Last Day on Earth

By Candle Beck

It's unbelievable, unacceptable in a way that's fucking galling, these goddamn fixes Sam gets them into.

Dean's not feeling terribly charitable at the moment. Tearing out of Spokane in the middle of a deluge, slick hands refusing to fasten on the wheel and Sam in the backseat wrenching and moaning. The soaked black highway looks like glass in the headlights and Dean is standing on the gas, asking too loud in a gibbering lunatic tone:

"Are you cut, are you fucking cut Sam,"

and Sam sounds like he's choking on his tongue back there, of all the fucking things Dean does not fucking need right now.

"This is all your motherfucking fault!" Dean screams at his brother. Something rips viscerally in his throat. They're five miles from the county line and Dean can barely even cough.

"Fuck, Dean," Sam groans, and Dean has to throw his head back all hysterical and reckless, see Sam clawing at his bare chest and stomach, washed only mostly clean by the rain, thank fucking god for the rain, ripping Sam out of his shirt in the muddy courthouse plaza, scrubbing as much of that ghastly black ink off him as they could while the police sirens hollered hugely towards them, but focus, focus.

"Quit it," Dean orders, swiping back at Sam and barely clipping his arm. "You'll break the skin, you fucking dumb motherfucker, what the fuck were you thinking."

It's basically a litany at this point. Sam gnashes his teeth at his brother and Dean jerks himself back around, swerving faintly with his palms drifting nerveless over the wheel.

"Goddamn it." Five miles from the county line and they should really put states behind them, what with the damage they did to the college, what with Sam being repeatedly thrown into walls and all. Fuck it, these sleepy backwoods cops aren't gonna be able to get their shit together for at least twelve hours and Dean needs to get Sam stripped to the skin and cleaned, clean. Topical exposure to tsukiji poison can get bad if it's left to sit, and if it gets in his blood, if he's cut--it's a day, a day tops.

Dean isn't thinking about it. He rolls his window down with uneven yanks, flails his arm around over the seat to get at Sam's window crank too, and the rain lashes in. It patters all across the leather, flesh-like sounds that have Dean wincing because his car, but okay, he's got his priorities mostly in order.

Sam cranes himself up to the spray, rubbing wet anxious hands over his arms and chest and still making those terrible strangled sounds, lungs shriveled and shrunk and increasingly useless. Dean's eyes slam back and forth between the road and the rearview, Sam dark-headed and gasping in the flashing rain.

"I swear to god, Sammy," Dean says, and he doesn't know where he's going with that.

"S-sorry," Sam manages.

"Don't fucking talk. Get, get that shit off you, please, and fucking tell me if you're cut."

"Thought I w-wasn't supposed to t-t-talk." Sam's hissing by the end of it, his neck arched and bare.

"I will fucking kill you myself," which is just about the emptiest threat conceivable, after a lifetime of unflinchingly sincere savagery.

In the rearview, Sam's teeth flick whitely--is he fucking grinning?

"I'm not, I don't think I am," Sam says. "Fuck, it's like fire ants."

"Don't scratch, I can break your fingers no problem at all," Dean promises, still with that ragged edge to his voice. His leg is cramping from being jammed down on the gas so hard, and the first place he sees, he doesn't even fucking care, give me VACANCY and A/C and FREE HBO, please for the love of god give me water hot enough to steam.

Sam is still writhing back there but it's marginally less agonized. Dean suspects he's chewing the insides of his cheeks bloody, screwing his fists into the corner of the seat to keep them still. He keeps biting at the air, sharp little clicks.

There, through the spiky rain-blurred fringe of northwestern trees, a rind of pink neon that blooms into the familiar oblong shape of a motel sign, and Dean would weep with relief if he were that kind of guy.

He gets the car stashed away out of sight from the road and then bodily hauls his brother out into the weather. Sam is shaking, probably pretty cold on top of everything else, and Dean spins him roughly, fighting to keep a grip on Sam's arms. He scans frantically for any stray streaks of tar-black, any hint of torn skin, running his hands over Sam's back in search of places that he might have missed.

Sam has fallen forward on the car, his head bowed and his shoulders jolting as he begins to settle.

"It's going, it's mostly g-gone," Sam mumbles, scratching distractedly at his hip, but Dean's not trying to listen to him anymore tonight.

Dean flips his brother back around, punches him harmlessly in the chest with his eyes slitted, both of them completely drenched.

"You fucking stay in the rain and you, you think about what you've done," Dean finishes somewhat lamely, but he still sounds pretty ticked, which is good. He stalks off to the motel office, his knuckles tingling faintly from where he'd hit Sam.

By the time he gets back with a key, Sam has been reduced to trembling, pale with darkening bruises spreading on his torso, vaguely pathetic all hunched with wet hanks of his hair plastered to his head. He glares at Dean, which makes Dean want to laugh out loud and maybe smack him.

"Cold," Sam complains, still scuffing his hands over his body as hard as he can without using his nails.

"Shut your mouth," Dean answers irritably. His heartrate is calming down, everything gleaming and glassine, every inch of Sam's skin that he can see. Dean thinks maybe the rain saved Sam's life tonight; it's not the strangest thing that's ever happened to them.

But then.

They get into the room and Dean herds Sam into the bathroom, not bothering with Sam's half-hearted protests because god knows he'll fuck it up somehow if Dean just leaves him to it. He leaves Sam to struggle out of his waterlogged boots and socks, twisting the hot spigot all the way over.

"You're gonna be a little boiled, dude, but that's what you get for going in after that thing when I fucking told you to wait for me. Blunt force trauma is the least of what you deserve, you knew what that thing was fucking capable of, or like, what, the trail of corpses wasn't enough of a clue for you?"

The water is gushing, trails of faded gray steam starting to coil, and Dean straightens up, turns back. He gets a look at Sam's face and his bitter little rant dies a violent death in his mouth, because Sam is frozen, staring down with his eyes huge, face as motionless as stone.

Dean follows his gaze, throat clogging even before he sees where Sam's got his jeans peeled off his hip, revealing a triangle of cold-whitened skin that should be smooth, should be clean, but instead there's the shallowest red scrape, maybe the size of a thumbprint with the raised blood glimmering. And right next to it, crooked as a blighted vine, skinny as a reaper's long finger: a smear of the purest black.


They'd heard of the tsukiji before, but never faced one themselves. Japanese name of unknown provenance, hazy details about appearance and capacities--as Dean now knows really well, the creature is stunted and roughly humanoid with plate-sized silver eyes, composed of solid obsidian-colored muscle and able to toss very large people like Sam around as easily as a coat--but one thing has always been made painfully clear: the blood can kill you. Get infected and the blood will kill you--before the next day's sunset in almost every case.

