Title: Asterisms

Summary: The ties that bind, they are barbed and spined, and hold us close forever. AU from 5.04.

Rating: R for language

Spoilers: Up to and including 5.04

Pairing: None. Gen. However, I will not lie... I see this as pre-slash. But it's really up to you if you read it that way.

A/N: Here's what's happening. I am going to honest and tell you, it's probably going to be a month or so before I can update "Those Who Have Crossed with Direct Eyes." Why, you may ask? Because I am swamped with non-fandom related writing responsibilities, and "Eyes" does not come as easy as this fic did. I needed a break from non-fun writing, and this is what you got. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. OF COURSE I am going to finish it, but at the moment, it would turn out crappy if I just churned it out. And you don't want crap, do you? No. So, apologies, and deepest love. Happy holidays, too. MUAH.

A/N II: The premise of the statement "AU from 5.04": Let's just say, Past Dean's still in the future, Lucifer didn't kill Dean, and Dean is still trying to chase down Lucifer. Although, honestly, that doesn't really play a part in the story -- it's still the basis of what's going on, though, I guess. Basically, I just wanted to explore what it'd be like to hang out with yourself. Bah, whatever, I don't know. *facesmack*

:::

The land around the house is sparse, wide, spined with tree-covered ridges, and the sky is settled heavy and forlorn over the earth like a child draped across its mother's lap. Dean shifts his weight on the sagging front porch and squints at the vehicle in the distance, kicking up clouds of dust that puff like smoke before dissipating into the hot air.

"They're back with supplies," Castiel says from behind him, and Dean is too tired to jump at the sound of his voice. Time was, Cas would have simply appeared beside him on the porch, parting the air like a curtain, but now he walks like any other man. Though he's quieter than other men, maybe. Lighter, and not just because food has been scarce these past few weeks.

Dean passes a hand over his face, feels the fret of stubble underneath his fingers, the grit of old dirt.

"Yeah," he says. "About ten minutes out, I'd say. You let the others know?"

"Yes sir." The sir is mocking, but Dean just snorts and turns back to watch the advent of the truck. Inside the house he hears the stomp of boots, the creak of doors. It's rare that he stays back like this while others venture out, but this was a short, easy mission, and their temporary homebase is smack-dab in the middle of a wide expanse of nothing: few trees to hide them, no other houses to distract the eye. Visible, and therefore vulnerable – though by dint of visibility they can also see who's coming. Dean stayed behind to protect, but also to lead an attack, if the need arose.

"C'mon," he says to Cas after a moment, and they go inside.

Risa and Alan are stationed at the front windows, and Dean goes to Alan, nudges him aside wordlessly and takes his place, trading out his Glock for Alan's rifle. Risa catches his eye from across the room, nods a little, and he grins mirthlessly. Alan's a good shot, but Dean is better, and Risa is the best of them all. She'd been an advertising exec in L.A. in her other life, but as soon as she'd started training it'd become apparent that she had a pure, terrifying talent that can't be taught. She'd have made one hell of a hunter, back when there was still a distinction between civilians and those who fight.

There's silence in the small house, not out of any real necessity, but by habit. Dean's knees ache fiercely as he crouches in front of the window, and he hopes the supply team brings back Tylenol, or aspirin, or something. He's not even forty yet, but sometimes his body feels as if it's preparing itself to break down.

The truck is close now, some thirty feet from the porch, and Dean can make out familiar faces in the front seat – Chuck, Lauren, and Dean. His shoulders relax a fraction. If it's them, and not something else wearing their bodies, then everyone who went out has come back all right. Alive, at least. That's something. Something good.

Nevertheless, he crooks a finger, and Alan and Cas drop behind the couch, Alan training the Glock at the door, Cas ready with a bucket of salted holy water.

The truck pulls to a dusty, black-fumed stop, and Chuck turns off the engine, opens the door at the same time Dean opens the door on the other side, both of them hopping out.

