It came again.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
She froze on the stairs.
Heart racing, she peered over the railing, trying to see if there was anyone else in the stairwell with her. Some other reason that would cause the sound. Any other reason.
No one was there.
After moving into the her new fourth floor apartment a little over a month ago, she'd happily started climbing the stairs on a daily basis, determined to keep herself well exercised and physically fit, no matter how involved with her college studies she became. Taking the stairs each day she left home and each day she returned had seemed as good a place as any to start. Especially since her work kept her in the lab almost constantly, weighing out minute amounts of chemicals and studying the reactions with an intense concentration her peers envied.
She was one of the brightest of the chem majors going to the University, always keeping her grades high. Her teachers loved hearing her speak up in class, as she was one of the few students that truly put thought into her queries, instead of the expected requests for information to be repeated.
She had a bright future ahead of her, as all could tell.
But at the moment, none of that mattered.
She turned from the railing, glancing up to the fourth floor. So, so close... she thought with desperation. If she could only reach that door, somehow she knew she'd be safe...
A few weeks into her rigorous schedule on campus, she'd come home one night, climbing up the three flights of stairs as usual. But that night, something had changed. A sound followed her up, just quiet enough for her to think she'd imagined it.
Tap. Tap. Tap...
"Hello?" she called out. Maybe one of the other neighbors was using the stairs, for once. For the most part, everyone used the elevator in the first floor lobby. Modern conveniences, increasing the sloth of humanity. Not something she'd considered for herself. If she wanted to truly delve into the chemical mysteries of the world, she'd need to keep herself healthy and fit, living as long a life as she could.
No one responded to her call.
Maybe I just imagined it... she thought with a small shrug. She made it up to her room without further incident, and pushed it out of her mind.
The next night it was the same. Small taps mirrored her footsteps up the stairwell. They were louder, more distinct this time around. The moment, the second she stopped, they stopped. She checked for anyone else in the stairwell and found nothing. Maybe some little kid thought it'd be funny to prank her or something. Anyways, she had better things to do than stand around in the stairwell checking for an invisible stalker. She finished climbing to the fourth floor and locked herself in her apartment.
That night, she'd dead-bolted it for the first time since moving.
Each night that week was the same. It repeated over and over. There was never anyone in there with her, never another soul in sight. And it only happened when she came home. Leaving in the morning, the stairwell was completely silent. The silence of the grave.
Nerves on edge, she'd finally given in and stopped using the stairs. She couldn't take it anymore. Her pulse sped up the second she contemplated opening the door to the stairwell, adrenaline flooding her body. She started to hyperventilate the night she'd tried the stairs for the last time, panicked the second the tapping started.
She took the elevator each night for the next few weeks. She started to think it was her imagination. None of the other tenants that rode the elevator with her mentioned anything weird ever happening, and she knew that Rosie at the least occasionally walked up when she had her dog out for a walk.
No taps ever followed Rosie.
Everything went smooth those few weeks. Nothing out of the ordinary. She got her studying done without distraction, and was even able to stay after and help the teacher with a few extra labs. He appreciated her steady hands for measuring out the compounds.
But each night, she dead-bolted that door.
Then one night, she'd come home from a particularly late lab. Exhausted, she almost hadn't noticed the sign taped to the elevator door. It took her walking into it for her to realize that the door had never opened. Eyes wide, she read the big, bold letters, all in red.
Out of Service.
"No..." she whispered. She didn't want to go up the stairs. Hear that relentless tapping follow her up again.
She called up her sister, and stayed at her house for the night. How long could an elevator take to fix?
But after three days passed, with the elevator still untouched by maintenance, she had to brave the stairwell. She couldn't live with only one set of clothing, and her sister's hospitality had started to wear thin. After all, she had a home of her own that she'd paid good money for, right?
So here she was.
Tap. Tap. Tap...
The moment she started moving, it followed. Every footstep mirrored exactly. Before, whenever she'd stopped moving on the stairs, it would stop for the night. Cease to exist, or whatever it did. Now, it relentlessly followed after each pause. As if... it knows I'm afraid.
Heart pumping, she turned the last corner to the final set of steps. The tapping drew closer to her, making her think that if she was to turn around it would be RIGHT THERE, watching her. The thought pushed her up the stairs faster. The taps sped up, matching her step for step.
Leaping up the last few stairs two at a time, she barely caught the railing before tripping over her own feet. She stepped to the door and paused in surprise.