And, sadly, the only way to waste the motherfuckers is to cut off their heads ("distantly related to vampires," Sam explained in the car, as if Dean freakin' cared), which tends to gush a little bit. But they had a plan, air-fucking-tight until Sam decided to screw it all up.

They'd tracked the tsukiji to the sepulchered depths of the university's library, where it would lie in wait until the small hours of the morning when cramming students finally stumbled home, alone and unprotected under the slanted trees. Sam and Dean didn't expect the creature wouldn't show itself until later that night, and they argued over pie at the diner down the street, all the various methods and means.

It took a lot of convincing, but Dean eventually got Sam to agree that exploding the tsukiji's head would accomplish the same fundamental goal as cutting it off, and could conceivably be accomplished at a safer distance. Then Dean stood up and announced that he was going to buy an elephant gun.

Sam gaped at him, looking pretty stupid, which was always a score in Dean's book. He ordered his brother to keep an eye on the library and not go anywhere near the beastly thing, and then legged it to the Impala. Of course Sam didn't listen because when the hell has he ever?

There was some kind of bullshit waiting period to purchase the gun (goddamn hippie state), and it wasn't like Jake Blues's ID had a shot of passing a background check, so the mission swiftly evolved to stealing an elephant gun, which took a bit more finesse, but, you know, Dean is hardly lacking in that department.

So, ridiculously big gun feloniously acquired, and Dean wanted to drive into the woods a dozen miles or so, murder a few road signs to get used to the rib-breaking kick before trying it in live combat, but when he called Sam to tell him, Sam didn't pick up. Dean hauled ass through the storm back to the college, phone glued to his ear as Sam's rang through to voicemail every time. Dean cursed him, flicked the windshield wipers to beat faster, and sped the fuck up.

Sam had gone in after the thing, after Dean had told him--he didn't know why he was even fucking surprised anymore. Definitely Sam would have some totally justifiable excuse (a scream down there in the basement, as was later revealed, piercing sorority-girl-in-a-slasher-flick kinda scream, some co-ed who'd drifted too tantalizingly close to the tsukiji's steam-duct hiding place and necessitated Sam dropping his can of Coke and scrambling through the rat's maze of study carrels to save her) but Dean didn't want to hear it. He was sick to fucking death of Sam's goddamn excuses.

He went storming into the library with the elephant gun chocked into his shoulder and a tiger-hunting scowl on his face, which worked pretty effectively as an evacuation technique, little added bonus there. Some brawny frat boy/lumberjack hybrid tried to play hero and tackle him and so Dean got to cold-cock him with the butt of the gun, which was pretty fun. He was still really mad at Sam, though.

Dean found his brother in a windowless basement room, getting thrown around like a tennis ball by the ugly son of a bitch that had only just barely evaded them the night before. Those godawful gollum eyes so limpid and hypnotic, showing a barbaric glee every time Sam's body connected with the wall with that particular fleshy whack.

The first time he pulled the trigger, the first time there was a foot of space between his brother and the tsukiji, the elephant gun's kick put Dean on his ass. It tore a great jagged hunk out of the wall. Sam was limp at the base, plaster rained in his hair, and the tsukiji spun, hunched and hissing and coming for Dean now. Dean's whole right side was numb but he forced himself to his knees, braced hard and blew the fucker's head clean off its body.

The tsukiji toppled backwards, black blood gouting over Sam's crumpled form on the floor. It soaked his hoodie and jeans, spattered on his face and neck and Dean was grappling for the creature's legs, dragging it back, crawling frantically to his brother. Dean ripped off his leather and outer shirt, wiping the specks of black off Sam's skin and babbling already, "Are you, are you cut, does it hurt," even though Sam was unconscious and it had obviously hurt.

Sam stayed out as Dean's hands flew over him, pulling Sam's ruined hoodie up and off, terrified to see the move leave a wide streak of ichor on Sam's neck and Dean scrubbed it away, so scared he was hiccuping a little bit.

No visible cuts on Sam, no red blood, just the rising bruises from his abuse at the hands of the wall, but Dean was scared, yes. Really very scared in every way, actually, taking most of Sam's weight onto his back and carrying him out of there. He was thinking of the rain, all his hopes suddenly pinned. Sam came to in the stairwell, started moaning and shaking and Dean said, "It's okay, you're so stupid I could fucking cry but it's okay, c'mon, just gotta-" and trying to keep Sam from squirming out of his hold.

Dean's hands began to burn where the blood had got on him. He tried to remember if he'd suffered any nicks or slashes cleaning his knives recently, but couldn't really summon the energy to care, what with Sam coming loose from his fittings and all.

They made it to the rain. The rain was supposed to save Sam's life. That was how the world worked, insane fatal predicaments followed by absurd last-minute reprieves; that was what Dean wanted to believe, anyway.

Funnily enough, it turned out that the world had little to no interest in what Dean Winchester wanted to believe.


"You don't know it got in," Sam says.

Dean isn't listening. He's pacing the narrow straits of the room, back and forth and back and forth. He feels seasick.

Sam is standing in the bathroom doorway, still shirtless with his skin scalded faintly red. He's wearing a different pair of jeans, and the edge of the white bandage Dean taped over the scrape (so impossibly small and insignificant, the most minor wound imaginable) peeks out over the top. Completely unnecessary, that bandage, useless and too late. Dean knows.

"The stuff was burning me like crazy, you'd think it would be even worse on broken skin, but I didn't feel it."

"You were out of your mind," Dean mutters, not looking at him.

"Still think I woulda noticed. And I feel fine now."

"That's how it goes, that's--fuck. It gets in you, you feel no pain at all until some time tomorrow when your heart fucking explodes."

Dean's voice cracks, just kinda shatters. His eyes jump to Sam involuntarily and Sam is staring back, his mouth in a weak line and his eyes pleading, desperate. He's terrified, Dean realizes. They both know exactly what it means. Tsukiji poisoning is irreversible. There's nothing; there's no way.

Dean finds himself crossing the room very quickly, standing right in front of Sam all of a sudden and fixing his hands on his brother's shoulders. He pushes him against the doorframe, Sam's skin incredibly warm, worse than normal.

"Don't, don't you fuckin' dare, Sam," and Dean doesn't even know what he means, all caught up in the white horror in Sam's eyes.

Sam sorta chokes. "I can't, Dean, please," and neither of them is making any fucking sense.

Dean shoves away from him, because he wants to pin Sam in place with his body, nail him to the earth, drain his tainted blood and replace it with Dean's own because what the fuck does he need blood for if Sam's not around?

Terrible thing to think, really, especially when it'll be his concrete future within twenty-four hours, and Dean tears his hands through his hair, kicks the wall hard enough to leave a dent. He wants to burn this place down, this whole goddamn town.


