August 14, 2007 A/N: Did a little editing of this fic to clean it up the grammar a bit. Just so you know.

January 12, 2007 A/N: After much deliberation and advice from a friend, I've decided to re-post this little fic. The original posting took place when the bots were down, and this fic has consequently received significantly less hits than my other one-shots. I can't be sure if this is due to the bot issues or to genuine lack of interest, and so here's my experiment to determine just that.

Yes, part of me is a greedy little thing and likes to read reviews, but this fic has cork-screwed its way into my heart, and I also want to share it with as many people as possible. I hope you can all forgive me for the re-post.

I also want to thank everyone who has already reviewed this fic! Reviews are the bestest, nicest, kindest things!

Thanks for your patience!

-Emrys

ORIGINAL A/N: This is a missing scene for the episode "Faith," so if you haven't seen it, you have been warned. No other real notes except that some of the language, as usual, may be found offensive by a few readers.

Disclaimer: It's not mine. It's all Kripke's and the CW's. Wah. Whine. Moan.

A Point on the Horizon's Thin Line

'O welcome, pure-ey'd Faith, white-handed Hope, Thou hovering angel, girt with golden wings.'

John Bartlett

'Like strength is felt from hope and from despair.'

Alexander Pope

The road spreads open before the dark car as it chases a distant point in the sky. Tearing across the countryside and eating up terrain, the machine rides fast. Rides fast in its trek across hot asphalt in this great race against the sun and time.

The car is speeding its way towards a place called Nebraska, the distant residence of hope.

Sam finds hope to be an elusive thing, but if forced to describe it, he'd self-consciously admit he has always envisioned it as a light and beatific being; one that is weightless and beyond reach. If forced to describe hope, he'd do so with downcast eyes, because he wouldn't want anyone to observe the desire that would be found there in his gaze; the desire and abject need for any speck of hope that seems to so rarely bless their hopeless lives.

Sam sees the place where the horizon kisses the sky and doesn't know if that is the spot where hope lives or dies. For now he can only bear to think hope plays in that thin line on the horizon. Hope plays and dances and maybe even sings there a little bit.

Sammy's got no choice but to think it's hope's birthplace way up there in the distance. He's got no choice, because he's betting everything on a mite speck of hope.

Everything. And that means his brother.

Sam glances towards the passenger seat as the sun shifts, and the light shines painfully in his eyes. For a brief moment, he can't catch sight of Dean, and then when he does, his sleeping brother is doused in light. In this moment, Dean looks ethereal and angelic, and Sam feels a waver in his control over the terror he's been holding at bay ever since he found his brother in a puddle of water. But then the sun slides again, as the car speeds around a gentle curve in the road, and it's just Dean sitting in the passenger seat.

Just Dean who is too pale, and who isn't exactly sitting but slumping. Dean who is wearing three layers of clothing, and who has a blanket tucked around his shoulders on what is a slowly cooling but still warm day. Dean, whose chest rises and falls too quickly and too deeply, and who can't seem to catch his breath anymore.

Dean, a hero who saved two kids from one of the things that bumps loudly in the night, and a hunter whose fierce skill is rivaled only by their absentee father's. Dean, Sam's larger-than-life brother who has been reduced to this weak person who falls asleep mid-sentence, and whose dedicated heart is stumbling its way across the country's landscape along with Sam.

Sam looks away from all the things Dean was and is, and there are tears in his eyes that blur the road ahead of him and make it hard to see that place where he still needs to believe hope thrives.

He can't see clearly, but nevertheless, he won't allow the car to lose speed.

It continues its race with time and drives forward into Sam's hope.

oOo

Sammy's calling for him, and he sounds worried to the point of fear. Dean feels a gentle hand tap his shoulder, and the combined stimuli of his little brother's touch and voice help him to pull himself out of wherever he was. When he manages to open his eyes, the light is strange. White and soft like feathers. He blinks his eyes, and feels their heavy weights settle closed again, but Sammy's voice calls him back from the velvet edge of sleep.

He slowly re-opens his eyes, and now Sam's face is only inches away from his.

"Dean? C'mon, you've got to eat something," Sam says, and his eyebrows draw up into a characteristic triangle of worry, hope, and fear.

