabbed the bottle and poured for them. They tipped their glasses in sync. Sam watched them drink, Dean and Donnie. He saw Dean in his seventies, like Donnie, gray and a little stooped and lined. For a moment, the feeling was so strong, it held an echo of how he used to feel at the onset of his visions—his Dean, smiling, old and beautiful, and belonging to completely to Sam….
Slapping his shot glass down hard on the table, Donnie said, ″It started then, when I opened that box. Since that time, I’ve seen Ford throughout the house. But...I’ve also seen a Ford I don’t know, a younger guy than the man I met—hell, practically a baby. A soldier, probably Vietnam, considering our age. The Ford I know I run into everywhere in the house, but this teenage Ford, I’ve only ever seen in the bedroom and he never looks at me. He does the same thing every time, says the same thing, like a fucked up film clip, excuse my language. It’s like peering at him through a hole in the world. Mud at his feet, and it’s raining where he is. He was talking, but not to me, y’know? I swear, I thought I was going crazy. And then a few days later, there’s Ford. Again. But this is my Ford talking to me, really talking to me. Promising he’s going to watch over me. Looking like he did right before he passed, but well and happy. But...he shouldn’t be here, should he? Neither one of them.″
Dean looked sad, twirling the empty plastic cup between his fingers. ″No, they sure shouldn’t. But...I think we can convince him to go on.″
What Donnie was describing sounded like a haunting, but coupled with some sort of death echo, Sam thought. But death echoes were reflections of a violent death—and Ford passed fairly peacefully. And not at home. ″Did you bring something of Ford’s back here after he died?″
Donnie shook his head. ″No, there was nothing to bring back but some clothes I couldn’t bring myself to keep. I threw them away as soon as I got home. Why do you ask?″
″Well, ghosts are often tied to something physical they left behind—blood, hair, skin,″ Sam rushed on when Donnie gaped at him, his expression sliding from confusion to vague but growing disgust. But they can also be tied here by unfinished business, like murder, rage...love.″
Donnie dropped his head, but not before Sam saw how his eyes went wet, and wounded.
″The other thing, the other shade,″ Dean cut in, "That’s a death-echo—teenage Ford, I mean.″ He went on gently, moving up to lean into Donnie, his hand on his arm anchoring him. ″There’s something in your bedroom that is holding that echo, that box or something in it, I’d bet, and it was probably triggered by the ghost. The death echo has no awareness. Film clip is a good way to describe it. But the other shade, that’s your Ford, he knows you, loves you...but it’s not really a good thing, Mr. Don.″
Sam said, ″No, it’s not. No matter how much the ghost loves you, and it does, being trapped between...um, planes...″ He sent Dean a glare full of shut the hell up, when Dean mouthed, planes? over Donnie’s shoulder. "Being trapped between planes eventually makes them go...insane. They become deadly, and whatever they felt before death becomes twisted. Ford loves you, but he’s got a reason for being here that makes sense to him. Eventually, it will get twisted. Maybe not now, maybe not for a long time, but it will. When you leave this house, we don’t want to leave Ford here confused and alone.″
Dean was nodding slowly as Sam talked, sadness evident in his expression. Sam knew Dean was thinking about that whole thing with Bobby. Sam knew he’d hoped Bobby, experienced as he was, would manage to avoid becoming malevolent, but the violence, the anger that was a part of almost every hunter’s life, had finally claimed a good man anyway.
″Maybe this thing you're talking about has already started.″ Donnie swallowed, looking nervous now, and the haunted look returned. "He doesn’t want to let me leave. Whenever I stay here, I wake up to find my bags are unpacked, every morning. Sometimes, the doors to the outside won’t open, and sometimes when I get ready to leave he, he pushes me back inside. The last time he did that, I tripped and nearly fell down the stairs. I’m getting worried, boys.″
Sam and Dean exchanged a look. ″We got you, Mr. Don. Don’t worry, okay, because we’re gonna take care of this,″ Dean said.
Donnie sat quietly for a while, and they respected his silence, letting him digest this new, bizarre information on his own. After a few minutes, he sighed, finished off the rest of his cognac and rose. ″Well, boys. Looks like we got some work to do
It was quiet inside the house, and Sam had the oddest feeling that it was quieter, unusually quieter, inside than out. Even with most of the furnishings gone, the walls and floors bare, sound felt muffled. Their footsteps should have been echoing in the nearly empty house, but they made hardly any sound at all.
Donnie pointed out the places he saw normally saw Ford.″I see him all over the house. But it always starts here. I get up in the morning, get my coffee, come out here...″ He moved towards the living room window, grabbed a handful of the sheers that hung there. Pulling them apart, he smiled sadly, leaned against the frame. Said, ″He used to get up before me. Make the coffee. Ever’ morning, he’d stand here and watch the sun come up. He’d be smiling. Every. Single. Morning.″
Donnie dropped the curtain, and shuddered, a silent sob racking him. He pulled away from the window frame, before turning to them. Sam bit the inside of his cheek. Fuck. He knew what Donnie was feeling right now, and selfishly thought, how lucky he is that he only has to feel this once.