"It's just us, guys," Chuck calls. "Christo! Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come and all that shit!"

"Christo," Dean and Lauren echo dutifully. Now that he's out of the car, Dean can see that Dean's head is heavily bandaged, half his hair shaved off on the same side as his pinned-up sleeve. Rusty brown has already stained the dirty gauze, and Dean can feel his jaw clench in irritation – irritation at Dean, and irritation at his worry for Dean.

"Come up slow," he hollers from behind the window, doesn't lower his rifle.

"Risa," Dean shouts. "I got a box of Oreos!"

Risa lets out a little squeak of joy, but she doesn't lower her rifle either, despite the grin spreading across her face. She's not much of a complainer, but goddamn, she bitches about missing Oreos more than Dean bitches about missing an arm. Dean wants her happy, of course he does, but it pisses him off somehow, the way Dean is grinning, so pleased with himself.

"Just come forward with your hands where we can see them," Dean snaps, and Chuck, Lauren and Dean come forward, five hands outstretched, empty. They clomp up the front porch, red-eyed, tired, covered in dust and dirt.

"Alan," Dean orders, and Alan climbs to his feet slowly, goes to the door with Cas behind him, both guns raised and aimed.

"All right," Dean says. "Open the door."

Dean reaches forward with his one good arm and turns the knob.

"We pass?" Lauren asks a second later, salty water tracking clean paths through the dirt on her face, blond hair sticking to her neck.

"That feels kind of nice, actually," Dean says, coming into the house and shaking his head, water droplets flying. "It's hot as shit in that truck."

"Welcome back," Cas says with one of his wide, strange smiles. "We missed you."

Dean resists the urge to roll his eyes.

"Gimme my Oreos," Risa demands, leaving her rifle propped up by the window.

"Ah-ah," Dean says, stepping back playfully, "is that any way to thank me?"

"Thank you," Risa says, pounding him on the shoulder. "Gimme my Oreos."

"They're in the front seat of the truck," Dean says, grinning. "Go slow, woman."

Risa's out the front door before he finishes speaking, followed at a slower pace by Cas and Alan. They begin to unload the truck as Dean and Chuck collapse onto the dilapidated couch, Lauren folding herself into the sagging yellow armchair with a whuf of exhaustion.

"I don't think I slept more than three hours the past two days," she says. "These assholes snore like tractors."

"Fuck, it's good to be back," Chuck says to the ceiling, eyes closed. "My nerves get all shot to hell out there, jumping at every little noise, you know? Like, oh my god, what's that sound, and it's just a fart or something."

Dean, lounging next to him, lazily stomps a boot, and Chuck jolts in panic.

"Yeah," Dean smirks. "Things've really changed now we're back." He's fumbling with the holster around his thigh, un-buckling it, and he lets out a little sigh of relief as he gets it undone and lets it drop to the floor.

"You want something to drink before you give me the report?" Dean asks pointedly, and Dean groans.

"Dude, can I just sit here for two seconds?"

"You can sit in the kitchen," Dean says, "while you report." It's not unkindness; it's necessity.

Dean sighs, leverages himself to his feet and follows Dean out of the living room and into the moldy kitchen with its scuffed linoleum floors.

"Make me look good," Lauren calls after them.

"You always look good," he hears Chuck say.

"Water?" Dean asks as Dean plonks himself down into the rickety wooden chair with a grimace, the colorful maps and sheets of notes on the table rustling a little in his wake.

"Yeah," Dean says, reaches up to catch the bottle Dean tosses at him, secures it between his thighs in order to twist it open one-handed.

Dean sits across the table from him, watches him drink thirstily, a few drops escaping his mouth and sluicing down his throat. It's been almost a year now but Dean still hasn't gotten used to him, this strange not-quite mirror-image of himself, still finds himself thinking things like, Do I really grunt like that when I drink? Or, Damn, I've got long eyelashes.

