Rating: Adult themes
Word Count: 3,881
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue, no offense, no money.
Notes: Thanks to my beta *superfox*
Summary: Sometimes it really is too good to be true.
It just appears one day.
“Why’d you buy that thing?” Dean asks, halfway through devouring a peanut butter cup and working at the sticky mass of peanut on the roof of his mouth. Sam grimaces but then looks at the backseat where Dean has hooked his thumb.
“I didn’t. I thought you did,” he says with a shrug. He’s already got his knees pressed up against the dash and is halfway asleep. He might’ve been more concerned if he’d been more awake.
Dean figures if Sam isn’t worried then he doesn’t have to be either and really, that’s his first mistake. Anything that insidious that just shows up and pretends that it has been there all along, is not good news.
The Polaroid camera slides from one side of the back bench seat to the other as Dean hooks the Impala in a wide loop to get out of the gas station and back on the highway and then thumps to the floor.
It stays there forgotten for weeks.
Dean encounters it again when he’s leaning over the front seat, desperately reaching for the shotgun he just knows is back there. There is a loud growl behind him and something hits the driver’s side door hard enough to rock the whole car.
“Jesus, Dean. Any day now!” Sam calls from around the other side. He gives a yelp and scrambles up onto the roof when the growling heads his way.
“It’s just a boar, Sammy,” Dean snorts, taking a second to look at the camera his fingers have closed around instead of the gun he was looking for. He’s not sure why but he places it carefully on the driver’s seat before resuming his search.
“It’s a momma razorback protecting her young who just nearly took my leg off at the knee!” Sam snaps, holding bloodied hands up and thwapping Dean on the top of the head with them to prove his point when Dean emerges with the gun with a triumphant, “Aha!”
Dean misses but the boar takes off for the tree line so he counts it a win. He’s not sure why but when Sam pulls himself into the passenger seat, still clutching at a bleeding calf, Dean picks the camera up off his seat and snaps a picture.
Sam just glares at him. “Would it be too much trouble to take me back to the motel before I bleed to death?” he asks in his pissiest tone but Dean is ignoring him because despite the fact that the back of the camera is open and so there is no doubt there is no film, it gives a mechanical whir and a piece of cardboard pokes out the front like a tongue.
“Huh,” Dean says, plucking the photo from the camera and looking at it. It and the camera are grabbed out of his hands and tossed unceremoniously into the backseat before the picture can develop.
“For fuck’s sake, Dean!” Sam gripes and Dean shakes himself and grimaces.
“Sorry, right. Bleeding,” he says.
Sam is sacked out on the cleaner of the two motel beds with his leg taped up and a belly full of antibiotics and painkillers when Dean remembers the camera. He goes out to the Impala and retrieves it, taking a few more minutes to root around for the photo. He turns it over and for a second he feels like his heart has stopped.
It’s a picture of Sam like he was expecting, but not. There is another person in the picture and Dean rubs the heel of his free hand into both eyes before he’ll admit what he’s seeing. The photo looks like the sort where one of the people taking it is also holding the camera and from the angle and the distance, it must be Sam.
The other person in the picture is Jess and Sam is pressing a kiss to her cheek while she is laughing, squashing his nose flat. Dean goes to sit on the back seat of the Impala, misses and hits the ground on his ass, barely noticing. He has eyes for nothing but that perfect moment, captured on film and he doesn’t know how. He reaches back to pick up the camera and holds it in one hand and the photo in the other.
For a second he contemplates pitching both out into the darkness of the parking lot.
Dean snorts to himself, knowing that what he’s holding is impossible. An old photo of Sam and Jess has fallen out of Sam’s bag and it’s just a weird coincidence. Dean turns around and leans into the footwell but can’t find the photo the Polaroid he’s holding took and figures it went out the window when Sam tossed it.
He tucks the photo into the pocket of his jeans and stands, planning to return it to Sam’s duffle where it belongs. He looks at the camera for a moment before slamming the back door and opening the trunk. He tosses it into the section with the knives.
Dean tries to ignore the little voice in the back of his mind that’s telling him that this is only just beginning and he goes back to the motel room. Sam has managed to turn over in his sleep and half-fall off the bed. Dean shoulders him back onto the mattress and then retrieves Sam’s duffle, pushing the photo into the pocket that Sam had sewn inside the lining and where he keeps spare change, matches and his small paring knife.
The shower curtain festively decorated with grinning sea horses is whipped back, revealing a furious-looking Sam.
“What the fuck is this?” Sam demands, ignoring Dean’s glare at being interrupted.