The tapping was gone.
She relaxed slightly as she went to pull the door open, but stopped.
The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She could almost imagine she felt it breathing on her.
No, she wasn't imagining that.
Her hair drifted in the slight breeze.
She closed her eyes for a second, gathering her courage. She turned around. Nothing's there, you're just imagining things, you'll be fine...
Then she saw it.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Dean groaned, rolling over in bed. He flopped out his hand, trying to hit the damn alarm clock to shut it up. It took a few tries, but he finally managed to mash the button. God, I hate alarms. Usually he didn't need one, but today he wanted to make sure he got an early start.
He rubbed his face, trying to bring his eyes into focus.
And the first thing he saw was a tiny, pissed Sam Winchester, sitting up on an equally tiny bed not four inches from the alarm clock, the shock on his face matching his crazy bedhead.
Heat rose to Dean's face as he remembered they'd put Sam's bed up there the night before when the nightstand turned out to not have a shelf at all. It was strictly drawers, and Sam said he had no intention of sleeping anywhere he could end up trapped, which Dean heartily agreed with. After some debate they'd settled on the nightstand, since the table was too far away from Dean if anything happened.
Dean hadn't even thought twice when he'd set the alarm clock, intent on an early start.
"Dude, what the hell?" Sam snipped, standing up on the nightstand to glare up at his big brother. Bigger in more ways than one, since Sam was barely four inches tall. He'd been that way since he was ten, and a witch had attacked both brothers. Dean had escaped, thanks to the timely intervention of their father, but neither of them had been able to find Sam when it was all said and done.
Sam, who'd been shrunk down to borrower-size.
Instead, Sam had been rescued by two people the same size as him, hauling him out of the room before the witch could see them. He'd been raised that way for thirteen long years. Long years during which Dean and their father had given him up for dead.
Imagine Dean's surprise when he found a tiny version of Sam in his motel room one day, trying to hide from his older brother (though neither of them had realized at the time who was there in the room with them). Now, Sam was traveling with Dean, and they were searching for their father, who'd gone missing some months before they'd been reunited, and hoping to find a way to break Sam's curse.
Dean winced. "Yeah... about that. I... uh... kinda forgot how loud it'd be for you."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Not to mention almost mashing my bed - with me in it! - when you tried to hit the button!"
Dean rubbed the back of his neck guiltily. "Dammit, Sam, I'm sorry. I didn't think..."
"That's right, you didn't think!" Sam tossed the covers off the bed in a huff. Stomping over to where the small pouch of clothing he owned was sitting next to the clock, Sam sent one last glare Dean's way before turning to his belongings. Dean stretched his arms over his head, still trying to wake all the way up.
He was so tired he forgot he'd only hit the snooze button on the alarm. It went off, blaringly loud all over again. Sam leaped up with a yelp, twisting around in midair at the threat. Dean couldn't help a snicker at the sight as he hit the alarm again, this time shutting it down for the day.
Sam subjected him to a withering bitchface before going back to his things and starting to dig through his bag, determinedly ignoring Dean. From the set of his shoulders, Dean would be surprised if Sam talked to him for the rest of the morning. Hell, the rest of the day if he could manage it.
With a small shrug to himself, Dean hauled himself out of bed. He made sure to keep an eye on the nightstand Sam was on, not wanting to lose track of the little guy. He'd never forgive himself if something happened to his little brother because of him.
Such an early start gave Dean plenty of time to kill, just like he'd planned. He started a small workout to the side of the dresser, starting off with push-ups. Since a hunter's work was never done, he couldn't afford to slack off, even between cases. Little workouts like this might help save his life one day.
Around a half hour into his workout, Dean saw a small shadow walking along the wall of the room. The last few motels they'd stayed in, Sam had been checking every room for tiny, hidden exits and entrances just like the ones that his adopted family had helped make to get in and out of rooms out of sight. He was hoping to find other people like him out there, someone the same size as him to talk to for once. Someone he could interact with without being afraid of being grabbed, or crushed, or taken away against his will. Dean had even checked around for him on occasion, remembering how he'd been able to find the tiny entrances Sam had used to get into his motel room undetected without a problem. So far, they'd had no luck between the two of them.