"Ah," Dean gasps finally, lowers the bottle. "Okay."

"What the fuck'd you do to your head?" is the first thing Dean asks, can't help himself.

"Looks worse than it is," Dean says, predictably, raising his hand to prod at it gingerly. "Ran into a lone Croat in the supermarket, decked me with a can of beans. Saved the beans. Killed the Croat."

Dean nods, tries to affect the same nonchalance as Dean, but he can't help the surge of nervous anger that shoots up into his throat.

"You need to be more careful."

Dean snorts, takes another drink of water. "Yeah, well, you need to chill out."

Dean grits his teeth, wills himself calm, but it's hard, because he's not blind and he can see the angle of the blow, can see that it probably hurt like a sonuvabitch, and more importantly, can see that Dean probably could have blocked it easily – eight months ago. But not now. The jackass acts like nothing's changed, is stupid and reckless and infuriatingly blasé, and Dean can't say shit about it; because while he and Dean are not the same person, no matter what anyone says, there are still certain fundamental similarities that he can't deny. And he's had enough time, when Dean got hurt and all these months after, to sit around thinking If it were me, and he knows himself well enough to know that he'd be pulling the same shit in Dean's situation.

Doesn't make it any easier to take, though.

"I'll chill out when you quit taking pointless risks."

"I'll quit taking pointless risks when you quit sendin' me out on mercy missions," Dean hisses, slams down the water and leans forward. "C'mon, man, you send me out for food with Lauren and Chuck? You know this area, you knew what we'd find in town, and you knew this mission was easy as shit."

"Easy, huh? That why you look like you went two rounds with an electric razor and lost?"

Dean reaches up automatically to touch his half-buzzed head, then scowls fiercely.

"Bad luck," he dismisses. "Swear to god, man, you still treat me like you're my fuckin' babysitter, like I'm some snot-nosed kid brother who…"

Dean trails off, pales upon listening to his own words, and Dean feels his face stiffen despite himself. He forgets, sometimes, that he's dealt with this for six years, but Dean… Dean is still grieving. Is at the point that Dean had been at when the pain was barely a year old, was still fresh, the grief still strong, at the point when his brother's name still fell on his ears like a barbed lash. And Dean's over it, he is, has been over it for years now – but watching Dean work through these strange moments still recalls emotions that he can't afford.

"Anyway," Dean continues after a moment, voice gruff. "You can't – I'm sick of you bossing me around like I'm one of your minions."

"I cannot have this goddamn conversation again," Dean says, pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Right," Dean says, "right. I forget. We only talk about shit that you wanna talk about."

"If you wanna talk about this, my fist can talk to your face."

"Yeah, well you can—"

"Dean," Castiel says from the doorway, and both of them turn.

"What?" they bark in unison, and immediately whip their heads around to glower at the other. It's moments like this when Dean feels like he's fallen headfirst into a post-apocalyptic slapstick comedy, a comedy that's about as funny as getting your eyes sucked out of your head through a straw.

"Past Dean," Cas specifies.

"What's up, Cas?" Dean says tiredly, and something in his voice makes him come into real focus for the first time since he got back. He's too pale underneath the dirt, and even his infuriating mulishness doesn't detract from the fact that he's got what's probably a pretty painful head wound. Cas is looking at him with concern, and Dean suddenly feels like a grade-A dick.

"I was told I should examine your injury," Cas says, shooting Dean a reproachful glare, and Dean lifts his hands in surrender, tries not to mind Cas's blatant favoritism.

"I haven't given my report yet," Dean says pointedly.

"It can wait," Dean says, drags a hand over his face. He's sick of fighting, sick of himself. "Cas, do your thing. Dean –"

"I'll find you when I'm done," Dean promises. There's an apology in his voice, and Dean's anger, already deflating, is gone completely. Because for all that Dean sometimes can't stand the guy, he still places a degree of trust in Dean that he doesn't, can't, with anyone else. Dean is maybe the closest he's ever come to counting on someone other than himself, and when he thinks too hard about this, it scares the shit out of him.