“Do you mind, Sammy? I’m a little busy here,” Dean says.
“Just tell me what this is?” Sam almost screeches and Dean realises that he’s not only angry but there’s an edge of hysteria in his voice. He’s also waving something small and flat and Dean finally leans out of the shower and grabs Sam’s wrist so he can hold the object still long enough to see what it is.
Of course, he already knows what it’s going to be.
“It’s a photo,” Dean says, not wanting to be antagonistic but he’s naked and wet and Sam is yelling so he’s not really functioning at his best.
“I can see that!” Sam snaps and his whole body is shaking. “Where did it come from? How did it get in my bag? Did you have this the whole time? Is this some kind of joke?”
“Sam, calm down,” Dean says. “I found it in the back of the car and I thought it had just dropped out of your bag.”
Really, Dean, a small voice pipes up in the back of his brain. Is that really what you thought?
“How…?” Dean can tell Sam is winding down from his initial freak out but he’s also getting dangerously close to a full-on breakdown. He’s opening and closing his mouth and looking at the picture like the answers are on its surface. Dean does the only thing he can think of.
He steps out of the shower and hugs his brother. Sam doesn’t even protest at getting wet. He just slumps and Dean knows that’s bad.
Sam is calmer, sitting on the edge of the motel bed with the photo still in his fingers, being turned over and over. “We lost everything in the fire. I only had a small photo of Jess left that was in my wallet but none of us together. Plus, I don’t remember this photo at all and I should, shouldn’t I?”
“I don’t think you took it,” Dean says. He had gone out to the car to get the camera after pulling on some clothes and he held it aloft. “I think when I took the photo of you after the boar that came out.”
“What? How?” Sam asks, blinking.
“Let me… let me just try something,” Dean says, holding up the camera and aiming it at Sam. Sam flinches and scoots backwards on the bed, throwing his arms up over his face like he’s expecting a blow.
“No, don’t,” he says in a broken voice and he sounds so terrified that Dean drops the camera immediately to his side.
“I just… there’s no other way to explain it,” Dean says, chewing on his bottom lip.
“Really Dean?” Sam asks incredulously. “There’s no other way to explain a picture of me and my dead girlfriend that I’ve never seen before?”
“Just, Sammy, look at the picture. Tell me if there’s anything odd.”
Sam stares at Dean for a moment, his mouth a thin line and then he nods and looks at the picture. Dean notices the way Sam’s expression shifts, how he was looking at the photo before but not really seeing. Now he’s wearing his research face. After a few moments, Sam lets out a little huff of surprise.
“What?” Dean prods.
“Just… that necklace that Jess is wearing,” Sam says, holding the photo out to Dean. He crosses the room to take it and can see a thin chain of silver around her neck. The charm is a small dragonfly with coloured wings. “We’d seen that necklace in a store window a couple of days before you turned up. She’d said she liked it and I was planning to go back and buy it and surprise her with it, but I hadn’t gotten around to it.”
“That is weird,” Dean agrees and then hands back the picture, holding the camera up. “Honestly, we should try this again.”
Sam grimaces but nods, a sharp up-down of his head. He looks like he’s about to be shot when Dean looks at him through the viewfinder. “Say freaky,” Dean prompts and Sam just glares harder. Dean depresses the button and there is the same metallic whirring sound and another piece of cardboard appears. Dean pulls it out of the camera and turns it around but it’s nothing but a white wash for the moment with some darker patches.
“It’s just going to take a minute,” he says, sitting down next to Sam on the edge of the bed. He nudges Sam with his elbow and Sam nudges back while they wait.
The photo resolves itself and it’s again of Sam, but definitely not sitting in a motel room looking tense. It’s a picture of somewhere outside and Dean guesses it must be salt flats of some kind because there’s nothing but an expanse of white ground that rises up to meet the almost too blue sky. Sam is standing in the foreground and off to the side a little. His back is turned and he’s looking over his shoulder, grinning at the camera.
He’s wearing jeans, a checked shirt and a cowboy hat and while Dean wants to think he looks goofy, he doesn’t. His smile is full and bright and he’s got one hand up, holding onto the hat like it’s going to be stolen by the wind. The sleeves of his shirt are torn off at the shoulder and Dean can see that Sam is nut-brown. The tips of Sam’s hair that have escaped from the hat have been blonded by the sun.
“This isn’t real,” Sam says, his voice sad and Dean frowns when Sam balls the photo of him and Jess up in a fist.
“Hey, don’t you want to keep that?”