Sam sounds raw. Chewed up and spit out and Dean leans forward on his hand on the wall, something jolting and fearsomely vast taking up all the space inside him.

"We gotta go to Bobby's, Dean."

A wracked joyless laugh, Dean's forehead pressed to the flat back of his hand and his eyes closed.

"He can't help. If. If it's."

Don't finish that fucking thought. Have some sense of self-preservation, for the love of christ.

Sam makes a rasping negative noise. "Not for me."

And Dean stumbles around that for a long moment, horrific sinking feeling in his gut , all dread and futility and it doesn't stop. No matter what he tries he keeps feeling worse and worse and he'll be disfigured soon, crippled. He realizes that's why Bobby's--Sam doesn't want to leave Dean more than metaphorically alone because Sam knows that once he's dead--

once Sam is dead--

and Dean's knees give out.

He sags into the wall, kinda claws feebly, falling to the floor. His forehead slides down the blue waterfalls of the wallpaper, and he's hyperventilating, vaguely aware of it, his chest crushed by an alien pressure.

Sam drops down next to him, rolls his head on Dean's shoulder and paws at the back of his head, his breath hitching and wet. Dean can feel his brother, still so fucking warm and trembling at his back. Sam's long fingers fumble over Dean's ear, folding it clumsily down, and Dean can't, not in any way, just can't.

Dean punches the wall twice, hard as he can. There's a wooden snapping sound and a brief scream snatched out of his throat. He's broken his ring finger. Sam is laughing and sobbing both, somehow, his face shining and warped as he forces painkillers down Dean's throat and splints his ring and pinkie fingers together with coffee stirrers dug out of his bag. Dean is staring at him, mute and terror-struck.

Fear and pain and draining adrenaline match up with the opiates to form a giant soft hammer, a crippling blow that lays him out for better than an hour, and Dean comes to in the shotgun seat, already across two borders and into Montana.


They don't speak for another hundred miles. Dean slouches against the door and stares at Sam unapologetically. His eyes are on fire because he keeps forgetting to blink. Sam is driving with one hand curled too tight around the wheel, and his face might be colored under Dean's scrutiny but it's too dark to tell.

Sam opens his mouth to speak dozens and dozens of times, never quite manages the words. Dean's muscles ache from tensing in anticipation.

Sam's wearing one of Dean's shirts, too, plain red button-up that stretches at his shoulders. It's disconcerting, keeps catching on the corner of his attention. Dean keeps trying to swallow the thick obstruction in his throat, but it won't go.

Dean's mind echoes with the word can't, not attached to anything but just floating around with its harsh scraping edges, deadly sharp. The car's too small and they're moving too fast; Sam's too close. It's too goddamn quiet.

"Find someplace we can get some food," Dean says, unsurprised to hear a scoured little rasp where his voice used to be.

Twitching, Sam blinks at Dean and then forcibly pulls his eyes back to the road. "Who can eat at a time like this," he says, deadpan, shaky as all hell.

"Not dead yet, Sammy," is what chooses to come out of Dean's mouth and he jerks back in shock. Something like whiplash cracks in the base of his skull, wondering what the fuck is wrong with him.

Sam doesn't respond for a minute, but Dean doesn't think he's mad. It's not that kind of quiet.

"You should probably be driving, anyway," Sam says, a flat off-tone. "How's your hand?"

Hurts like a motherfucker, as a matter of fact, but that hardly matters. Dean's eyes become slits, zeroing in on the hard lines of Sam's arm flexing as he squeezes the wheel compulsively, and his mouth in a smashed shape, the flickering muscle in his cheek.

"You have--it's twelve hours at least, we'll make it to Bobby's," Dean says, almost stammering and hating how he sounds.

Sam shakes his head tightly. "You don't know that. Dad never hunted one either, all we've ever heard is third-hand stories."

"Yeah, like nine hundred of them because every hunter knows tsukiji blood is one of the most poisonous things on the planet," Dean argues even though he's pretty sure it's not a point in his favor. He's lost, they're fighting sideways, in some kind of code, and Dean's just totally lost.

"Stupid thing to take a risk on," Sam says, maybe a little too loud or maybe Dean's just oversensitive right now. "It's your fucking car, anyway."

And for some reason--god only knows--that's like the worst thing Sam has said all night.


They stop at a trucker's mecca outside Missoula, and Dean sends Sam in with a long list of various potato chips, kinds of jerky, and snack cakes. He stays in the car, waits until Sam is through the glass doors before calling Bobby.

It's almost midnight but the man picks up after two rings sounding alert and acutely annoyed, cursing Dean's name and all. Dean manages to break in, "Bobby, Bobby," the strain plain as day, and Bobby falls quiet.

"It's Sam?" Bobby asks, though not with much question in his tone.

"It. We. There was a tsukiji."

The name whistles out of him, sounds like a sneeze or a scoff or something as harmless as that, but Bobby sucks in an audible breath.

"Ah, Dean."

Dean screws his fist into his eye, breathing fast and shallow and he's not gonna cry; that's the last thing he'd let himself do with only glass between him and his brother. There's a long keening moan in his chest but he holds it back, locking his eyes on Sam mechanically filling a pair of coffees.

"We're pretty sure," he says in a whisper. "Not a hundred percent, but. Pretty sure."

"How long?"

"Oh. Been about two-three hours now. We're heading in your direction."

"Good, that's. Well. Fucking terrible, is what it is, but I. It's good you're close enough to make it."

Bobby's struggling, and Dean's no better, his throat feeling wrung, twisted like a cloth. He tells Bobby they're maybe eight hours away and Bobby says, "Try to do better than that," and Dean swears he will.

Sam gets back in the car, and they're both occupied getting the food and coffees sorted, and then Sam's face lengthens with a thousand-yard stare, a soldier gazing out at a blackening plain of napalm. Dean drinks too fast, burns his tongue. Sam's coffee is set on his leg and Dean imagines the circle of heat bleeding through his jeans, dim red mark on Sam's skin.

"You were talking to Bobby?" Sam asks after a moment. Of course he saw; very little gets past Sam, sad as it is to say.

Dean nods, starts the car so as to have something with which to occupy himself. They escaped the rain while he was asleep, and now there is nothing but high plains and higher sky, pale clouds in formations like ribs across the unmarred black expanse. There are no speed limits on these roads, and Dean pretends something is chasing them, goes as fast as the car can stand.

Sam speaks up again, no longer content to let the silence stand. "Feel like I should have some kinda list prepared."

Quick sidelong glance, good hand tightening on the wheel. "What?"

"Things to do if you only have one day to live."

"Fuck. No. Absolutely not."

