The sun was warm.
Not hot, not glaring or harsh; not weak and lacking, or hiding; just clear and bright and warm.
Warm enough that the grass Sam lay on didn't dampen his clothes even though it was midmorning. The grass - it stretched out around him, past the side of the lake down the hill and clear through to and beyond the tree line, up more hills, rolling, reaching, to the mountains....
But Sam wasn't focused on that.
His focus was taken up, drawn completely down into the grass just in front of his face, where the blades tickled beneath his chin and made him crinkled his face and squirm sometimes; Sam stared intensely between squirms at the little bug in the grass before him. It was so tiny. It was so slow. It eased it's way over each blade, up and over and down and to the next one. It was orange and kind of see through and small, small, too small. How did things get so small? How did things get to be that color? Why was it here and not with other little orange bugs?
Sam huff a little curious huff, and the blades of grass twitched; the bug skittered a little.
Sam's face worked it's way into a smile as he watched it.
Lying in the grass, staring at a tiny bug while the sun was warm on him and the lake was shiny down the hill, and the smell of fried fish began to seep his way from the cabin behind him where Dean and Dad were cooking, Sam was completely calm, completely carefree, completely focused on nothing but the little bug that had caught his attention.
"Sam," Dean's voice called from the cabin, "food's ready. Come 'n get it before Dad eats it all!"
Sam wasn't sure if he heard or imagined his Dad's deep laugh follow.
Dean called his name again, "Sam, c'mon, get in here, buddy!"
Pushing up from the ground, Sam let out a loud, "Kay!" and bounded away toward the back door, turning to give a little wave to the bug he couldn't see anymore.
It was a cool bug. It was a nice day. The smell as he got closer to the cabin was amazing. Sam was always excited when Dad made his special fried fish.
It was a good day, and even just nine years old, Sam could appreciate it with more than a cursory meaning. It was really just a good day to be alive.
Sam climbed the steps and went in to eat with his family.
A good day to be alive.
Dean called his name again.
"Sam?! Sam w-what is it, oh god, Sammy Sammy no, wha...."
Sam's vision had kind of whited out, the searing and twisting and gouging pain much too much, his eyes couldn't function when his insides were hurting this badly.
"No Sam, don't! Don't you dare, you don't get to do this, you hear me?! Look at me, Sam! LOOK AT ME!"
Sam's eyes swiveled in his head, it was a miracle he could tell that at all when every sensation he was capable of feeling was caught up in the pain, the massive, sick pain. But Sam's eyes turned to Dean just as the white faded out and the dark hallway and the blue light and Dean's sideways-too-close face were in front of him again, and he was suddenly mortified.
Sam was completely and utterly horrified, because this was it, he was going to have to say bye to Dean. Sam could see the way his free hand was shaking, unnaturally; he could sense that his head was lolling even as he was laying face down. His vision wouldn't keep still, his eyes seemed intent on attempting to roll back every few seconds.
Sam could feel the life slipping out of him from the wound he knew was in his chest. He could feel his life dripping onto the floor and debris, coating his right arm, making a mess...
Dean was touching his face, his hair - the only places he could touch and know he wasn't hurting Sam worse.
"Sam, it's okay, it's okay," the words were obviously denial, more for Dean than for Sam, and it wasn't, it wasn't okay. Sam's vision was spotting, he couldn't tell if he was breathing anymore, didn't even care, but he had to say something, he had to let Dean know, he had so much....
He could only manage one word. It was going to have to do, because Sam wasn't going to make it any longer than one word, this was his goodbye.
Sam was dying.
And lying there, he gripped Dean's hand with a sudden fierceness he shouldn't have had, and he spluttered through the wet smothering in his through and on top of his tongue, feeling it spill over his lips and drip drip drip from the crease of his mouth down his right cheek; he spluttered, and managed one word that would simply have to do.
"B-br-other-r," he said, and he stopped holding on then, he let his eyes roll back where they wanted to go, and he might as well admit to himself now that Dean was crying, and Sam forgot about his left hand holding Dean's and his right hand broken and piercing, and Sam forgot that this was the opposite of what he'd expected, he's always wanted to go first but he'd expected to be the one crying for some weird reason but that was stupid, he knew it now and....and...
And goodbyes are stupid, because nobody wants to say goodbye, and it never works right, and Sam shouldn't have to say goodbye to Dean, because this morning it had been a good day to be alive, a rare kind of day, and now Sam was dying, and Dean was here, and Dean was his brother, and Dean was going to be alone now, and goodbyes are just so stupid....
But Sam forgot that too. Sam went limp and quiet, his life still making a mess on the floor beneath his body and the debris.
He'd only gotten one word out. It would simply have to do.
Dean was five, and he held the pudgy lump in his clumsy arms. It was okay, because they were sitting on the bed, so if Dean dropped the baby, at least there was something soft so he wouldn't get hurt. Dean laughed a little - that was stupid, of course he wouldn't drop the baby. He'd never dropped the baby.
Still, he was sitting on the bed, a circle of pillows around them, and he held the lump of baby Sam and fuzzy blanket in his arms, cooing like he used to see mom do, letting Sammy clutch at his fingers with his tiny, soft, funny looking hands.
Dean was eight, and he helped Sam climb onto the couch so they could sit next to each other. Dean gave Sam his Lion-o action figure, and told him to stay there. He went and got the remote from the kitchen table, grinning when he turned around and Sam was peeking over the back of the couch at him - even standing on the cushions on his tip-toes he barely was tall enough to see over the back. Dean grabbed the orange juice carton, bounded back over, and snorted a little when Sam flopped back to sitting on the couch, looking up at Dean and clutching his action figure, his hair in his face and only one shoe on, the other on the floor.
