Title: The Flow of Darkness

Author: HalfshellVenus

Catetory: Sam/Dean (Slash)

Rating: M

Summary: Slightly AU. Sam's dreams and an investigation coincide in Michigan, where new revelations await both brothers.

Author's Notes: This could be considered to take place in the near future, as Sam's powers are developing beyond what we've seen thus far. Awesome and punishing beta work by maygra and goddessleila, to whom I owe many, many thanks.

x-x-x-x-x Chapter 1: Bespoken x-x-x-x-x

It is midnight in Michigan as the car follows the road leading past the dark river. Both brothers are tired. Dean's eyes are burning and gritty as he follows the center line, and Sam is slumped down again in the passenger seat.

Their clothes are slightly damp from sitting in the trunk for weeks—hastily traded for the charred remnants of tonight's escapade. Sam doesn't mind the bone-burning rituals that settle troubled ghosts, but he hates battling anything that involves fire. The smell and feel of fire bring back the horror and the helplessness of losing Jess. It's been ages now; he wonders if that will ever fade. He would ask Dean… but if it bothers Dean he won't admit it-- and if it doesn't, he'll pull out some vague words of comfort to keep Sam from feeling like a baby. Either way, the same non-answer is waiting.

Half-immobilized by fatigue, he lets his mind stretch out toward the black ribbon of water. He skims the flow, the rivulets and reeds, but senses nothing. This is not their destination, but he is still reassured.

A glance over at Dean reveals heavy eyes and his brother chewing on his lips. It is Dean's way of trying to stay awake, but there is half a chance he'll hypnotize himself instead. Sam places a hand on top of Dean's, firming the steering wheel, and the reaction is too long in coming.

"We'd better find a room," Sam says, and Dean nods in resignation.

By the side of the highway there is a small motel, barely visible in the moonlight and halfway back in the trees. A musty smell greets them as they unlock the door to their room, unpleasant and familiar all at once. Dean is too tired to shower, and falls into bed moments after brushing his teeth. Sam lathers the smoke out of his hair and scrubs over any charcoal-tinted areas of skin before calling it quits and heading to bed.

Hours later, he is standing before a lake of gleaming moonlight. The surface parts below him, and someone rises up into the evening air. She is indefinable, both motion and stillness, her essence green and transparent—unknowable and half-formed. Her hands are like water, liquid and unbound as they reach into him and pull his thoughts out of his head. There is a staggering pain as if all sense of self is being drawn out of him, and he wakes in a rush as runnels of memory slip down his face.

Dean is sound asleep in the other bed, and Sam waits a full two minutes before sneaking over and quietly climbing in next to him. Dean doesn't even stir, and Sam counts himself lucky as he moves closer, laying his cheek on the edge of Dean's shoulder. There is a faint scent of ashes in Dean's hair, and it is the smell of everything Sam has ever sacrificed or loved. He doesn't know whether that should frighten him or comfort him, and so he just breathes it in like memory. The warmth of Dean's skin is like a touchstone, the claim of the physical world over the realm of spirits and premonitions. It soothes Sam like the answer to a prayer.

His dreams are becoming more vivid, and he is immensely relieved every time he wakes up. He knows he can't expect it—that some day he might not make it back. The possibility of being trapped there is always real, and he has already felt the threat of living in pasts and futures and possibilities while the present lingers just out of reach.

There are at least a few minutes of every night where he thinks that has already happened.

Dean stirs under him, a slight groan forming. "Again?"

"Sorry," Sam says. He hopes Dean's not in the mood to pick this apart tonight.

His brother shifts down slightly, and Sam welcomes the chance to burrow his head into Dean's neck.

"Do we need to go save someone?"

Dean's half-asleep again by the time Sam's answer comes. "No. Nothing's happening to anyone in particular." He neglects to mention himself in that sentence, to voice that squirming sensation of something being taken from him.

There is no response, and Sam slides an arm over Dean's waist and thinks of floating to the rhythm of Dean's breathing. This place between sleeping and waking is a Limbo state, like wanting and having, like living and dying. Sam's not sure he's ever left it.