Dean isn't even going to consider it, certainly not going to listen to Sam laying out his deathbed wishes. There are limits. There has to be some kind of mercy left in the world, even as godforsaken as it has so recently become.

Sam gives him a look. "Let me tell you how completely unsurprising it is that you're taking this worse than I am."

"Oh, you can go fuck yourself," Dean snaps, white-hot behind his eyes and taking advantage of it because anger is a good diversion too. "It's not a fucking joke."

"No, it's just. It's this thing that happened and we can't change it and I won't, I'm not gonna pretend it's not happening."

"Nobody said that," Dean answers, gripping the steering wheel like a weapon. He wants to hit Sam very badly, but he knows that's just his body reading terror in the wrong way; Dean is just poorly wired. "But I don't wanna hear the stuff you'd do. We can't do any of it, we're five hundred miles from anywhere."

Sam makes a sound that might have been a laugh under ordinary circumstances. "Just because your last day would be all hookers and rollercoasters, I know."

"Hookers on rollercoasters, Sammy," and Dean doesn't know what it says about them that they're still cracking wise at each other.

"Anyway, the point is I don't even have a list," Sam says. "Gonna spend ten hours of my last day on earth in the car, and I, I don't, I'm not as upset about that as I feel like I should be."

He sounds far away, that hollow stare back on his face. Sam's coffee is going cold on his leg, untouched, and Dean is having trouble breathing, trouble keeping his gorge down. His broken finger, his aching chest, his throbbing head--it's all making him sick to his stomach. He has so very little interest in talking about any of this stuff.

"Please, Sam," Dean says, aiming to sound more exasperated than pleading and he mostly succeeds. "Any day could be your last day on earth, and you spend most of those in the car anyway."

Sam nods, traces his finger along the dash, almost petting at it. "Yeah. I just. I don't think I actually want anything else."

That's a pretty fatalistic thing for Sam to say, and it sorta hooks in Dean, tiny barbs catching and tugging, but he figures it's just the situation, this impossibly dark road they're on. This is how he'd want to go too, just Sam next to him and the steering wheel under his hands and the blacktop vanishing against the night.

Dean doesn't say anything. He wants to fucking cry--still no--and so he grits his teeth and refuses to blink, watching the highway blur and reform through unshed tears.


Near Bozeman they have to stop for gas, and Dean comes out of the men's (where he might have torn the paper towel dispenser off the wall and stomped it as flat as a soda can, catching his breath in hysterical pants while leaning on the sink) to find Sam picking through a box of discount cassette tapes. There's a slumping pile of candy on the counter by his elbow; last day on earth and all, Sam has evidently decided to base his diet on Swedish Fish and chocolate.

He glances at Dean as Dean comes over. "Doomed man picks the music?"

Dean scowls. "No."

"Tough shit, it's happening." Sam rounds up his junk and carries it to the check-out. A thick quadruple-cassette box slips off the top and Dean (slicker than oil) catches it out of the air.

"What the fuck? The Bible? On tape?"

Sam smiles mask-like at the clerk, faint hard lines around his mouth and eyes that would be visible to no one else on the planet. He snatches the cassette box out of Dean's hands, which have dulled and slowed, and Sam tells him, "As read by Larry King."

"I'm not listening to that."

"We'll just fast-forward to the good parts. Skip all the begetting and whatnot."

"Good parts? What the hell-" but Sam's already stuffing the change in his pocket and striding out, leaving Dean to scamper after him, thinking in maddening circles that this is the last time Sam will rip the top of a Snickers wrap off with his teeth, this is the last time Sam will carry a plastic bag hooked on one finger, this is the last time he'll shoot Dean a try-and-fuckin'-stop-me smirk over the hood of the car.

Dean's shaking again as he slides behind the wheel. He doesn't protest as Sam pops Genesis through Job into the deck.

Larry King tells them with matter-of-fact surety, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Frissons of tension scurry under Dean's skin. He sneaks looks at Sam and his brother is by all signs at ease, one leg folded and his knee resting on the dash. Sam's eyes are fixed straight ahead, intent listening expression on the half of his face that Dean can see. Dean can't stand the sight of him, all long and broken across the line of his shoulders, his big hand dangling limp off his knee.

Larry King tells them, "And it was so."

Dean keeps getting these wild urges. Every time a pair of glaring white headlights appears in the distance, his head fills up with thoughts of how sweet and easy it would be to wait and wait and time it perfectly, simplest little yank of the wheel and all that light exploding around them. They're going a hundred miles an hour. No chance in hell would they survive.

He just can't handle feeling like this. The anticipation, the dread--there aren't proper words for what it does to a man, hot deranged fuzz in his mind, jagged bolts of agony fighting their way through his body. Dean has been shot and torn and tortured, burnt and bled and beaten with bottles, and it was no more than skinned knees compared to this.

For like the twelfth time, Larry King tells them, "And God saw that it was good," and Dean snaps a little bit.

"Can we please listen to anything else?" he says. "Some death metal, maybe, get the Satanists' side of things?"

The side of Sam's mouth curls and it isn't a smile, which is good because Dean might just slap it off his face.

"You're not finding it soothing?"

"No, 'cause I know how the fucker ends."

Dean goes to eject the tape but Sam is quick as a snake, grabbing his wrist and holding him back. "Just let it go, dude."

Dean glares at him and he doesn't want Sam to let go of his wrist. He can feel the rough places on his brother's fingers, scuffing kindly against the soft underside veins. It's his right hand, the broken one, and so Sam's being especially careful.

"What, you're gonna magically find God on your last day on earth," Dean sneers, and pretty much hates himself, and can't help it.

"It seemed appropriate," Sam replies in a low voice, and for some reason that makes Dean about ten times more furious, the idea that Sam is following some kind of dying man's etiquette.

He rips his arm out of Sam's grip, locking his eyes on the highway because the highway is a constant and a straight line, two things he badly needs right now. Forgetting his broken finger he tries to fist his hand around the wheel and barely keeps in his small cry of shocked pain. Dean wishes he hadn't already fucked up his hand--he wishes he could do it now.

"There's no, there's nothing fucking appropriate about it," and Dean is not shouting, not quite yet. "If it's in you, if you die, you think it's gonna make any kind of difference that you went with dignity or spiritual peace or whatever the fuck--it fucking will not. You'll still be fucking dead."

He's shouting now. Screaming, even. He can feel his throat stretched and vibrating so fast.

"Dean, pull over, c'mon,"

and Sam's voice is all high and worried, probably because Dean can't see the road, can't see anything past the red crumbling walls in his mind. Somehow the car makes it to a safe rest on the shoulder, headlights soaking the motionless plains, and Dean curls around the steering wheel, sucking in harsh gasps between his teeth.

