Dean was seriously starting to believe that they were cursed.
This was supposed to have been a simple in and out job. Find the safe, crack it, get the cursed object and destroy it. What they'd assumed would be a small safe in the wall wound up being a room sized vault. They'd been careful, though: Sam had gotten it open, and had held the door while Dean had ducked inside to grab the item.
He'd heard the slight creak of the safe door just as Sam had been knocked into the safe on top of Dean. The door had slammed shut, and no amount of kicking or trying to find the safety latch to reopen the door had done any good.
They were stuck.
Bobby had already been called (and thank hell they'd had signal in there); now it was just a matter of sitting tight and hoping Bobby would get there within a short period of time. "Hour and a half, max," Sam had said. "There's no ventilation in here; it's one of the older vaults."
That had been twenty minutes ago. Already the air was thinning. Dean shifted uncomfortably on the top of a stack of boxes, contemplated sighing, and pushed the thought back to his mind. He wasn't going to make their situation worse by emptying his lungs and then filling them up even more.
Sam sat across from him, his head leaned back against the wall. If Dean's flashlight hadn't been beside him on the floor, he wouldn't have seen Sam breathe in and wince.
Yeah. Like Sam had needed any more difficulties breathing. Kid still had bruises from being thrown straight back into the wall at the station. Dean's weren't too bad; little bit of a twinge if someone hit him in the back, obviously, but breathing wasn't an issue.
Dean took an average breath and held it, closed his eyes and counted down from thirty. The more air Sam had, the less pain he'd been in, and Dean could handle breathing like this.
Something hit him hard in the legs, and Dean automatically opened his eyes and exhaled. Sam was giving him a look, arms crossed. "Don't do that," he said softly. "I mean it, Dean."
The annoyance on Sam's face increased. "The holding your breath crap. You have as much right to breathe as I do."
"Sam, you're still hurting."
"Yeah? You know what else causes breathing to hurt? Stress and worry over a stubborn ass big brother."
Dean glared at him but took a breath in anyways. Not a huge one, but enough to hopefully pacify Sam. "Satisfied?"
"Incredibly," Sam answered dryly.
Dean stifled the urge to sigh again. Man, he sighed a lot, but he'd never thought about it. Sighed in relief, sighed in exasperation, sighed because he was bored. Sam's list for reasons to deep sigh was probably a lot longer, and he grinned at the thought. "So...twenty questions? I spy?"
Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"What the hell else are we supposed to do? I'm going nuts in here. C'mon, play a game with me."
"Fine. Let's play the quiet game."
Dean reached across the safe to poke Sam in the leg, but not too harshly, because the kid was smiling for the first time in days. An honest to god grin, and Dean would've suffered any sarcastic remark for that. "Ha, ha," was all he said. "Seriously, Sam."
Sam bit his lip and glowered at him, and Dean grinned again, knowing Sam had to be biting back a sigh of annoyance right around now. "Hypothetical questions, then," Dean said, reaching up to wipe the sweat from his brow. He'd been ignoring the oppressive heat for as long as he could, and had already removed his coat. He tugged off his long sleeved shirt and asked, "If you could bang Lindsey Lohan or Angelina Jolie, who would it be?"
"Lindsey," Sam said promptly, then smirked at Dean's obvious bewilderment. "Because I know how much it would annoy you if I got her to myself before you did."
Dean dropped the shirt onto the floor by his coat and glared. "Thanks a lot."
With a roll of his eyes Dean leaned back. "Your turn."
Another wince as Sam breathed, before he asked, "If the Impala was ever completely destroyed to the point where we couldn't even put it back together-"
"I don't like where this question's going."
"Hypothetical question, Dean: what car would you get instead?"
Dean pinched his sweaty t-shirt between his fingers and pulled it away several times from his body, desperate for airflow. Nothing. "I'd find a classic car dealer and get a '67 Chevrolet-"
Dean rolled his eyes. If he couldn't sigh, then he'd roll his eyes instead. By the time they were out of the vault, his eyes were probably going to be permanently fixed to the ceiling or inside his skull. "Fine. How much money can I play with?"