“No,” Sam snaps, snatching the other photo from Dean’s hand and doing the same with it. “It’s not her. It’s some cruel facsimile. I don’t know what’s going on but I know that.”
“No, Dean. Just… just get rid of the camera. Please,” Sam says.
“Okay, Sammy, okay,” Dean nods.
He can’t do it.
He means to. God, he means to but Dean holds the camera over the trashcan in the motel’s parking lot and can’t let it go. He remembers the two pictures and how happy Sam looked and he wants to see more of that. It’s like a drug and Dean doesn’t see the harm in it. Nothing feels sinister about the camera and Dean is used to trusting his gut when it comes to the weird and out there.
Dean thinks, just a couple more. I’ll just take a few more for me to keep and then I’ll get rid of it and he tucks the camera into a pocket in his jacket and knows that he’s lying to himself.
The very next time Sam is the kind of dead to the world where his arms are thrown out and he’s snoring open-mouthed, Dean snaps a picture and then retreats to the bathroom with it and the camera, feeling a little dirty. He slides down with his back braced on the door and his knees drawn up, the camera balancing on one and the developing photo on the other, waiting.
When the photo is almost all the way resolved, Dean lets out a small noise of disappointment because he can see a bed and what must be one of Sam’s arms thrown over the side. Another few minutes though and he can see that the photo is a side-view of a bed and Sam is in it, but he’s curled around a dark-haired girl whose back is to the camera.
Dean wonders if Jess has dyed her hair but it doesn’t look like her. Dean only saw Jess for a few moments but he knows women. The name Sarah pops into his head and while he can’t know for sure, he thinks it’s probably her.
Dean feels like an intruder on an intimate moment looking at the picture and it’s also raised some questions. He is left wondering if the camera is going to show him infinite possibilities and if they will all be good. He’s willing to take the risk though, just to see the light in Sam’s eyes that he saw in the picture of Sam in the salt flats and with Jess.
Dean decides that he can’t keep the photo he has in hand and burns it. When he gets back out into the main room, Sam is awake and scrunching his nose up. “What the hell is that smell?” he asks tiredly.
“Sorry, dude. Bad burrito,” Dean says.
“Smells like something’s burning,” Sam says.
“You always tell me to light a match. The one time I do you’re going to bitch?”
Sam makes an annoyed noise and flops back onto his stomach, pulling the pillow over his head.
It’s not really fair to take a photo of Sam when he’s in a hospital bed, but Dean really needs to see a happy Sam right at that moment. He just wants to take away the image of blood and how pallid Sam looks, dark circles under his eyes. It was a near thing, a knife-happy poltergeist, and the Doctors tell Dean that Sam is lucky to still have the use of his arm.
A nurse passes by the room just as he snaps the picture and she scowls at him but doesn’t say anything. Dean taps the photo on Sam’s knee while it develops, hoping the annoying tapping will get Sam to wake up and bitch at him but it doesn’t happen.
This time, Sam is standing in the middle of a comfortable-looking living room and he’s holding a little girl upside down, his arms wrapped around her legs and her feet hooked over his forearms. She has her arms hanging down and her hands are splayed, fingers like the legs of a starfish.
Dean turns the picture over so he can see the girl’s face better and he recognises the way her eyes slant up and the moss-green of their colour. The girl is in pink pyjamas with butterflies all over them and Sam is wearing pyjama pants and a t-shirt. His hair is shorter than Dean remembers ever seeing it, clipped at the sides but still falling over his forehead at the front.
Dean tucks the photo into his breast pocket and has only just finished stowing the camera in his jacket when Sam’s eyes slide open and a small, tired smile tugs his lips up.
“You look like crap,” Sam croaks.
Dean wishes that they’d buried their father because he’s wondering what he’d see if he took a photo of the headstone.
He just can’t bring himself to visit his mother’s grave and really, he has no way to explain it to Sam.
Dean has another five photos in his strange little collection when he contemplates turning the camera on himself.
There’s another of Sam and Jess. They are at what looks like a BBQ because there are other people in the background, a pool and a guy wielding tongs. Sam and Jess are both talking to people on either side of them, but their arms are around each other and Sam’s hand is tangled in Jess’s hair.
The second is of Sam asleep on a large blanket with a baby on his chest and a dog curled into his side. There’s some coloured blocks scattered around and right up at the corner there are feet clad in green sneakers that look small like a girls but the rest of the body has been cut off by the angle.
The third is of Sam’s eye and part of his nose, like he’d gotten right up in the camera when it was taken, or he was looking in the wrong side. This one makes Dean laugh for a long time and nearly gets him caught because Sam is snoozing propped against the passenger side window when he’d taken it.