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Nothing has forced him awake, but his eyes are open and searching in the dark. There is no hint of noise or movement, and no "feeling" in the room. Sam's head lifts as his gaze sweeps across the windows and corners. There is nothing unusual there. His eyes follow the blue path of moonlight through the curtains, coming to rest on his brother lying beside him. Dean is on his back, head tilted toward him, and his chest rises and falls like the sea inside of Sam. His skin has the sheen of silk, and Sam's breath catches in his throat at the thought of touching it.

As a child, he always knew that Dean was beautiful. It was as much a fact of life as the warmth of sunshine or the sharpness of sorrow. As they got older, Sam's problems with their father increased. Soon he and Dean were out of synch, and then Sam's leaving broke their closeness into fragments. He can no longer just watch his brother, for all his thoughts are suspect now and his presence is not to be relied upon. Dean keeps anticipating his disapproval, not in the everyday sense but in the way that a child fears being abandoned. It's as if Sam looks long enough, he might find another reason to leave. Dean's flaws are all too close to the surface-- he doesn't need an audience for every awkward joke or bad decision.

There is too much between them for either to let his guard down. Sam misses seeing Dean in stillness, misses the calm that Dean used to give him.

He leans closer now, taking in those heavy eyelashes and unfurrowed brow. Asleep, Dean is like nothing so much as a fallen angel, and Sam aches for that innocence that was taken so long ago. His eyes are drawn to those lips, so perfect and full, and he kisses them more softly than air. It is like tasting completion, like stealing love, and he loses himself in a brief swell of lost feelings.

He doesn't notice the slight return of pressure, and before he can think about that Dean is awake and time has stopped.

"Were you kissing me?" For once, Dean is out of his depth.

"Kind of," Sam murmurs, knowing that answer is as ridiculous as it sounds.

"What for? Were you dreaming?"

It's an easy way out, but saying it would be lying to himself. "No." Sam leans back on his elbow, not meeting Dean's eyes. "I was feeling lonely. Inside, I mean."

Dean's eyebrows lift, and he rubs a hand over the back of his own head. "We could find you a cocktail waitress tomorrow, something like that."

"No," Sam scowls. "That doesn't fix loneliness. That's using someone."

"Everybody needs that kind of closeness, even for a little while. It helps." Dean's voice is quiet.

"Not for me," Sam says before he realizes how that sounds. He starts again. "It's not the same as when it's real, not once you've known what 'real' is. What I had with Jess… I could have spent a lifetime like that." His voice trails off as he raises his eyes to Dean's. "You get used to being loved. And there's no way not to miss it."

"But I'm not… it's not--" Dean stops for a minute. "I can't be that for you. I mean, you're my brother and that's… everything… but you're my brother. It's not supposed to be like that between brothers."

"I wasn't asking for that, Dean. Honestly," and Sam's voice is a little exasperated. "But sometimes I miss giving love even more than having it. That's all. Otherwise, it's going to die inside of me and there might not be more where that came from. Maybe it's too late already."

There's something uncomfortably familiar about that train of thought, and neither of them wants to look at it too hard. Sam knows Dean has made a habit of not thinking further than just a few days into the future, and that certainly has its advantages in a life like this.

Dean rubs Sam's arm in reassurance. "After we find this thing that killed Mom and Jess, you'll have that, Sam. There'll be a chance for you to do all of it the way you want."

The unspoken image of their father's stark and fruitless searching—more than twenty years of anger and isolation-- lies in the air between them. They will not discuss the alternative. There will be no admission of how things are more likely to go.

"Can we talk about this in the morning?" Dean asks. Deep conversations in the night were never Dean's style, and Sam can tell he's itching to get back to sleep again.

"Sure," Sam answers, and starts to pull off the covers.

Dean's hand stops him. "You can stay," he says. "Just watch the elbows, and no more romancing in the dark. Deal?"

"Deal," Sam says softly. There is a slight smile in Sam's tone, but the darkness hides how quickly Sam's face returns to sadness.

----------------- end part 1 -------------