"Aston Martin Vanquish."
Sam looked surprised. "That, or a Honda Pilot. One of those SUV things. If I had enough money, both."
If Sam's eyes got any rounder, they were going to fall right out of his head. "Seriously?"
Dean gave a resigned nod. "Seriously."
"You actually know what the cars are called? When did you research-"
"Year or so back, when the 'pala was trashed to an almost unfixable state. I started looking," he admitted and shifted. "Had to get us back on the road somehow."
Sam said nothing to that. Sweat dripped down his brother's face as Dean watched, pasting his hair to his skin. Even though they were both down to their t-shirts and jeans, boots and socks, they were both still broiling.
It didn't help that there wasn't a lot of air to breathe, and the oxygen levels were only going down.
Dean cleared his throat and wiped at his forehead again. "If you had the money and the resources and the opportunity, would you go back to Stanford?"
The instantaneous answer caused Dean to blink in surprise. Sam glanced up from his hands in his lap. "Seriously?" Dean couldn't help but ask.
"Seriously. I...I never fit in, in the first place. And I don't think I've ever been more lonely then I was there." Sam drew in a small breath, flinching in pain as he did so. Dean pinched his lips at the movement but said nothing. "No, I wouldn't go back. Only way I'd go back to any college was if you went with me. I told you before: you're stuck with me."
Even though it probably wasn't the case, even though Dean hated to ask, he really had to. "This isn't because of the deal, is it?"
Sam stared in surprise, then slowly shook his head. "No, Dean. This has nothing to do with the deal. I decided that I wasn't going back last year, after Gordon and the vampire nest."
Dean remembered that day, and winced at the memory. "I'm still sorry I punched you, by the way."
"And I still forgive you for it," Sam said with a smile. "Forget about it."
"You never did take your rain check."
"Because I'm waiting for when you least expect it."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Sam, I'm always expecting a punch."
Sam merely gave him a knowing look. Oh. Dean could feel warmth growing that had absolutely nothing to do with the temperature of the vault. "You're such a girl," Dean managed, and hoped like hell he wasn't about to break out into a sappy smile.
"Takes one to know one," Sam retaliated, wiping his brow. Dean nudged him with his boot and earned a chuckle. A strained one with a little bit of gasping, but it was a chuckle nonetheless.
Still, they needed Bobby, because it'd been what, close to forty minutes since they'd gotten locked in? Yeah. They needed Bobby.
"If you found out we weren't...weren't brothers, what would you do?"
The question was so out of left field and unexpected that Dean found himself unable to breathe for completely different reasons. When he did get his breath back, it was used up immediately with his question. "The hell kind of question is that?"
"Hypothetical," Sam tried, but Dean shook him off.
"Nuh-uh, no way. You don't randomly pull something like that out of your head, completely unprovoked. What's going on, Sam?"
Sam breathed in and held it for a moment. "Nothing; forget it. I'll ask another question."
"Forget it. My turn: what haven't you been telling me? What secrets have you been keeping from me?"
"You didn't answer my question, first of all, and secondly, those aren't hypothetical questions, Dean."
"Neither were yours," Dean shot back, panting slightly. Sam's face, when he'd asked, had looked exactly like it had back at the station, when Ruby had spilled the not so little secret about a demon wanting Sam dead. "And I think your questions and mine have something to do with each other, so you might as well 'fess up."
Sam stood abruptly, almost hitting his head on the ceiling as he did so, and made to step to the right. He froze, looked the other way, then sank back down to the floor and cradled his head in his hands. "Forgot you couldn't go anywhere?" Dean surmised.
"Screw you," came the weary response from the floor.
"Sorry, not my type. Answer me, Sam."
Stony silence was the only thing he got. Dean bit his lip to physically keep himself from sighing and lowered himself down off the box. He slid over in front of Sam, dipping down to try and catch a glimpse of Sam's face. "Sammy, c'mon," Dean coaxed. "Dude, whatever it is, I'm not gonna get mad, okay?"