Sam comes pressing against his side, heavy arm slanting around Dean's shoulders. Dean tries to shrug him off, jerking viciously, but Sam won't go. Their skulls clonk together, brief bell-clear ring of pain. Sam's nose brushes Dean's cheek, one huge hand wrapped halfway around Dean's head.

Dean is mumbling, "can't," over and over again, face buried in his hands. It really kinda sums up the whole experience.

And Sam is actually shushing him, "shh shh" all vaguely panicked, and Dean wants to laugh deliriously, he wants to hit Sam and grab him and hold on as tight as he can. He can't do this.

Dean turns on his brother, fists Sam's collar and hugs him very hard. His face feels hot and slippery against Sam's neck, and Dean doesn't care, thinks clearly: fuck it. Fuck it, as Sam hugs him back just as fierce, fuck the highway and the night sky and the scripture being read in the background, the heavens and the earth and the light, the cattle and the creeping thing and anything else you can name. Every matchstick, every initialed square of sidewalk, every abandoned heart--fuck it all.

They hang on to each other for awhile.

Eventually Sam pushes Dean a little ways away and gives him a sober studying look. Dean swallows and blinks back, casting around for some smart remark that will break the tension, but his brain is an echoing blank. He's staring at Sam's gunshot eyes, the awkward shivering shape of his mouth.

Sam looks terrified. But that's only fair.

He lifts his hand and wipes tears off Dean's face with the side of his palm, and then he leans in, fits his mouth over his brother's and kisses him deeply.

Dean kisses back thoughtlessly. It's just. It's sure and hot, Sam's lip catching on his own, Sam's tongue slicking in, and Dean gives over to it, pure instinct and sensation racing all through him. He's there, he's in it, Sam exploding like a million bombs in his mind and then Dean realizes what he's doing, and he shoves his brother away.

"What the fuck?" comes shrieking out of Dean. All control is gone, clearly.

Sam is pulled back, one hand stuck over his mouth in perfect movie shock, his eyes enormous and thunderstruck. Dean jams himself into the car door, smashed in the corner, staring at his brother with something that's a little horrified but much much more confused.

"You-" Dean tries, but where the hell is he going with that, what can he say. Sam kissed him, kissed him on the mouth and all Dean wants to know is why.

"I'm sorry," Sam says fast, still hiding his mouth. "Jesus, Dean, I'm so fucking sorry."

The excruciating sincerity in it is the worst thing, worst by about a mile, and Dean cringes, shakes his head shortly.

"No, just, what, what did you do that for?"

Sam's whole body twitches, like he wants to bolt, and Dean entertains a momentary vision of chasing Sam down across the plains all the way to the purple mountains. But Sam stays, one hand gripping the back of the seat like it's his only anchor.

"It's." And somehow Sam's eyes get even bigger, scared out of his mind and flooded with light, his mouth speeding on ahead of him as he says, "It's the only thing I wanted to do before I died."

As it turns out, Dean's the one who runs.

He wrenches the handle and batters his shoulder until the door flies open and sends him tumbling out onto the ground. There's dirt in his mouth, forcing under his nails, and he jars his broken finger, almost throws up from the staggering spike of pain. His head is a drunk reeling madman, some reckless battering thing happening in his chest.

Dean uses the side of the car to haul himself to his feet, his lungs not working again and his poor bruised heart pounded into exhaustion. He just needs a moment or two and then he'll be able to think straight again. Just a moment or two and he'll figure out what the fuck he's supposed to do now.

Sam comes around the car to him, saying his name careful and quiet like Dean's a spooked horse, an oft-kicked dog. Not doing himself any favors, Dean flinches when Sam goes to touch his arm, and Sam's hand falls back. That thickness is back in Dean's throat and as soon as it dissolves he's running away as fast as he can, as far as his legs can bear him.

"I'm sorry," Sam whispers, and Dean feels his lip curl in a snarl.

"Is that the only thing you know how to say?"

"Dean, I. It's made me crazy." Sam's face works, anguished with sorrow and fear and remorse, very difficult to see. "I never would have otherwise, I fucking swear to you, but it, it's like I'm dreaming and none of this is real and I can do whatever I want."

Dean stares at him, frozen in place. The car is cold at his back and Sam is begging, his face wide open. Sam licks his lips nervously and Dean is drawn, eyes narrowing. A stunningly lucid memory of what the kiss felt like sparks through him, the sweet intensity and Sam's warm hand covering his ear, making the whole world sound like the ocean.

Kinda snagging back against the car, Dean drags his gaze off his brother's mouth, swallows hard. He searches the ground helplessly for some kind of aid, hears himself saying weakly:

"It's okay, Sam."

There's a pause, then a huffing noise of pained disbelief. "In what universe is it okay?"

Dean shakes his head. He doesn't know. It's not okay and it shouldn't be okay but Sam is going to die and a couple minutes ago they kissed and it is, somehow, at least as far as Dean's concerned. It is okay.

"Let's just go, all right?" Dean says, glancing at Sam just in time to see his face totally collapse, misery crowding out everything else as his mouth slackens, his eyes plummeting down.

Sam keeps his shoulders straight and tries to turn away with a curt little nod, but Dean grabs his arm, pulls until Sam looks at him again. It's so hard for both of them, meeting and holding the other's gaze, a physical trial that takes all their strength.

"I"m telling you," Dean says in a completely unfamiliar voice, decrepit little rasp. "It's okay."

A fraught moment, Sam scanning Dean's face and Dean's mind running triple-time, skyrocketing through the possibilities. Heat rises up Dean's neck, Sam's eyes focused and sharp and he feels it like something tangible. Dean bites the inside of his lip, feeling kinda crazy himself.

Eventually Sam nods, and a marginal amount of stiffness falls out of his body. He makes the barest ghost of a smile for Dean, and then goes back around to his side of the car. Dean stays out there for a minute longer, head tilted back and eyes wide, trying to smother every bad thought with stars.


Another several hours pass. They make South Dakota, switch to the backroads where there is straw-colored dirt blowing in the gullies and unidentifiable roadkill detonated in the ditches.

They don't really talk. They listen to Larry King tell the story of the flood and the tower and the pillar of salt, but then God tells Abraham that he will have a son called Isaac and Sam promptly punches the eject. They both know how that story ends, too.

Sam picks Blue Oyster Cult instead, which probably should make Dean either amused or upset, but he's got enough on his mind already.

Dean replays Sam kissing him about a thousand times. Every centimeter, every nanosecond. He waits for the freaked-out shine to wear from it, for it to become weird or disgusting like it's supposed to be, but it never happens. It's branded, crystalline and vibrant and frightening in a number of fundamental ways. It's still okay, though; it doesn't stop being okay.