Dean coughed, and everyone startled. ″Donnie, how 'bout you show me where you’re seeing the death echo?″
″While you guys do that, I’m going to look around the house, see what I can do. Get started on...″ Sam cut his eyes at Dean and shrugged.
Donnie showed Dean the place in his bedroom where he’d seen the death echo. ″After opening the jewelry box and looking through, I fumbled it, dumping the contents out on the rug. As I was shoving it all back in, this...thing appeared. Like-like I said earlier, a hole in the air. It started just like an old 8mm film clip. Static-y, jumpy, like when they’d start to come off their sprockets, you know?″
Dean kind of did, from watching movies that imitated that action, and from seeing other death echoes. ″And then?″
"And then I lay there, knocked on my ass and scared to death! I told you everything else. Teenage Ford never leaves this spot, never talk or looks at me. Don’t think he can. He’s just a...an echo, that’s what you called it, right?″ He handed Dean the box. ″Here. Something in the jewelry box here made it start. It does its own thing. Starts when it wants, stops when it wants. You can try opening it...but I can't be here when the echo starts up.″
He looked apologetic, and a little ashamed, but mostly desperate not to see it, and Dean understood completely. ″You know what, Mr. Don, why don’t you go out, get some coffee...maybe you wanna take Fi with you?″
″Thanks, Dean,″ he said, knowing exactly what Dean was doing. "I think I will head down to the cafe. Take Fidus for a little walk, spoil him with more cookies.″
Dean laughed. ″Me and Sam will call you when we’re...if we get somewhere, okay?″
He heard Donnie calling out a goodbye to Sam, and then Dean opened the box.
A corner of the room started to shimmer, twist and jump. A rapid flutter erupted in the corner and then a hole irised open, and Dean could see movement in the opening. Somehow, he smelled it:rain, mud, damp clothing and mildew.
″crackleYeah...crackle...ometimes, you fuck yourself up.″ Dean heard sound coming from the scene, faintly at first but growing louder, beginning to clear up as he listened.
"crackle...ut it’s...crackle...okay. You always have a chance to fix things.″ Echo-Ford, young, tall, dark-skinned and shaved head—good lookin’ guy, Dean thought—stopped, drew on the cigarette he had tucked in the corner of his mouth, rolling a chunky, metal Zippo across his palm as he did. ″Ya dig me? Long as a cat’s drawin’ breath, he got a chance to fix what he fucked up. When you’re back in the World, tell her you stupid, and sorry. That you love her, an’ nothin’ you wouldn’t do to make it right. Sometimes, that’s all you gotta do….″
Dean gulped down a hot knot lodged on his throat. Ford was right. Sometimes it was that fucking simple, if you unbent a stiff neck. If you got over yourself...
Dean caught a faint whistling sound, and Ford shimmered, and the scene faded out. The sound of rain on leaves and mud faded, the wet, heavy smell—mud, vegetation, wet human and wool—faded away, and Dean was crouching near the open jewelry box. He dumped everything out of it, poking at pictures, a pair of earrings, a watch...all of it about 40, maybe more, years old. It took him way too long to focus on the lighter, and to remember Ford fiddling with it while he talked, lighting his and the unseen boy’s cigarettes. There was a dent on the side of the thing, and something black in the hinges that Dean immediately knew wasn’t grime or the patina of time. He knew what he had in his hand.
On Donnie’s back patio, there was a lovely, big, fancy grill—the Mercedes of grills, Dean was willing to bet. Well, today the only thing he’d be grilling was Ford’s old Zippo. He wondered idly if he could get Donnie to sell him the grill...was it wrong to hope that Donnie’d be driven by gratitude to give it to him? Hope never hurt, Dean thought, and tossed the old lighter in the grill.
Donnie poked his head out the French doors. "I’m back—are you boys out here--″ He stared for a few seconds before heaving a huge sigh, before strolling over to Dean’s side, just as he drenched the old Zippo in fuel. ″Hey. That’s the lighter from the jewelry box, isn’t it?″
″Yeah. He never used it?″
″No. As far as I knew, Ford didn’t smoke. The only lighter we had around were those toss-away Bics for the grill, or for candles we lit sometimes for reasons not your business.″
Dean smiled briefly. ″Okay, to explain; this lighter is anchoring the death-echo. A death echo usually is the actual death of a person, caught in a kind of loop. I think Ford’s actual spirit manifesting set it off, like tripping a switch. I think this death echo we’re seeing is whoever was talking to Ford. But, a piece of Ford—probably blood—got trapped with the other death and true ghost Ford’s energy is making this death and the circumstances around it replay. It’s possible this lighter is what’s holding ghost Ford here, too...but I don’t think so. I think he’s just not able to let go of you. I’m hoping Sam’s taking care of that right now.″
″And burning this will take care of...will it allow Ford to take his rest?″ Donnie’s eyes watered up, for a moment, he actually looked his age. ″That’s a good thing right?″
″Well, yeah, it is, for the reasons we discussed,″ Dean said, ″But remember, this isn’t Ford; the death echo is like an old movie of Ford. A...whatyacall it, an eight millimeter movie.″
″Oh, yes, of course,″ Donnie said. ″He won’t feel it or know it, it’s just...a film clip.″
″Exactly.″ Dean struck a match and tossed it into the grill, and the flames shot up, making Donnie jump back. Dean leaned away from the smoke and heat himself, watching as the center of the flame went blue, faded to white, and then, was just a flame, dancing this way and that in the breeze as the smoke wafted higher. Dean refrained from rubbing his hands together in the heat.