Dean's brain is working slowly, and he doesn't quite understand what Sam is saying. He stares dully at his brother for what is apparently a moment too long, and Sam grabs his shoulder in a tighter, more possessive way.

"Dean? You with me here?"

"Huh? Yeah, yeah, I'm with you," Dean whispers, but the sentiment comes mostly from intuition and has very little to do with him truly understanding the situation.

"C'mon, food," Sam says bluntly and then briskly exits the car through the driver's side door. Dean blinks as he tries to make sense of his brother's sudden disappearance. He peers through the windshield, and as Sam crosses his line of vision he sees the red neon sign flashing the word 'DINER' in big, gaudy letters.

Sam's words make sense now, and even though Dean would prefer to stay here in the Impala to sleep, he exerts aching muscles and bones in a fumbled attempt to open the car door. He's not hungry, but Sam must be, and some instinctual part of Dean knows that his little brother won't eat if Dean doesn't at least make an attempt to do the same.

So he allows Sam his folly of hope and tries to open the door. His fingers slip, and the damaged muscles in his arm scream with pain.

He ignores the agonizing sensation, because Sam's suddenly there, opening the door for him. Dean has a moment to wonder when the world around him got stuck on fast-forward before Sam bends down and begins to reach for him.

Sam pulls at Dean's arm, and Dean makes a tremendous effort to transform his yelp of pain into a growl of aggravated disgust. His arms hurt so badly he can barely move them above the level of his heart without searing pain washing over him. But he doesn't want Sammy to know about that, so he acts gruff and disapproving to cover his weakness.

Sammy doesn't know a lot of things the doctor in the hospital made Dean privy to; doesn't know, because Dean demanded privacy out of his physician and allowed Sam to know only the barest of details. The rest Dean hides.

For instance, he's hiding the fact that the outer layer of most of his bones has been scorched, and that his muscles are slowly breaking down and pouring out into his bloodstream. He's also hiding the fact that his chest pains him to the point of being unbearable, and that he's having difficulty seeing anything all that clearly. He's trying to hide the fact that his right eardrum has a hole in it, and that he's having trouble hearing out of that ear. But after mistakenly thinking Sam wanted to pick a fight when in actuality he was just making sure his feeble brother was all right, Dean's pretty sure Sammy's catching on to the whole practically deaf in one ear thing.

He's especially hiding the fact that there was a very slim possibility a transplant would have been a viable option, because for Dean the thought of spending two more weeks in the hospital for the small chance that he'd end up frittering away the remainder of his life on medications and being at the mercy of doctors is untenable. Dean's feelings about this trip to see a specialist are complicated by this fact, but he can't exactly conceal the reality of a heart specialist from Sam when Sam's the one that found the doc in the first place.

Besides, Sam would be really upset if he knew that Dean feels okay with the reality of his dying; that despite the essential fucked-up'edness of the situation, dying so two little kids and Sammy could continue living is perfectly acceptable. Yeah, Sam would be upset if he knew how Dean feels about imminent death, and so Dean's willing to barter a little difficulty against a bit of his little brother's pain by playing along.

And so that's what he does now. He plays along by walking into the diner on unsteady legs and sitting heavily in a booth. He plays along by ordering a cup of chicken noodle soup from a waitress whose general demeanor is one of dull limpness. And when Sam appears heartened by his brother's agreeable nature and his readiness to order food, Dean thinks it's worth all the energy that leaches out of him during this task of playing along.

When it's finally brought to him by the droopy looking waitress, he wraps his hands around the mug of soup and revels in the simple pleasure of warm fingers. His extremities, hell, practically every bit of him, have been ice-cold since the accident. He feels the diner's other patrons staring holes in him, and their eyes burn almost as badly as the 100,000 volts did. Their openly observing eyes scan over his wasting frame, and there's a little bit of fear behind the burn. Dean wants to tell them that what he has isn't catching, and that in fact he's not going to be around much longer to remind them of their own mortality. He wants to tell them that everything is alright, yessir, it's all damn peachy, so they can stop gaping whenever the hell they like.