Even around Dean, the one human he trusted his life to every day, he was still jumpy. Although he was doing much better than before, Dean would still see Sam freeze sometimes when Dean was walking around the room. It mostly happened when Sam was standing down on the floor, and he always had the expression of a deer in headlights when it happened. Dean preferred it that way, knowing that the one day he didn't see Sam on the floor could be the day he unknowingly hurt his brother. At his size, Sam needed the caution.
Finishing up his workout, Dean stood up, carefully checking to make sure Sam wasn't nearby. He grabbed a shirt and a clean pair of jeans, heading for the shower while his brother was still wandering around out of sight. He set the coffee maker to start and got a fast shower, wasting no time while he was in there. He had work he wanted to get done.
Finally finished with his morning routine, Dean grabbed himself a coffee, making sure to set aside a small capful for Sam if he wanted any. He wasn't in sight for Dean to ask at the moment, so Dean shrugged to himself. Wouldn't be his fault if the coffee was cold before Sam got to drink it.
Pulling his laptop out, Dean loaded it up, putting in his password. Invalid password. He tried a second time and got the same message.
Sam shuffled out from behind the nightstand, still grumpy from his startling wake-up. "What?" he snapped, annoyed.
"Did you mess with my password?"
Even from all the way across the room Dean could see his tiny brother sigh. "I didn't mess with it, Dean. I fixed it. We needed a more secure password for the computer. What if someone got hold of it? At the very least, you'd get tossed in jail for credit card fraud, never mind all the information on monsters you have stored on there. Where would I be then?"
Dean found himself gritting his teeth, aggravated with Sam's know-it-all attitude. He had work to do. "Sam. What's. The. Password."
Sam flinched away at the tone, slipping closer to the back of the nightstand with a fearful expression on his face. Dean realized too late how threatening he'd sounded. He tried to tone it down, softening his face from the angry scowl. The last thing he ever wanted to do was make his brother afraid of him. Or make Sam hide from him again, especially considering it made Dean sick to even think of Sam getting hurt because of him. It was so hard to remember sometimes that anything he did could come off as a threat to someone barely four inches tall, no matter that he'd never let anything happen to Sam. "Sam," he pleaded, as gentle as he could manage. "What did you change the password to?"
Sam gathered himself back together, slightly trembling where he stood. "I... I made a rotating algorithm for the passwords, that'll switch once a week. That way it'll be much harder to hack us." He reeled off a series of letters and numbers Dean had a hard time following even as he entered them in.
"How the hell am I supposed to remember that?" The computer finally loaded up to the desktop, letting Dean open up the browser.
Sam shrugged to himself. "I'll show you later how I remember it. But it's better this way - safer for both of us." He slipped back behind the nightstand, out of sight.
Where he didn't feel in any danger.
Dean sighed sadly to himself as he watched his brother's tiny shadow disappear. He could have handled that a thousand different ways, and somehow he always managed to pick the worst way possible. Why was it so hard for him to empathize with Sam?
Because you'll never know what it's like to be small enough to get stepped on. He's small enough that just one thoughtless action can kill him. All it takes is one second you're not paying attention and he could end up dead. Because of YOU. And here you are, scaring the little guy, asshat. Some big brother you are.
Pushing the sour voice out of his head, Dean turned back to the computer, which was finally loaded and ready to go. Determined to distract himself from Sam, he loaded up a few familiar searches. First, he cycled through any of the phone number's his father had used in the past, checking to see if any had been used recently. If they were, he could track them to where they'd been used most recently.
Once that search turned up a big fat nothing, as per usual, he started to search for the truck their dad drove. The man must drive like a saint. No red flags on the license plate, no speeding tickets, he hadn't even run any red lights recently.
Dean rubbed his face. Tracking their dad was turning out to be more difficult than any of the monsters he'd ever hunted. At this rate, they'd never find the man. All he needed was one break, one slip-up by John. That's all it would take, and they'd finally be able to find him. Give Sam the chance to meet the man who'd raised him once upon a time. Dean could see how it tore his brother up inside, not knowing where John was. Thinking John didn't care, after the way he'd never responded when they'd called him up, told him what had happened to Sam. That Sam was alive.
Dean himself still couldn't believe there'd been no call back after that. It had taken John years to recover from losing his youngest son. He'd bounced back faster than Dean, but the haunted look in his eyes had never truly left. He hadn't even been willing to take Dean on any hunts until Dean was almost 16.