The sky has been watered and faded lavender to pink, and the sun is just starting to spear over the horizon. Dean stares into the growing light and thinks, sometime before sunset, and his chest seizes. Abrupt courage rattles furiously through him.

Dean turns the tape down and says, "Um."

Sam kinda twitches, jarred from his own mysterious reverie to blink slowly at Dean. "Yeah?"

"That, um. Well." Dean clears his throat, scowling at the broken white line. "Earlier. Have you, has that-" He cuts himself off because he sounds like nine different kinds of fool, blows out an irritated breath. "How long, Sam?"

Quiet for the length of a chorus, a trilling high note, and then Sam says with his voice all eroded and flat, "Since I was fifteen."

The wheel jerks almost imperceptibly in Dean's hands. "Holy shit."

"Yes, I know," Sam says, sounding almost grumpy. Dean sorta wants to laugh, always does at the worst moments. "It's awful and sick and fucked-up, and none of that is news."

Dean shakes his head, Sam's missing the point, he's always missing the goddamn point. Something hotter and swifter than adrenaline is skimming along under Dean's skin, something densely liquid happening in his stomach. He raps the fingers of his good hand on the wheel, too-fast tempo.

"Don't be such a drama queen, man."

Sam looks at him in frank astonishment. Dean grins back, huge and unhinged; that crazy feeling has only gotten worse.

"Excuse me?" Sam manages. The new light is pouring so slowly over him, tinting him from shadow to solidity and Dean wants to get his hands on him.

"It's fucked-up and maybe a little sick, but it definitely wasn't awful."

And Dean's pulling the car over, tasting his heart in his mouth, watching his hands flutter on the wheel. Sam is saying his name, baffled with a tiny undercurrent of hope, maimed almost beyond recognition but still there, still there.

Dean doesn't want to think about it anymore, doesn't want to think about any of it. It's all landmines and torture devices, the ever-rising sun, and Dean doesn't think, sliding over to his brother and hooking an arm around his neck.

Sam's eyes almost fall out of his head, and he reflexively grabs at Dean's shirt. Dean looks at him very closely, sharp nose and soft mouth, color in his cheeks, his eyelids flickering and unsure. Sam is feverishly, desperately alive. Dean gets it, understands in a flash: this is all he's ever wanted.

"Dean," Sam is fumbling to say, "do you-" and it doesn't matter what he's gonna say, because Dean's got exactly one answer.

"Yeah," he breathes out against Sam's mouth, and then kisses him.

It's different this time. They aren't going to stop. Sam holds Dean's face in his hands, tilts his mouth up and kisses him over and over again, shattering airless kisses that leave Dean beyond speech or thought. Sam does this like he does anything else, stubborn and like no one else in the world does it right. Dean just keeps thinking, more, fuck, more, wanting to climb on top of Sam so bad his body is shaking and he didn't know, no one ever told him.

Sam pulls away, gasping. "Jesus."

"C'mere," Dean says, tugging at the collar of the shirt Sam stole from him, biting at his mouth. "C'mon, you fucker, don't stop."

Sam's lips twist and he tilts his head away, holding Dean back with hands on his shoulders. He's still breathing hard, his eyes still blazing and his mouth still wet, perfect. Dean can't think for wanting him.

"Don't do this just because-" Sam tries to say, and Dean lunges forward, almost cracks a tooth kissing his brother as hard as he can, forcing back down whatever terrible thing was coming next. Sam kinda moans and falls against him, frantic and unskilled suddenly, his hands latching onto Dean's hips.

"I'm not, Sammy, I swear I'm not," Dean pants, winding his fingers in Sam's messy hair. "I just didn't know, but please, please," and Sam pushes him up against the car door, tears his jeans open in one clean move.

Dean arches back, his head thudding on the window. Sam is sucking on his throat, edging his jeans down, and Dean can feel Sam's hand huge on the inside of thigh, pushing his legs apart.

"You don't even know," Sam mumbles brokenly against Dean's jaw. Sam's eyes are fixed downwards, staring at his own hands pulling Dean's dick free, and Dean is staring at Sam's face.

"Please," Dean whispers again, clean soft-sounding word hissing between them and Sam is shuddering, rolling his overheated face on Dean's shoulder.

"You're gonna let me," Sam says in a halting wrecked voice, and Dean's not sure if it's a question or a warning but he doesn't care; he still only knows one word: "yes, yes."

And then Sam is sliding back and away down Dean's body, pushing his T-shirt up and spreading his hands out wide on Dean's bare chest. Dean writhes a little bit, sweat broken out thin and slick all over his body. His hands are sunk in Sam's hair and the tape from his splinted fingers snags and catches. He watches Sam with growing astonishment, hips pressing into Sam's grip over and over again, Sam's teeth scraping so low on his stomach.

Dean can hardly believe what's about to happen. The dawn light is filtered and colored like milky flowers, leaking through Sam's hair and over his shoulders, tingeing the planes of his face. Sam works a hickey into the cup of Dean's hip and Dean thinks that if this is a dream then that mark won't be there in the morning.

He thinks that if this is a dream then Sam isn't really going to die.

And none of this will have happened.

Dean's back bows, curling him down over his brother. He squeezes his eyes shut so tight. Sam licks at him, opens his mouth and takes him down, and all Dean is doing is holding on.


They get to Bobby's in time for breakfast. The dark patches under Bobby's eyes and eight dozen fresh-baked muffins suggests to Dean that he didn't get much sleep after Dean called him, which kinda surprises Dean even though he knows it shouldn't.

Bobby crushes Sam in a hug out front of the house, doesn't say he's sorry or anything stupid like that, just, "Damn, son," and Sam's eyebrows fall, his arm slinging around Bobby's shoulders as they stomp up the hollow wood steps.

There's coffee still steaming in the kitchen, and nowhere to sit at the table because the entire surface is covered in muffin tins (where does a man find so many muffin tins?), so they go into the study and Sam slumps on the couch, loosing a massive yawn. Dean downs gulps of coffee, pacing. He can't eat even though there are chocolate chips in some of those muffins. Can't look at Sam directly because like an hour ago Sam sucked him off and Dean is still not quite out of that moment.

Bobby takes the chair at the desk and regards them both in turn with the same level look, a blur of sadness and weariness that resonates like a five hundred year old church bell.

"Walk me through it, boys."

Sam and Dean exchange a look--pure habit, of course, and Dean really needs to get a handle on that because his eyes immediately drop to Sam's mouth, his mind flitting without pause back to his little brother licking down his cock with his upper lip all pulled to the side and Dean slams his eyes shut, breathing out hard. He turns away, face flaring with disgust and shame because seriously, what the fuck is wrong with him, but luckily Bobby takes it as standard distress, and Sam starts talking, sounding pretty normal. Dean faces the wall, gets his breathing under control.