The fourth is Sam alone again, in a fenced in field with a black horse. The horse is bumping its nose into Sam’s chest, probably sniffing for treats in his top pocket and Sam is laughing.
The fifth takes Dean a second to get what he’s looking at, but then he slides the photo into the middle of the stack with an embarrassed laugh because he thinks he may have officially seen more of Sarah’s bare skin than his brother actually has. He knows he should destroy this one like he did the one of Sam and the dark haired girl in bed but he just can’t bring himself to. He’s been regretting burning the other one ever since he did it.
When he holds the camera up and looks at himself in the bathroom mirror through it, he wonders if it’s going to work. When he presses the button, the little voice that he has trusted his whole life screams out no, Dean, bad! but it’s a little too late.
There is laughter ringing in his ears and a voice purrs, “Finally,” before everything goes dark.
Dean hits the ground hard and all the air goes out of him. He tries to roll sideways but everything hurts and someone is right there, wrapping something around him that is itchy and too warm. He’s sweating, shivering and disorientated and it takes a moment to recognise that the voice in his ear is Sam.
“You stupid son of a bitch,” Sam is growling and Dean realises that he’s actually wrapped in a blanket and Sam has arms around him and is holding him almost too tightly.
“Ease up, Sammy,” Dean squeaks and Sam finally lets go and moves around till he’s in Dean’s line of sight. Sam looks dishevelled and he’s got a couple of days worth of scratchy beard going. “What the hell?”
“I was going to ask you that,” Sam says, fingers walking over Dean’s face like he’s checking for injuries. Dean gets his arms free of the blanket and slaps Sam’s hands away.
“He okay?” Dean looks up and around at the sound of Bobby’s voice, who is standing off to the side with his arms crossed over his chest.
“Yeah, I think so,” Sam says, moving back on his knees and giving Dean a little space.
“You could ask me, I’m right here,” Dean protests and then coughs because his throat feels scratchy and raw. A water bottle appears in his hands as if by magic and Dean uncaps it and swallows down half before pain spikes through his temple and he’s forced to spit most of it back out again. Sam’s arms are back but Dean doesn’t protest because he feels weak and shaky and he appreciates the help up into a chair.
Dean breathes for a few moments before he tries again, taking small sips at Sam’s insistence. “What happened?” Dean asks when it stops feeling like his throat will crack and bleed if he talks again.
“You didn’t get rid of that damn camera,” Sam says, sounding both annoyed and amazed. “I told you to throw it out.”
“I… couldn’t,” Dean sighs. “But what just happened, Sammy?”
“There’s this belief that a photo can capture a soul, steal it. A demon took that idea and ran with it, using a camera of all things to get someone to give up their soul voluntarily.”
“What?” Dean splutters. “I didn’t-“
“Not knowingly, no. But the end result was the same. The demon saw a loophole.”
“But you had to take a picture of yourself,” Bobby adds from his place.
“How’d I get here?” Dean asks, looking about himself. He recognises Bobby’s main room and can see the Devil’s Trap etched on the ceiling in the room adjoining.
“We used the camera as a focal point to recall your soul. The demon should’ve taken it as well. We’re lucky he was a little too eager to bother,” Bobby says, holding up a melted hunk of plastic that Dean can only assume used to be the Polaroid.
“Why eager?” Dean asks, accepting a pair of jeans Sam holds out to him and allowing Sam to help him stand to get them on under his blanket.
“Way we understand it, this demon had been doing this trick for a long time. The camera took pictures of people at their happiest, but the images weren’t real, just kinda… fancies. Usually it takes a person only one or two photos before they try it on themselves. I think this demon got stuck waiting for you to get around to it for months and he wasn’t used to being patient,” Bobby explains.
“I didn’t really… think of trying it on me,” Dean says, shrugging.
“Naw, because you’re a big old marshmallow and you wanted to see me happy,” Sam accuses but there’s something soft in his eyes and Dean wants to pull the blanket over his head and never come out.
“Alright,” Dean grumbles. “Tell me you at least wasted the bastard?”
“We did,” Sam says, grinning from ear to ear. “It was tied to the camera too.”
“Nice,” Dean says, nodding. “How about…?”
Sam holds the photos up without a word and they are all blank. “I found them in your duffle. They were like this already. I told you they weren’t real.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean sighs, rubbing a hand over the back of his head. “Thanks… for saving my ass. Dumb as it may be.”
“Hey, I was about due,” Sam says, smiling.