"That's not really the reaction I'm afraid of," Sam whispered, but didn't lift his head.
When nothing else was forthcoming, Dean sat back and pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them to keep them there. "Okay, no, you're right. I didn't answer your question." Sam tensed up, like a string pulled taut to the point of breaking. "What would I do if I found out we weren't really brothers? Hm. Probably order blood work, just to make sure, but if it came back negative for some reason..."
Sam finally lifted his head, eyes watching Dean with wariness and a tinge of fear. "We'd climb into the 'pala and keep going," Dean finished.
Sam frowned, sitting up straighter. "What?"
Dean shrugged. "One hunt's gonna follow the next, Sam, it always does."
"No, I meant..." Sam sighed heavily and slapped his hand over his mouth in the next instant, as if to keep the breath from being expelled. His eyes were crinkled with remorse, and Dean just shook his head gently.
"Like you said, Sam; both got a right to breathe. And I know what you meant." He sighed himself, partly to show Sam it was fine, partly because he really needed to. "I don't care if we're not related: you're still my brother, okay? Not gonna change. You're Sammy. Nothing you say or do's gonna change that."
"The Yellow-Eyed Demon fed me his blood when I was a baby," Sam blurted out. Dean sat and blinked. "And...and I think Mom knew him," he added miserably.
Dean blinked and blinked again, before shaking himself. "That's it? I thought you were really a unicorn in disguise," he joked feebly.
"It's not funny, Dean." Sam swallowed hard, then wiped at his perspiring brow again. Dean could feel his own chest tightening, trying to pull in needed oxygen, and finding only enough to pull in small breaths. God knew how Sam felt with his aching back.
They needed out.
"No, it's not. But the only uncool thing here is that you didn't tell me. You didn't tell me, Sam. You kept this from me for some reason-"
"I was trying not to hurt you," Sam mumbled. "I know how you feel about Mom."
"I don't care," Dean burst out, then brought his voice down. It hurt less to breathe if he kept his tone soft. "I don't care," he said again, drawing in a short, raspy breath. "Mom's gone, Sam. The only family I've got left that, honestly, matters anymore? Is you. You shouldn't have had to deal with all this yourself."
Sam shrugged, but he looked less tense. "I just...it's a hell of a conver...conversa-" His eyes rolled up, and his lips fell open. He slid forward, Dean catching him easily.
"Breathe, Sammy," Dean whispered, and turned them to face the vault door. Sam was tugged with him, and Dean's arm went around him to keep him against Dean's shoulder.
"Trying," was Sam's mumbled response. Then, "Sorry. Think I got dizzy for a second."
"Sitting upright'll help; none of this slouched over, brooding crap you've b-been doing." And dammit, the air was really starting to get to Dean, too.
"We done talking?" Sam rasped.
"Think we're gonna have to be for now," Dean admitted, his own lips falling open to try and pull in air. Very little was found. "But don't think we're done with this."
"I know, but...I got it." Sam tipped his head against Dean's, and Dean let his own head lean slightly to match him. "So you know."
Good, because Dean didn't think he had anymore oxygen to spare to tell Sam that he was a dolt for even thinking that demon blood fed to him as a baby was going to change anything between them. Sam was always going to be his little brother: end of story.
They managed to make it through the next five minutes without passing out, which Dean counted as a plus in their favor. The flashlight went out during the sixth minute, and Dean went back to believing they were well and firmly cursed.
"I spy something black," Sam whispered, breath sounding forced.
It took Dean a second to figure out what Sam was doing, before he looked up into the darkness surrounding them. He couldn't help the gasped laugh, even as Sam silently shook against him. "Bitch," he whispered.
Dean let his smile linger for another moment. It disappeared when Sam's head slid from him, his body going slack.
"Sam," Dean whispered as sharply as he could. He tightened his grip on Sam to the point of pain, shaking his brother as best he could. "Sam."