He's fucking shaking again, or maybe that's fucking still shaking. It feels constant, natural and unremarkable. Existence comes with perpetual shuddering, it sounds about right.

In a half-hearted way, Dean listens to Sam relate the idiotically basic hunt that landed them in this spot. He gets most of the facts right, doesn't bother mentioning that Dean told him not to go in alone, probably still feeling kinda guilty about that. Dean leaves the room when Sam's telling Bobby how they tried to wash it off in the rain, how they'd been so sure.

Pouring another cup of coffee takes most of his coordination, and he leans his forehead on the cabinet, trying to keep his breathing under control, incipient veins of panic branching out through him. Dean is almost getting used to this, the ratchet up and plunge down of bone-deep fear, the way he half-forgets for a minute or two and then it comes crashing back.

He forces himself calm, counting the ticks of the old-fashioned Dutch clock on the wall, breathing slow through his teeth. Dean is wishing for impossible things, not even the obvious stuff but: he wishes he couldn't feel the passing of each moment. He wishes he could somehow lose touch with the concept of time altogether, live in bliss like all the lower orders.

The mood passes, after a minute.

Dean chokes down a muffin, feeling emptier by the minute. Then he goes back into the study.

Sam and Bobby are sitting in a morosely companionable silence, chins lowered to their chests. Sam flicks Dean a lidded look when he comes back in the room but Dean is playing smart this time and not looking back. He tips his chin at Bobby instead, sees the older man sigh gustily, face pinched and gray.

"Seems like you got cause to be concerned," Bobby passes down like a law.

Dean sets his coffee mug down to better clench his fists in frustrated indignation. "Thank you, I was pretty sure we weren't fucking overreacting."

Usually Bobby would take him to the figurative woodshed for that kind of tone, but Dean supposes you get some lenience when your brother's dying because he just gives Dean a cutting look of pity, and proceeds to ignore him.

"Wish I could tell you it's safer to have a minimal exposure like you probably did," Bobby says. "But it's a zero-sum game."

Sam nods, looking depleted, melted into the couch. "All or nothing."

"Now, you're young, you're healthy. It. It's usually between fifteen and twenty hours, but you might. You."

Bobby comes staggering to a stop, blinking very fast and looking away out the window. Dean watches Bobby's throat as he swallows, risks a look at Sam and finds him staring down at his hands, his face cast with a sorrow so deep it echoes.

Dean has to look away too. He can't be expected to endure that.

The three of them share an even more morosely companionable silence than the one Dean walked in on, and it stretches out. No one knows what to say, and Dean thinks there's no use in having time to say your goodbyes if they're going to be as pathetic as all this.

Then Sam surprises him, says, "Hey Dean, get lost for awhile, would ya."

Not stung, not really, more generally irritated and suffering a rush of relief because it's so beautifully normal to be generally irritated at Sam, and Dean says, "Fuck you too."

Sam shoots him a smile that hits Dean like a rock between the eyes. "Seriously. I need to talk to Bobby."

"And what, you're kicking me out of the family?" Dean says, maybe a whine but he'll never admit it. His pulse has kicked up because Sam's got about ten hours tops, and Dean doesn't want to miss a second of it.

Sam rolls his eyes, his mouth already shaped around some clever retort, but Bobby cuts him off, saying mildly, "Pretty sure you're gonna be the topic under discussion, Dean. You can see how it would be awkward."

"Bobby-" Dean starts, glaring at Sam on the hideous orange plaid couch, but Bobby only answers, "Go fix my truck, will ya? We'll holler if you're needed."

So dismissed, Dean skulks out to the salvage yard, pacing the broken glass and metal canyons, chucking a few rocks into the junkers like a bad-intentioned child. His aim sucks because of the splint, and the chime of stone on steel sings like a tuning fork.

He doesn't care what Sam might be saying about him to Bobby. Sam's worried that Dean's going to go directly off the deep end once he's dead, which is possibly not wholly unfounded. Dean figures he'll end up staying here for a week or two, live like Bobby's pet ghost, all drifting and devastated. He thinks about how he's probably going to want to die. He has to stop moving for a little while.

Dean lets himself think about that blowjob again, feeling perverted and sick on every level but it's the only other thing that can occupy him. Sam had held him down with one hand flattened on Dean's bare hip. His hair had brushed Dean's stomach in a life-destroying kind of way. He had kept his eyes on Dean's face almost the entire time, like that was the whole point.

Dean gets all shivery and weak-feeling, and Bobby finds him sitting in a gutted Dodge, a blankly stricken look plastered all over his face. Bobby sighs when he sees him, shakes his head and offers Dean a hand.

Bobby keeps that hand on the back of Dean's neck, leading him back to the house, and Dean is horribly grateful for it, one thing at least taken care of for him. Just before they go in the back door, Bobby tells him:

"There's nothing you can do but live through it, Dean,"

and Dean answers, "Yeah," just as easily as anything.


The day passes so quickly.

There's nothing to do that's worthy of the moment, nothing poignant and significant to settle their minds and bring them an early peace. They sit around Bobby's study listening to old records, tossing a baseball back and forth through the moted bars of sunlight slanting through the window.

Dean watches the angle of the light moving across the floor. Every minute is another minute gone. Brutal spasms of panic are still wracking through him, worse the later it gets but he's pretty sure he's mostly hiding it.

Bobby tells them stories about their father. Sam and Dean listen like boys on the carpet, as wide-eyed as orphans in fairy tales. There are so many things they never knew. So many things Dean's about to learn for his own, and he watches Sam, the composed set of his features like he's prepared, ready, and Dean doesn't believe it for a second.

They try to eat a late lunch together but Dean can't manage more than a few bites and Sam not even that. Plates pushed back, they both stare with absent hopelessness into the middle distance, the clock ticking ever louder, and Bobby clears his throat.

"Well, I guess I'll. I'll leave you boys to it," he says in a roughened voice. Dean lifts his head, blinking.

Bobby gets to his feet and Sam follows suit, trails him to the back door. Dean turns, leaning hard on his elbow on the table, to see Bobby put his hand on Sam's shoulder and say something in a low voice meant just for Dean's brother. It makes Sam's head duck, his shoulders falling, and the expression on Bobby's face is gut-wrenching, so Dean looks away.

After another few moments the door opens and snicks shut, the faraway cough of Bobby's truck fighting to turn over, and then Sam is coming back, footsteps creaking on the floorboards. Dean is hunched over, one hand clawed against his temple. Bobby left because the two of them should be alone at the end. He left because any moment now, any moment.