While he was lost in his thoughts, staring at the screen, Dean became aware of a slight tugging on his pants. He couldn't stop a slight smile from twitching at his lips. As surreptitiously as he could manage, he peeked over the side of his leg. As he'd thought, Sam was determinedly climbing up. It was entertaining how Sam would rather climb up a giant like that, instead of just asking for a lift. Dean didn't think he'd be able to bring himself to trust anyone enough to ever do that without them even knowing he was there. But for some reason, Sam trusted him completely, even after their argument twenty minutes ago.
Sam scrambled up to the knee, standing to his full, four inch height. Dean dropped a hand next to him. "Need a lift?" he asked, hating to see Sam work so hard for something he could help out with almost effortlessly.
Sam stared at the hand next to him for a second, then shook his head. "I'm good," he said, his tone flat. He turned from the hand, climbing up the side of Dean's shirt on his own.
Dean felt himself wilt a bit inside from Sam's tone, knowing he deserved it. Scaring Sam… how low could he get? His hand dropped back to his side, fingers as long as Sam was tall, twitching.
It was only a few more seconds before Sam made it up to his shoulder, agilely climbing the last foot in record time. Dean shifted on the seat, barely able to see his brother from the corner of his eye. He was starting to get used to having Sam sit on his shoulders. It was strange, how Sam seemed more at ease with Dean most days than the other way around. He supposed it could have something to do with being that size for so long. Sam might not have interacted with any humans before Dean, but he knew about the size difference, which was an advantage over Dean, who had no idea there were tiny people living underfoot until that fateful day they'd found each other.
"Any luck finding dad?" came Sam's small voice, still sounding off from their argument earlier. The confidence he normally had while talking to Dean was gone, a slight undertone of fear still present instead. As though he'd realized how vulnerable he was around Dean like this.
"No, nothing." Dean tried to turn his head so he could see Sam, and caught him at the edge of sight. "Sam… about earlier…"
"Dean, its fine. Can we just drop it?" Sam cut him off. "I'm not… I'm fine. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yeah, sure," Dean muttered, not believing him for a second. He rubbed the back of his head. One stupid sentence and he felt like he'd erased over a month's worth of trust he'd built with his brother. Hearing the fear in his brother's voice directed at him... it hurt Dean more than taking a knife in the gut.
In the end he turned back to the computer anyway, not wanting to go through the argument anymore.
He closed the search for their father, opening up a new screen and started to go through recent news stories in the nearby towns. Maybe if they found a hunt everything'd go back to normal… or as normal as things could get, with his brother being a four inch tall Borrower (not that Sam would ever admit he was one).
After reading through the articles online for around a half hour with Dean, Sam slipped off his shoulder, using Dean's arm to walk over to the table. Dean managed to stop himself from twitching with the strange feeling of feet walking across his arm. The last thing he needed to do was toss Sam from his arm.
While Dean kept the search going, slowly widening the range of towns he was checking, Sam grabbed the bottlecap of cold coffee Dean had left him earlier. He took a few sips and made a disgusted face. "This is so much better when it's fresh."
Dean smirked. "Told you. And you didn't believe me when I told you stuff tastes better right off the grill."
Rolling his eyes, Sam retorted, "I believed you fine. I hate going to diners because there's so many people around. Besides, anything fresh tastes good when you had to scavenge for food all your life."
An article online caught Dean's eye while Sam was talking. "Here we go," he said, pulling Sam's attention away from food. "A girl a few towns over died in a stairwell. Not a mark on her. The neighbor that found her said, 'it was like she had the life sucked right out of her.' No one has been able to find a reason why such a healthy young woman suddenly keeled over, lifeless."
Even as small as Sam was, Dean could see his eyebrows go right up into his hair. Sam was instantly riveted. "Did they put up any pictures of her body?"
Dean clicked through the links while Sam came over. "Nothing. Just her yearbook picture." He pulled up the report from the doctor that had been released to the public. "They say she died from 'asphyxiation due to an unexpected seizure.' But she had no history of seizures before she died, and one of the doctor's mentioned he'd never seen anything like this before."
Sam made an intrigued face. "Sounds like a case."
"That it does." Dean grinned, closing the laptop.
Shifting uncomfortably inside the pocket, Sam tried to concentrate on the conversation taking place above him.