"Thank you," Dean says, standing. "Cas, you need anything?"

"They picked up some antiseptic," Cas says, already unwinding the bandage, Dean wincing a little. "If you could go get that. Also, I've got some pot in the front pocket of the jeans that are folded in the corner of the living room."

"Dude, if I smoke I'm just gonna pass the fuck out," Dean complains, and Cas slaps him lightly across the shoulder.

"Who said it was for you?"

Dean shakes his head at them, goes back into the living room to find Risa sitting cross-legged on the floor, twisting Oreos in half with a reverence that rivals the way Dean's seen Dean watching porn. And wasn't that a lesson in his own expressions that he wishes he'd never had to learn.

"Hey boss," she says as he walks past. "Eat a cookie."

He's going to refuse, but she reaches out a slim hand and hooks it around his ankle.

"Come on, Dean," she says. "Not even you can resist Oreos."

She's the only one who calls him Dean, apart from Cas and Chuck – everyone else calls him Boss, or Winchester, and even with Risa it's rare enough that he pauses and takes the offered cookie.

"Atta boy," she says, releasing him with a little pat to the back of his leg, and Dean wants, for a stupid moment, to reach down and pass a hand across that soft black hair, anchor himself somehow, but instead he stuffs the Oreo in his mouth and heads over to bug Chuck about the antiseptic.

Not that there's a shortage of willing women, but Dean misses Risa, sometimes. Wishes he hadn't fucked shit up with her. Their friendship was saved and the lingering awkwardness has all but disappeared, but Dean knows she sleeps with Dean occasionally, and he'll never admit how fucking crazy that makes him feel. How much like a jealous little kid, whining to himself because everyone around here likes Dean better.

But that's okay. That's as it should be. He's not here to be well-liked.

When he goes back into the kitchen, antiseptic and couple of Cas's joints in one hand, Dean's taken off his thin, holy-water damp overshirt and is sitting in a sweat-stained t-shirt that might have been red at some point but has faded to a color that can only be called pink.

"Ow, Cas," Dean's saying, reaching up with the stump of his right arm to ineffectively bat Cas's hand away from his head. "Easy, fuck."

"Here," Dean says, clearing his throat, dropping the tube of medicine and the weed on the table. It affects him more than it does the others, he thinks, to see Dean's arm. The infection had been deep and they'd had to remove it just below the elbow, and while it's healed well in terms of pain and range of movement, the scarring is extensive, thick and mottled and still an angry pink. Dean, though, is seemingly careless of how it looks, bares it without thought – nowadays at least. Not much room for self-consciousness in the world they live in, Dean supposes, but still, it makes his insides twist to see the missing limb on a body that looks so much like his own.

He moves to leave the kitchen, and Dean reaches out his good hand to pause him.

"I picked up a new pack of cards," Dean says. "You ready for some poker later?"

"If you're ready to get your ass kicked."

"Bring it," Dean grins.

Dean just smiles. They both know he always wins.

:::

Later that evening, when it's dark, Dean is half-dozing on the couch, listening to Lauren's voice float through the window as she strums her guitar and sings on the porch to Risa and Cas. It's some sad-sack pop song from the nineties, irrelevant but familiar, and it stirs something deep in Dean's gut, the drift and pull of memories that he pushes down with a twinge of annoyance.

"Hey," he hears Dean says, and he cracks his eyes unwillingly. "Can I get a hand?" Dean smirks as he says this, an old joke that was never funny to begin with.

"Depends," Dean says. "Do I have to get up?"

"Nah, but you're gonna have to move around a little."

Dean raises an eyebrow.

"It's my fucking boots," Dean admits, waggles a foot. "Chuck tied 'em this morning and I can't get the damn things off."