Sam lays his hand on the back of Dean's head. He says his name, "Dean," like it's some kind of answer.

Dean wrenches around, wraps both arms around Sam's waist and buries his face in his brother's stomach. Sam kinda gasps, chest hitching, and then his hands are smoothing down Dean's hair, swift down the nape of his neck. Dean's nose is smashed, his mouth packed full of shirt and shifting skin, and he can't breathe.

He's mumbling some cracked rambling thing, something about, "keep you, just for now I'm gonna, gonna let me now," and meanwhile his hands are scrabbling for Sam's belt.

Each singular moment is so terrifying. Dean drags Sam's jeans off his hips and his eyes stick immediately on the white square of bandage taped over the tiny scrape that is going to kill him, and he has to close his eyes, open his mouth on Sam's stomach and tongue his way down. His unbroken fingers are curled in the waist of Sam's shorts, and Sam is stammering, begging incoherently already.

Dean wants to see that, badly needs to, so he raises his eyes and finds his brother staring back in a wild trance, a suicidal kind of love burning in his eyes. Sam is caught open-mouthed, both hands cradling Dean's head with his thumbs on the delicate skin just under Dean's eyes. Sam looks savage and beautiful and like it's all been worth it, every hellish moment since Dean killed the tsukiji has been worth it because it brought them to this.

Dean lets his eyes flicker shut, pushes his hand down Sam's cock and takes the rest in his mouth. A groan spurs out of him because the taste is sharp and instantly familiar, makes his stomach tighten like a threat, and then Sam is babbling and scratching at his hair and Dean is doing the best he can.

Sam came over his own hand in the car while going down on Dean, but that fact doesn't slow him down at all now. Dean can't breathe for whole new reasons, his free hand fascinated by the feel of Sam's hips thrusting against his hold. He likes it, Dean realizes in a kind of steamrolled sex-fog. His jaw aches and his tongue feels swollen and he can't breathe, but he could do this for days.

That thought almost kills him, but luckily Sam finishes pretty much immediately thereafter, drops to his knees on the linoleum and hauls Dean into a searing kiss. Dean ends up pulled down out of the chair, sprawled over Sam's lap with his brother's arms lashed across his back.

Sam is murmuring against Dean's mouth, "You, it's always been you," and Dean is fisting his hair, eyes on fire as he answers like a snarl, "It will always be you," and then Sam is crying, ragged and violent, hiding his face in Dean's shoulder.

Dean keeps him close. He wants to press Sam in under his skin. He can't open his eyes because he'll see the clock and he'll remember that any moment now, any moment.

He gets them both back on their feet eventually, and half-carries Sam to the spare bedroom. Sam is still edgy and vulnerable, red-eyed, so Dean sits him on the edge of the bed, cleans him up without a word. He coaxes Sam's arms up to pull off his shirt, then shucks his own. Dean guides Sam down and lies beside him, and Sam's hands go for him at once, fitting Dean's body against his own in a specific way. Sam's bare skin slides against his so warm and smooth, discolored by bruises. Dean is shaking again, some more, but who cares?

They lie there for hours. They don't say anything. There's no point to any of it. Sam's hand moves on Dean's back. Dean's fingers learn Sam's ribs. They're breathing in time, watching the light sink down the walls. The shadows thicken around them, closing like a shroud.

Dean's eyes are closed. It's mostly self-defense.

Sam's hand slips off Dean's back, small whumping sound as it hits the bed, and Dean's heart bucks, stops dead.

"Sam?" he whispers. There is cold undiluted terror spilling through him for a split second before Sam's hand is folding around the back of his head, drawing his face up.

Dean's eyes fly open and he can barely see his brother, the slightest sense of his mouth moving as he says unnecessarily, "It's dark outside, Dean."

Dean scrambles up, his hands braced on his brother's chest. He won't believe it; he can't. That manic jackspring of hope in his chest means nothing; it can't.

The sky outside the window is a spoiled-plum color, the spindly trees sketched in a blacker ink. Dean stumbles to his feet, his mind careening and the only thing he can think clearly is that the window faces east, the darkest part of the sky, and then he's running for the front of the house.

Sam shouts his name, comes dashing after him. Bare feet thundering down the hallway, fingers skidding over the rough plaster. Dean trips coming down the porch steps and almost goes headlong, just barely catching his balance. Then Sam barrels full-tilt into his back and they both go sprawling in the dust.

Dean shoves his brother off, wrenches himself to his knees and turns his prayerful eyes to the western sky.

There is the faintest smudge of light, fox-colored and clinging to the narrow fringe of trees. Dean's hand reaches for Sam, collides with his shoulder and grips tight. Sam is kneeling beside him, his eyes locked on the same minute gleam.

And then it fades. Winks out like it never was. Sam and Dean are left squinting into the night, stunned and whole and alive.


They leave the next morning.

Dean spends most of the night restless and strung-out, not really able to believe that it could be true. Maybe the 'next day's sunset' guideline is just that, nothing set in stone, maybe it's really 'next day's midnight,' or 'next day's two in the morning.' Their luck has never changed so fast without almost immediately flipping back.

But Sam is breathing, asleep in the bed with the lines smoothed off his forehead, and Dean watches the dawn breaking across his brother's face for the second day in a row, and he feels some critical piece snap back into place inside him.

Bobby shows up while they're systematically demolishing the absurd surplus of muffins, and the look on his face when he sees Sam, awed and overwhelmed with relief, makes Dean burst into one last fit of stupid humiliating tears, but no one even makes fun of him. Bobby pounds them both on the back so many times Dean's shoulders feel slightly deformed, hammered into a new shape.

Sam can't stop smiling, and Dean can't stop staring at him, and he gets them out of there as soon as he can. Dean thinks he's playing it pretty cool until they're standing at the Impala and he's trying to jigger the keys with his dumb unbroken left hand, but he's still fucking shaking and the ring clinks in the dirt at his feet.

"Having some trouble?" Sam inquires from over the top of the car.

Dean's eyes dart to him, suddenly scared again, suddenly fucking terrified because Sam's not going to die--Sam's not going to die--but maybe that means Dean is never going to get to touch him again. It was Sam's last day on earth. They both went crazy, but it was probably only temporary.

Dean swallows. There is a bird in his chest trying to wing its way out. "Sam-"

Sam looks at him, lifts his eyebrows. And Sam grins, joyful and surprised here in the next day light.

"Get it together, Dean," Sam says. "You don't want Bobby to be in earshot for what I'm gonna do to you next."

The bird in Dean busts free, goes screaming up into the clear blue sky, where there's nothing but space and shine as far as the eye can see.


Endnotes: Based in the very loosest way on the Simpsons episode 'One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.' (2x11)