Sam's head weakly came back up. "Stay with me, bro," Dean gasped painfully. Breathing shouldn't have to hurt so much.
Of course, that was the irony: breathing didn't hurt, and it made their situation even worse.
Light fingers caught his t-shirt and held on. "-ean?"
Dean swallowed hard and squeezed Sam's arm in reply.
Another long pause, long enough for Dean to contemplate nudging his brother again, before Sam managed to get out, "Love you."
"No, no no no, do not do th-hat shit wit' me," Dean gasped out. "We're gon' be fine."
The fingers barely brushing the fabric of his shirt were the only answer Dean needed. This was bad, even from their usual cursed perspective. They had to get out, only Dean wasn't exactly sure how to do it, or why they couldn't just open the door.
Dean frowned at the voice. "...Bobby?" he whispered.
"I need the combination to get you boys out."
Combinat...? The vault. They were trapped in the vault. And help had finally arrived. Dean shifted to move towards the door, only Sam slid away from him. "-ammy?" he whispered. A small gasp of air was his only response.
"Dean! The combination!"
Dean closed his eyes and fought to remember. Sam'd made them both memorize it before they'd headed out, smart kid that he was. Except he hadn't prepped them on getting locked in.
"Dean, c'mon, answer me son. I need to get you out of there. C'mon, we gotta help you, and we gotta help Sam!"
Sam. Help. Sam needed help. He was practically dead weight against Dean now, like he had been that night in the mud-
Dean sat up as straight as he could and said as loud as he could manage, "Nine, thirty...thirty-two, -eventeen...fifty, twen-two...five."
A moment later, and the vault door slid open, revealing light, Bobby looking as close to panicked as Bobby got, and air. Dean breathed in deeply, letting his eyes fall shut as he filled his lungs to near bursting capacity.
With the air, his brain woke up as well, and his eyes snapped open as he turned to Sam. "Sammy," he said, voice trembling and still weak. "Sammy, wake up."
Bobby was moving furniture, putting something in front of the vault door, then hurrying inside to help Dean. "C'mon son, breathe," he murmured, hands cradling Sam's head. His lolling head, no life to lift it up, and Dean slid his arm down around Sam's ribs and squeezed in desperation.
Sam whimpered and pulled in a quick, painful gasp, which was immediately followed by a long, air-filled breath. Dean let out the air he'd been holding in, then inhaled, enjoying the ability to be able to breathe in as much as he liked.
Sam coughed and cringed in pain as he did so. "Dean?" he asked when he could breathe again.
"We're good," Dean told him, patting him on the shoulder. "We're out and we're all right."
Sam tilted his head, glanced at Bobby, then back up at Dean. "Positive?"
Dean let his lips tug into a grin at the blatant sarcasm. Kid would be just fine. "Yeah. Positive."
"Glad to know," Bobby cut in. "Any chance I can move you idjits outta here?"
"So long as you grab the damn relic we came in here for...yeah, I'm more than okay with getting out." Dean winced and brought Sam to standing with him, heading for the vault door. Outside, the air was cooler and available for the taking. He breathed in greedy gulps of it, and heard Sam doing the same beside him.
"I need to sit."
"We've been sitting, Sam."
"You don't get me to a chair, I'm gonna collapse right here, swear to you."
Dean had a chair pulled up in a matter of seconds. Sam lowered himself in with a hiss, one hand grasping the arm. The other hand was still gently gripping Dean's t-shirt.
Dean himself leaned against the side of the chair, letting himself relax for a minute. He still felt weak as hell, and dizzy on top of it, but he'd rest, gather up his strength, and they'd move on.
The word was spoken much more hesitantly this time. Dean glanced down at his brother, who had his eyes cast up towards him, looking unsure.
Dean slowly began to smile. "Yeah, Sammy. Positive."
Air of a completely different type was clear now, and Dean felt himself truly relax when Sam returned the small smile. Still a lot of talking to do, but they were out, they were okay, and they had the room to breathe again for the first time in months.