Dean laughs despite himself. Dean's learned how to tie his shoes one-handed, but he can't get them very tight, so if he's gonna be active he gets someone else to do it for him – and the thought of Chuck kneeling down, tongue poked out in concentration, makes Dean grin.

"Siddown," he says, starts swinging his legs off the couch, knees audibly popping and grating.

"Feelin' your age?" Dean taunts, never lets him forget that Dean is five years older. "I hear arthritis is a real bitch."

"You're the bitch," Dean mutters, grunting a little as he pulls one of Dean's feet onto his lap and starts tugging at the laces. "Jesus, I never should have taught Chuck those fuckin' sailor knots. He think he was securin' a battleship, here?"

"Goin' for the merit badge," Dean says, and they both snicker at the image of Chuck in a Boy Scout uniform.

"There's one," Dean says triumphantly as he finally gets the laces undone and wrestles the boot off. He remembers these boots. They're gonna give out in a month or two. "Jesus, man, your feet fuckin' reek."

"Not as bad as your face," Dean says absently, wiggling his toes. "Thanks. I'm never letting that asshole tie my shoes again."

"I'm just sayin'," Dean says, "next time we find a shoe-store that hasn't been sucked dry, it's Velcro for you, buddy."

Dean aims a kick that Dean dodges easily, grabs the still-booted foot and starts in on the laces. Alan wanders in from the kitchen eating a green fruit roll-up, the color in bright contrast to his orange beard, and he pauses for a moment, eyeing them curiously. Dean ignores him, focused on Dean's laces, but he feels the back of his neck flush a little, knows how strange they must look, the unnatural stump of Dean's arm resting along the back of the couch, his feet in Dean's lap. Dean does his best not to treat Dean any differently than he treats the others, and most of the time he thinks he succeeds, but moments like this, Alan staring as he eases Dean's boot off his foot – he forgets that he wouldn't do this for anyone else. Or, he would – but no one else would ever ask it of him. They might ask Dean, though.

"You want one?" Alan asks, and Dean looks up to see Dean eyeing the fruit roll-up with intent, dog-like interest.

"Yeah," Dean says, "but not green. Red. We got red?"

"I'll check," Adam says, casts them one last look and shuffles back into the kitchen.

"Hey," Dean says suddenly. "You remember when we taught Sam to tie his shoes?

"No," Dean says shortly, and drops the boot to the ground with a thump. He's not really in the mood for a show-and-tell of pointless nostalgia.

"Sure you do," Dean says, infuriating. "We tried to teach him the way Dad taught us – the bunny hops around the bush and into the hole, all that shit. And Sam gets all serious, what a fuckin' dork, and he goes, Dean. Rabbits don't wear shoes."

"They don't," Dean says, and he shifts, about to push himself into a stand, when Alan comes back into the living room.

"Here," he says, drops a roll-up onto Dean's lap, the vivid yellow wrapper like a beacon in the dim room. "Boss, you want one?"

"I'm good, thanks," Dean says.

"What're they doin' out there?" Alan asks, jerking his chin to the porch.

"Some hippy shit," Dean answers, clumsily trying to tear open the package with his teeth. He spits a bit of plastic into his lap, brushes it away with the stub of his arm.

"Huh," Alan says. "You know, I used to follow the Grateful Dead in high school – right before Jerry died."

"No shit?" Dean says, pawing at the roll-up, trying to get it un-rolled. "They're not bad, actually, for a bunch of tie-dyed freaks."

"Yeah," Alan says, and smiles a little. "Man, what I wouldn't give for a copy of Europe '72 right about now."

"Go see if Lauren knows Cumberland Blues," Dean suggests. "You can borrow my lighter if you wanna do some flame-waving."

Alan snorts, but he heads out to the porch.

"You want some of this?" Dean asks, chewing.

"No," Dean says. Then, "Yeah."