″I have some cocoa in the house. Let’s have some.″
″Oh, ah...that sounds just great,″ Dean said and Donnie rolled his eyes.
"Please. Like I don’t know you. I’m about to change your world, Dean Anderson. Mexican hot chocolate—sweet, spicy and a dash of tequila, just what you need to warm you up. And,″ he stopped and looked Dean up and down. ″You look like you’re a whipped cream man. You like things sweet, I’ll bet.″
Dean laughed, nodded. Donnie said, ″And your young man, if I recall correctly, he likes to pretend he doesn’t, but he’s the one sneaking out to the kitchen at night, stealing your sweets, hmmm?″
Dean laughed even harder. ″Something like that, yeah.″
″What are you doing here? Where’s Donnie? I can’t feel him.″
Sam swung around, almost catapulting himself over the couch. He sure hadn’t expected Ford to show now, not while Dean and he were still in the house, but there he was—solid, real, standing by what Donnie had called the picture window in the living room.
Ford looked troubled...he had a grayish cast to his skin, and he was frowning. Sam felt the energy coming off of him, a lot like Bobby had felt like when he’d begun to turn. Ford shimmered suddenly, going from solid to pixelated, making Sam blink. When he opened his eyes, Ford was only inches from him, his eyes blazing and fixed on Sam. Sam shuddered—being this close to the angry spirit felt like sticking a finger in a live light socket.
″Where is Donnie? Why is he hiding from me? So fucking ungrateful—I bought this house for him! How dare he toss it aside like this!″ Ford’s shade flickered and came back, solid, and the punch he landed in Sam's chest hurt like a sonafabitch.
″Ford, Ford—listen, listen to me.″ Sam backed away, rubbing at the icy, painful spot Ford’s touch had left.
″That bitch, that ungrateful, unfaithful...is he fucking you? Who are you? Are you trying to take him away from me?″
Ford seemed to grow, thinner and taller, his eyes like pinwheels on fire. ″Ford, you know me, man. I’m Sam Smith. Sam Smith, your neighbor. We lived down the street, me and my br—boyfriend, Dean. Dean Anderson. You remember. You have to remember….″
″Sam? Young Sam? What are you doing here? Why am I—I should be at the hospital.″ Ford looked confused, and then looked around. ″Oh. Right. That’s all finished and now I’m here to keep Donnie safe.″
″But Ford, you’re not keeping him safe. He’s trying to leave and you’re—"
The chill in the air suddenly spiked to frigid, and Ford began to swell again, looming over Sam, but Sam kept talking. ″Not trying to leave you, he need to leave the house. He can’t do this alone, and you can’t help him live here. Don't you feel how things have changed? Don't you feel it in yourself? Think, man, think hard, and look around you.″
Ford looked, at the ice riming the windows, at the shredded edges of the curtains. ″I feel...angry, so angry. Thinking terrible things about Donnie.″
″You need to let go, Ford. You need your peace.″
Ford shook his head, ″No, I, no—″
″It’s okay, Ford. You did everything you could do, honey, and I love you for it, but now, you need to rest. Rest and wait until we can be together again.,″ Donnie said, coming from behind Sam. He held his hand out, winced when Ford took it. ″You go rest, honey, and I’m going to be all right, okay? Just, let go. Rest. You deserve it. Don’t you worry about me.″
″We'll look out for Donnie. You can go now,″ Sam said reassuringly.
Ford looked pensive, unsure, but nodded his head. ″I love you, Donnie,″ he said, and a bright glow outlined him. The glow intensified, filled in the outline until there was nothing left but a tower of light, and when Sam blinked against the glow, it was gone. He heard Donnie’s soft weeping; the bright after image filled Sam’s eyesight and made tears run from his own eyes.
″Sam? You okay?″ he heard, and felt Dean before he saw him.
″Yeah. Yeah, I really am,″ he said and pulled Dean into a brief hug. ″See to Donnie, would you? Oh, and look around for the dog. I’m pretty sure Fidus took off at the first sign of trouble.″
"Of course he did.″ Dean grinned at Sam. "He’s a smart little furball, that one.″ He looked so proud Sam couldn’t bring himself to point out that Fidus had once again proven that he was neither faithful or brave. But what the fuck, he was theirs.
on to part 3b