Instead, he straightens up and offers a classic devil-may-care smile to the gawking, conservatively dressed couple sitting at the table beside his and his brother's booth. But he's still tired and can't keep the façade up for long. Instead, he eventually settles for staring into the depths of the chicken and noodle concoction that he has absolutely no intention of consuming.

"Dean, you need to eat. You have to keep your strength up," Sam admonishes softly.

Dean wants to scream, "What for?!" because, really, what is the sense? But Sam's earnest expression prods him to clumsily spoon a mouthful of the salty broth down his throat. It settles badly in his stomach, but another solemn look from Sam drives him to take one more sip.

He feels sweat break out on his forehead as his stomach turns, but he manages to keep the second mouthful down. He's being warned; however, that on no uncertain terms will his body stand for further ingestion of soup or of anything else for that matter.

"Just a little more," Sam pleads, and Dean notices his brother has not touched a single crumb of his own meal.

"Eat your sandwich, Sammy," Dean commands in the familiar tone of someone used to looking out for children.

He moves to politely set his spoon down on the aluminum rimmed table, but the aching joints in his hand rebel. The utensil drops with a loud, obnoxious, clatter.

"Sorry," he whispers as Sam painfully swallows his first and only bite of grilled cheese.

oOo

Two hours ago, Dean grunted Sam's name, and when Sam turned to look, he saw desperation in a sweating and too pale face. He pulled the car over, and before he could stop him, Dean opened the passenger door and fell out of the car to land face first in the dry scraggles of grass that comprised the side of the road.

Dean hawked up the two whole mouthfuls of soup he had managed to cram down at lunch, and then continued vomiting until he was spitting out only yellow bile and was breathing far too raggedly. Sam comforted his brother through the spasms and harsh gulps for air. He held him steady when one of the desperate inhalations turned into a painful sob, and he tried to ignore the bleakness bleeding from Dean's eyes when his brother endeavored to share it with him. He tried to ignore it still while carefully gathering his weak brother into his arms, bundling him back in the car, and continuing on with their journey. Tried to ignore it, because the fact that Dean was willing to reveal such desolation means that Sam's big brother is alright with dying.

Sam tried to stop the insidious, persisting thought that maybe Dean thinks he deserves this painful ending, that maybe Dean thinks the lives of two young children are more than a fair exchange for his own. Back in that space of time when Sam held his brother through painful convulsions, back then when the sun was shining and he could still see the bright horizon, it was easier for Sam to halt the niggling thought.

But now, as they near the Nebraska state line, it starts to rain. It's nothing but a cold, gray mist, but it depresses Sam. He doesn't know why the gentle shower evokes such emotion until he realizes he can no longer clearly see the point on the horizon that has kept him sane for this entire trip.

He tries not to take it as a bad sign that hope's home and birthplace has become obscured to his needful sight. Instead, he turns to study his brother with quick furtive glances towards the road in between moments of growing despair.

Dean looks as dreary and gray as the drizzle of water that falls from the sky around them. The hollows in his face deepened just in the few hours since they left the diner, and his breathing is faster and rougher than it was before. Dean's eyes are turned away and directed towards the water streaked glass of the window, so it's impossible to tell if he's awake now or sleeping again.

All Sam does know is any light that may have been left in his brother after the accident is gone. Gone just like the light on the horizon.

Sam has never been one to believe in omens, but he can't seem to stop seeing them everywhere right now.

He swallows heavily, and tries to hold back the tears that are suddenly threatening to seep from his eyes. A few wayward drops of moisture escape his control, but he wipes them away contritely.

He can't allow himself the release of this grief, because if he does who will carry the heavy burden of hope that must be managed? Dean can't or won't—either way it doesn't matter—, and not even their father will release Sam from this weight. So Sam has no choice but to carry it alone. There's just no one else.

In the past, Sam, with downcast eyes, would have reluctantly admitted he has always pictured hope as a light and airy creature, smiling and dancing in sunshine. If forced to, he would have said that he's always thought of hope as something happy and positive, despite its elusiveness.

But now, right now when he's racing a car towards the horizon and when the sound of his brother's jagged breathing is louder than the engine's fearsome roar, right now, all Sam would be able to say is that he just wonders how hope got to be so damn heavy.