Dean holds one end in his mouth, rips a piece off and hands it to Dean. It's oversweet, hardened with age, but it tastes good.

"What?" Dean says, aware of Dean's eyes focused on his head.

"Nothin'. Just, you've got a pretty decent chunk of grey hair, man."

"Give it a year, you will too," Dean says, ducking out from under Dean's questing hand.

"A year? I'm only thirty-one."

"So was I."

"Well," Dean says. "Fuck. Seriously?"

"Sorry to break it to you, beauty queen."

"Yeah, yeah," Dean says. "You just try and tell me you didn't pluck 'em all out at first. Go on, tell me."

Dean doesn't dignify that with a response.

"Hey," Dean says, voice studiedly nonchalant. "You think – you think Sam's body is – getting older? Do meatsuits go grey?"

"I don't know," Dean says shortly. "Listen, that handcream you guys brought back smells like ass. Think it went bad. Next time, test it before you take it."

"It's just weird," Dean continues, rubbing his elbow, pressing a thumb into his bicep where Dean knows the muscles cramp up sometimes. "Technically, I'm younger than Sam, here."

"There is nowhere else but here," Dean snaps.

Dean shrugs, looks away, but not before Dean sees the hot, tight pain flicker across his face; his face that's so much like Dean's own, but not quite. Missing a few scars, younger, different lines around his eyes and mouth, and Dean doesn't know if they were ever the same person at all.

"Gonna clean the guns," Dean says, makes to stand, but Dean reaches out his stump to block the way.

"Wait," he says, and Dean tries not to flinch as the scarred flesh thumps against his shoulder.

"No," he says. "I told you – we don't talk about this shit. You wanna take a walk down memory lane, go get stoned with Cas. I'm not interested in your fucking pipe dreams."

He pushes past Dean's arm, gets to his feet and stalks into the kitchen, rummages around in the doorless cupboard until he finds the jar of moonshine Chuck had made a few days ago. He hears footsteps and turns to find Dean leaning on the doorjamb, hand in his pocket.

"It's been a year, today," Dean says.

"What?"

"Exactly one year ago tonight I talked to Sam on the phone, told him I wouldn't hunt with him, fell asleep in 2009 and woke up here."

Dean's skin, for some reason, has gone cold, prickling into goosebumps, but he just unscrews the jar of alcohol and takes a small, disgusting sip, trying not to grimace. What he wouldn't give for a cold beer. My god.

"Yeah," he says, "well. You woulda ended up here eventually, anyway. So quit thinking about it."

"I wouldn't have," Dean says, but his voice doesn't have the conviction it did a year ago. Dean knows – he knows that Dean blames him for what's happened, what's happened to them, and more importantly, more painfully, what's happened to their brother – but they've long since stopped fighting about it. It did no good, made both of them crazy.

"Here," Dean says, offers the jar. "Drink some of this and then go the fuck away. How's that sound?"

Dean comes forward, takes his hand out of his pocket like maybe he's going to accept the liquor, but he doesn't.

"Dean," he says instead, and it's eerie, strange, hearing his name come from Dean's lips, because they don't call one another by name – they just don't. "I get that you've been here longer – lived through shit I wasn't there for, shit I'll never go through, but you and me, we're – you're the only one who – and you won't even say his name. You won't even say his goddamn name. You act like the first thirty years of your life were just a fuckin' fluke, like this is the only world you've ever lived in, and that is bullshit. For thirty years we had a brother, and a father, and a fuckin' '67 Chevy Impala—"

And for some reason, it's the Impala that pushes Dean over the edge, and before he knows it he's got one fist in Dean's shirt and Dean is pressed hard against the wall, his head hitting the wood with a painful smack.

"Listen," he says, slams Dean once, watches his eyes shut briefly in pain, "I'm just gonna say this once. You may look like me, you may talk like me, hell, maybe you even think like me, but you are not me. We're not the same fucking person."

