Take a shower, shine your shoes.
You got no time to lose.
You are young men; you must be living.
Go now, you are forgiven.

- Dispatch, "The General"

And we're more than alive

May 2011

It's evening in Nazareth, and the Winchesters sit side by side, balanced on the top rail of a pasture fence. Backs to the sunset, they sweat in the brisk air and wait for their breathing to even out. Their eyes follow the leisurely progress of a bay mare nearby as she crops grass and switches flies from her sides.

Dean's got a bruise coming on his left cheek, and Sam's hair has still got grass in it. Nobody won the sparring match, and nobody lost either.

"The horse looks better," Sam says idly.

"Yeah."

"More like a horse. Less like dog food."

"Thanks for saying."

They fall silent again, eyes on the all-encompassing sky. Moving away to the south, storm clouds darken the middle distance into a premature midnight. In the field, Baez raises her head at the fading rumble of thunder and then goes back to grazing.

Dean remembers when he saw moments like this only in dreams. And even there, angels interrupted him with their cryptic bullshit.

He clears his throat. "So, did you want to do something?"

It takes Sam a second to figure out what he means. "What do you have in mind?"

"I don't know, bust into the liquor cabinet? For the angel of the Lord said unto them: ye who have smote Lucifer's ugly ass, go forth and get completely shitfaced."

Sam doesn't quite smile. He does a lot of not-quite-smiling. It's been a year, and there's still something walled up behind his emo eyes. They're big walls—concrete, topped with concertina wire and machine gun turrets. Dean doesn't mess with them.

"The way I remember it," Sam says, "the angel of the Lord said unto us, 'So long and thanks for all the fish.'"

"Still. Maria keeps some good stuff in that cabinet."

"Maybe later."

They've re-learned each other for—what is this?—the third time now? On the hunt, they've reached a nirvana of badass, fast and deadly and nearly telepathic. Sam tosses the salt gun, Dean's there to catch it. Dean sets a cover story in motion, Sam runs with it. It turns out saving the world is the ultimate team building exercise.

But in calm or quiet, sometimes they still find themselves blinking at the disparity of their past selves superimposed on these scarred, wiser versions. Sam has let go of what he almost did, and he even cracks jokes about what he actually did. Dean laughs no matter how lame they are, because it sure as hell isn't his place to forgive Sam. In his own glass house of guilt and shame, he's not going to throw stones.

They trust each other implicitly, except when they don't. So they fill the silences with pop culture references, they steal each other's food, and they keep the peace.

This morning on the way here, Dean tried a time-honored method. "That movie was all about alienation, man," he said, doing twenty over the limit and leaving an extra-crispy revenant far behind them.

"You're pulling this out of your ass," Sam said, listening with half an ear. He had Moby Dick cracked open in his lap. Somehow Dean mocking the whale had turned into mocking sea monsters, which had turned into—

"Godzilla could have gone to a shipyard and got a steady job as a welding torch, but no, he was too damn ugly and nonconformist. So they dissolved him with oxygen bombs."

"That's deep."

"Society punishes the outsider yet again."

Sam finally looked over. "I don't even need to talk here, do I? You'll keep going with or without my input."

Which was exactly what happened, right up until Sam ruined Dean's monologue by just throwing out there: "The end of the world—that was a year ago today, wasn't it?"

Dean's jaw tightened, and his rant about Cloverfield evaporated on his tongue. "Yeah. Guess so." If you put it that way, it sounded all ironic and victorious. The apocalypse came, and yet we're holding the Super Bowl right on schedule this year. Suck on that, Satan.

But put another way, it could sound a whole lot like: hey, remember that time hell followed you home?

"Happy anniversary," Dean said gruffly.

There was not enough space in the car for that conversation.

But here in the pasture at twilight, everything looks simple. Baez is having a roll in the dust, and Sam is brooding about something he probably can't fix, or at least not tonight. So order has been restored to the universe, Dean figures. He and Sam are sitting on a section of fence they rebuilt not two months ago, and it's bearing up well under almost four hundred pounds worth of demon hunter. Tomorrow Maria will find something new for them to fix, and Dean will rock at that too.

He glances at Sam, for whom simplicity is something that happens to other people. "Here," he says, digging in his pocket. He holds out three peppermints in cellophane.

"What?" Sam says blankly.

"Take them."

"Why?"

"Baez loves them."

Sam laughs him off. "It's your horse, man."

"No, she's not." Dean pings a mint at Sam, who catches it reflexively. The other two get shoved down Sam's shirt. "Time to make friends, Sammy. She won't bite you."

Unimpressed, Sam reminds him: "She gave Maria a concussion."

"The fence gave Maria a concussion. All the horse did was spook a little. Go on, get out there."

Sam rolls his eyes to make it perfectly clear: I'm humoring you, weirdass. But he slides off the fence, fishing mints out of his collar. Baez regards him warily, judges him a friendly giant, and snarfs the candy messily from his open palm.

Suck on that, Satan.

Sam walks back to the fence, Baez following him hopefully, and hikes back up onto the top rail.

"Now didn't that give you the warm fuzzies?" says Dean.

Sam shakes his head, smile inscrutable as ever. "We're still getting shitfaced."

"Yeah, okay."

But first they watch the stars come out.