They'd arrived in town earlier that day, grabbing a cheap motel room. Sam was thrilled to see a bottom shelf on the nightstand this time. Seeing Dean's massive hand bare inches away from mashing Sam into his bed had completely freaked him out that morning. Never again, Sam thought to himself. The sheer size of his brother's hand and how fast Dean had moved had made it one of the most alarming wake-ups in his life. Sam wouldn't have been able to get out of the way in time if Dean had missed.
It had even topped the time his family had woken up to noisy humans, stomping around right above them without any warning whatsoever. Sam could remember how easily their belongings had been tossed around, knocked easily to the ground from just the vibrations of giant footsteps overhead. The family had arrived in the dead of night, giving Sam's family no time to prepare. They had been lucky that no one had taken note of the strange sounds from beneath the floorboards - the family that had checked in had been too tired and had gone to sleep within the hour, leaving Sam and his adopted parents trying to clean up a massive mess without making any sound.
But it had been close.
So, Sam so far wasn't having a great day.
And being squished in a pocket for over an hour now wasn't helping.
Dean's voice echoed around him. "And did your sister Marie ever mention what she thought was following her up the stairs?"
The second voice was softer, feminine. Sam had no idea what the girl looked like. Since Dean was wearing his FBI suit there was no way for Sam to see out at all. He was in the inside pocket of the suit, on the left hand side. He had been fairly surprised to learn that Dean had sewn the majority of inside pockets in his clothes himself, needing the ability to hide practically an arsenal on himself, depending on the hunt. Normal jackets didn't have anything close to the number of hiding places Dean used on a daily basis, so he'd taken it upon himself to modify everything himself. They made very convenient hiding places for Sam, but they weren't exactly made to be traveled in, so he hadn't been able to get into a comfortable spot yet.
The pocket swayed in midair as Dean leaned forward to hear the girl's answer, rocking like a hammock. "She... she never said," came the girl's - Sera's - voice. "Just mentioned the footsteps. Said anytime she tried to see where they were coming from, they'd stop. And when she checked, there was never anything there."
It was strange, hearing a human so close and not feeling much fear of her. He knew as long as he was with Dean nothing would happen to him. There was no chance of him getting snatched or stepped on at all, which was something he still wasn't used too.
"Hmm." Dean's mutter rumbled through the pocket. "And she never mentioned... any cold spots? Maybe some electronics on the fritz?"
"No, nothing like that, why?"
"Just want to make sure we cover all the basics. She was sure it was footsteps? Not scratching... maybe a really big rat in the walls?"
"Oh no. Definitely footsteps. She was sure about that."
Dean's voice changed, more sympathetic now. "Did you see her before she passed away?"
There was silence for a long, painfully stretched-out minute. "...Yes."
"How was she, the last time you saw her before she died?"
"She was... freaked." Sam could hear tears in the girl's voice. "She stayed at my house three days in a row when she found out the elevator was broken in the apartment building. I've never seen her so scared..." her voice trailed off. "They fixed the elevator after she died. Figures, right?"
Sam shifted again, trying to find a more comfortable position in the cramped, hot pocket. Being trapped in there was starting to get to him, making him feel like the pocket was getting smaller, pressing in on him...
In time with these thoughts, a weight pressed against him from the outside. It caught Sam off guard, unable to see it coming. Dean's fingers wrapped around him, stilling his movement effortlessly. Sam tried to squirm away for a few seconds before giving in, realizing it was useless to fight against fingers bigger than he was. The grip was gentle but insistent.
Sera started up again, voice cracking. "It's all my fault she's dead... if I'd just let her stay one more night... just long enough for the elevator to get fixed... maybe this wouldn't have happened..." she trailed off into stifled sobs.
The pressure was gone from Sam as fast as it had come. Dean softened his voice to the girl. "There's no way you could have known anything like this this would happen. It's not your fault." He stood up, gravity pushing Sam briefly to the bottom of the pocket from the motion. "If there's anything else you think of, or if anything comes up, give me a call."
The side of the jacket Sam was hiding in shifted as Dean reached a hand in. Curious, and glad for some light, Sam poked his head out to get a breath of fresh air while the jacket opened. He watched his brother's massive hand reach into the cavernous insides of the jacket. In the dim lighting, he saw it reach into the pocket directly under Sam to pull out a business card with the number to one of Dean's burner phones on it. The moment the hand was out of the jacket, it closed again, bumping Sam's small body against the solid wall behind him. He slumped back down into the pocket, feeling lonely in the dark. Dean would never know what this was like.
"Thank you for your time," Dean said after handing over the card.