"You ready to watch Thundercats, Sammy?"
"Yeah, Dean. I wanna be Lion-o, kay?"
Dean grinned again, flipping the tv on, sitting next to his little brother, and setting the orange juice by his knee.
"Sure buddy, you can be Lion-o."
Dean was 11, and he was sitting on the edge of his bed, gripping his hair with his hands.
"Dean?" He looked up, and Sam was there, in his pajamas and rubbing his eyes like a classic image of a sleepy kid.
"Sammy, go back to bed."
"I thought I heard Daddy. Is he home?" Dean felt something in him hurt.
"Go back to sleep Sam, you'll see Dad in the morning."
"Sam." Dean looked at his brother, who was giving him that weird look Sam sometimes gave people; Pastor Jim used to say he felt like Sam was staring into his soul.
"Okay," Sam said, and he turned to head back to his bed, but not before he ran up to Dean and hugged him around the waist. Dean gaped, blinking and sputtering.
"Don't be sad, Dean, kay?" Dean swallowed, looking away from those wide, young eyes. Not fair.
"Yeah...yeah, night, Sammy..." and Dean, and Sam went back to bed, and Dean heard his soft snores not five minutes later, about the same time he heard Dad mumbling roughly from the couch. Dean could smell the alcohol on his breath from there.
Dean glanced from the couch to his sleeping brother, and then he went back to looking at his knees, gripping his hair with his hands, and wishing his mom were there.
Dean was seventeen, and he walked like a bodyguard in front of Sam through the middle school doors. He picked out the strong from the weak, letting the bullies and the jocks know that if anybody messed with his kid brother, there'd be hell to pay, and Dean would be the one coming to collect. He put a hand on Sam's shoulder and gave him a look of assurance. Sam looked up at him with trust in his eyes. Dean walked out of the school, feeling like the next six hours would take forever.
Dean was twenty-two, and he was standing proud and kind of fierce at Sam's graduation, his little brother in a gown and holding his diploma and wearing the valedictorian sash, and Dean was clapping but not whooping like some of the other people were, because he was sure if he opened his mouth he'd lose control over his tear ducts. Not that he had any tear ducts, of course - those were a myth.
Dean was twenty-seven, and he was high-fiving Sam on their way into the Blue Cove Elementary school, ready to get the job done and go grab a beer with his brother afterwards.
The past and the present were mixed together in Dean's head, flashes glancing over what his eyes were seeing now.
And now Dean was inside the rundown remains of Blue Cove Elementary School, kneeling next to the pile of debris that was pinning his brother to the ground, and tear ducts were a myth, but they dealt with myths everyday, so it was really not a big deal at all that he was crying next to Sam even as Sam suddenly screamed.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this. This was not supposed to happen.
"Sam?!" Dean had been frantic to begin with, but now Sam was gurgling, blood apparent on his lips, eyes rolling and his left arm flailing - it was wrong, so wrong, but Dean didn't know what was wrong, and so he couldn't fix it, and this was killing him, it was killing Sam....
"Sam w-what is it, oh god, Sammy Sammy no, wha...." he couldn't do anything, and where the hell was the rescue he'd called in? Seven minutes - what crap.
But Sam was beginning to lose consciousness.
"No Sam, don't!" Dean begged, and yeah, he had a reputation to keep up, and he had a pretty hefty pride level ya know, but he's willing to break out the big guns when a situation call for it, even if it means begging like a child for his brother to stay alive, "Don't you dare, you don't get to do this, you hear me?!" and since begging wasn't exactly working, maybe the 'you can't disobey a direct order, boy' approach would work, maybe, "Look at me, Sam! LOOK AT ME!" Dean had his right hand on Sam's face and his left hand was gripping Sam's.
There was no trying to find out what was wrong, and Dean couldn't hear sirens yet.
But then Sam grasp on his hand suddenly tightened, and he was spluttering.
And Dean knew, he knew what was coming, and he didn't want it, he didn't want it at all. He didn't want Sam to try this goodbye crap, he didn't want to hear his I love you's and keep going's and be strong for me's. He didn't want Sam to believe he was going to die, because Dean believed in Sam, and if Sam didn't think he was gonna make it then what the hell was Dean supposed to believe in?
Dean was shaking his head 'no' even as Sam shakily met his gaze with pain-ridden, glassy, faltering eyes. He knew Sam was still stuck on one word sentences, he could only give one word answers.
But one word wouldn't cut it, and it was not enough, it wasn't enough.
Except that it was. Because the one word that Sam got out was "Brother."
And Dean allows his first outright sob to get out then, because he couldn't think of a better way to tell someone I love you and I need you and you're stupid and it'll be ok and take care of yourself and wash your hands before you eat and smile and have a good day and you mean everything.
"Yeah," Dean responded, nodding now, not ashamed that he was crying like a chick, not caring about pretenses or any of that stupid crap, "yeah, Sam. Brother."
But the worst part was that even as Dean said it, knowing this was something he couldn't fix, his mind was screaming at him that without Sam, Dean wouldn't be a brother anymore.
And even as Sam was still and his grip was loose and Dean was on the verge of outright sobbing, he could hear the whine of sirens begin through the gaping break in the wall next to them.
For the first time, Dean let the thought explode across his mind that they might not make a difference.