"That's crap," Dean says, face just inches from Dean's, "that's crap and you know it. We're not the same person, fine, but we are, too, and I just want a little fucking acknowledgement. I want you to admit that we used to tie Sam's shoes, and make his sandwiches, I want to talk about the time we walked in on him jerking off to pictures of Miss Piggy – I just want you to admit, for one goddamn second, that the Devil is walking around in someone that used to be our little brother."

"You need to get over this," Dean says, voice carefully controlled, trying so goddamn hard not to hear Dean's words echoing in his head. "You need to shut the fuck up and get the fuck over it."

Dean raises his good hand to Dean's chest and the stump of his arm follows, as if trained, the mangled skin pressing hot into Dean's body and he wants to knock it away, wants to smack it down, but he can't. He can't move, and even though he's the one who's pinning Dean to the wall, he feels immobilized, frozen in place.

"Dean," Dean says, gentle, and his hand is cupped around the back of Dean's neck, just holding on, his grip damp and desperate and pleading, and there's nothing else Dean can do, nothing else he can think to do except rear back and punch Dean as hard as he can.

Dean cries out, head slamming back against the wall as Dean's fist cracks into his cheekbone, and Dean doesn't stick around to watch him go down, just blows out of the kitchen and through the living room and through the back door, out onto the crispy, pathetic excuse for grass, sucking in deep lungfulls of chilly air and trying to calm the fuck down. This kind of anger, this kind of pure, uncalculated emotion, this is what gets people killed, this is the dangerous shit that Dean's been doing his goddamn best to keep under control, to bury somewhere it'll never see the light of day, but Dean fucks with his head like no one he's ever met – no one but one other person, and it makes no sense that they should remind Dean of one another, but they do, they do, and he can't look at Dean without seeing shaggy hair, slanted hazel eyes, those rare and spectacular dimples, can't watch Dean carelessly hurt himself without feeling that fierce, protective surge that he thought he'd never feel again. Never wanted to feel again. Can't afford to feel.

He is not Dean and Dean is not him, but sometimes he wishes – wishes that they could be the same, wishes they could merge, blend, encompass each other, wishes they could go back to before the angels and before the Devil and before Sam's body may be torn apart under Dean's command – back to a time when their car, their beautiful girl, would take them wherever they needed to go, and their brother slept shotgun beside them, mouth slack, eyes closed and soft and trusting. The steady rush of his breath, the way he would twitch and sigh, lost in a dream.

The back door opens with a creak, and he hears footsteps crunching over the dying grass, turns to see Dean coming towards him through the dark, the stump of his arm hanging useless at his side, the bandages on his head glowing white in the light of the stars.

"Get the fuck back inside," Dean says, his voice pitched low, rumbling in his throat, but Dean ignores him, comes closer to stand beside him, and even in the dimness Dean can see that his eye is swelling closed.

"I guess it's because most of the cities are gone," Dean says, "but there are a lot more stars in 2015 than there were back home."

"Jesus," Dean says. "You wanna talk about the fucking stars?"

"If you're not gonna let me talk about anything else," Dean says, his lips quirking up in a pale imitation of a smile. "Look, though. Seriously. Look how many there are."

Dean doesn't want to but he finds himself looking up. It's true – the sky is enormous, unblinking, and stars glitter furiously from every angle. They're beautiful, but their light is very, very cold, and Dean glances at Dean before he can help himself.

Dean's head is tilted upwards, eyes wide and luminous. He doesn't look at Dean when he mutters, as if to himself, "I know, right? I know."

Dean wants to say, You don't. But he doesn't want to lie.

They stand in silence for a moment, and then Dean goes back inside and leaves Dean staring dumbly upwards, his eyes fixed on a million brilliant points of light. Light that seems so close, as if it could be touched, caressed. Impossible light. Intangible. A fantasy.

Come morning, the stars will fade and the sun will take over.

Burn.