A/N: This is an old story, written at the end of Season 3 when we were all still wondering how Dean's deal would play out and posted late that summer when we were all biting our nails, fanfiction cups overflowing with anticipation and speculation. There's a reason why I'm posting it here now, but I'm not going to weigh down the front end with all that baggage. That's at the end if you ever get there. At the time it was posted, I had several betas, and I don't know if any still frequent this site, so Mandy, Laura, Karen, and Jen, if you see this, consider yourselves thanked again a thousand fold. Pay close attention to the warnings.

Warnings: THIS IS WINCEST. There's a reason it was posted on Livejournal and not here. That is it. Don't like, don't read. However, there is no graphic sex. That's in the deleted scene I refer to later. Other than that, there's the usual warning for language, present tense, and believe it or not there was an Alpaca mentioned even back in 2008. Who knew it would ever make an appearance on the show?

Summary: Dean went to Hell. Sam went to Hell. Hell couldn't hold them both, but crawling out of the Pit finds them in a new world where they seem to be the only two people left. They get by the best they can until Dean stops breathing, sprawled on a motel floor in East Texas.

Something Gold

In the beginning of the new world, the first dawn in over four years, Dean says, "Let there be light," but not in so many words. And there is. Light. And it's good. But it's not pretty. Not in the least.

The valley, once called Denver, stretches out before them, gray and desolate. The Mile High City, substantially lower, Mecca for all the pale and forgotten still strong enough to reach for the sky. The crater in the middle where everything wicked disappeared along with everything good in the final days of the war and the world as they knew it, bubbles with ubiquitous green slime. Fresh water trickles out the walls of rock, the only source deep beneath the surface and down into collecting pools.

After all these years of summer, and the constant roil of lightning overhead, the rock face stays hot, and half the water is steam before it makes the ground. Dean's sunlight bounces through the vapor, and Sam can tell from the blush on Dean's cheeks that he sees the spectrum just as clearly as everyone else.

Dean Winchester, proprietor of rainbows.

XXX

The car's covered in soot and ash, except where Sam's hands brushed it off in his search for provisions. He imagines there was more of the gray powder before the rains started, yet there's no char anywhere. Not as far as he can tell. Nothing's burnt so much as melted, yellowed and slimy with decay. He wonders if demons bleed soot. A little of the grill's clean where the rain blew in, but the Impala's got no glint in her teeth, rust already gapping the radiator screen and one headlight socket.

Dean's...? Fazed. He didn't do more than shrug when Sam led him to the edge of the crater they climbed out of and waved out over the crevasse that used to be Lawrence. No desperate dive in after anyone and everything that needed saving. They both know no one's there. He didn't make one smartass remark when they stopped at the puddle of slime and filled up their empty water jug with the sludge, wary glances toward the sky. This is the way things are, now, another pothole in the road. Nothing they can't handle.

Hell and back is a long way to go, more than enough rough road to round off the edges of whatever gnawing angst has been rolling around inside them since Sam was a baby. But the car, the gaps in her smile, inch of ash on her paint? Well that gets Dean going.

He doesn't say it, not at first, but Sam can tell in the way he stands up straighter. The scabbed over burns on his knuckles work free of his pockets. It's the same look he used to get when they'd follow a lead for weeks only to track it down the day after some poor kid died. There's nothing in the world innocent anymore, nothing living, anyway. And now, nothing inanimate either.

Dean clears his throat once, chin ducked against his shoulder, like he's planning to apologize. Instead, he hums, sounds like AC/DC, maybe Aerosmith, Sam can't tell since half of it's lost in the sticky air. He opens the trunk, grimacing at the way it groans, jerks in his haste as buckets and rags, cans of Rust-o-leum and Armor All clank to the ground. There's no water, except what they brought to drink, so Dean starts wiping with an old motel towel, great swipes across the roof that change direction so rapidly the towel snaps and ash flips into the air in billowing clouds.

Sam thinks the humming has changed to singing when snatches and phrases cut through the murk. Then he hears. "Never would've given it to me... promised... take care of her..."

When one arm doesn't work fast enough, Dean starts to clear off the windshield with one coat sleeve, the way he would if it was just a fresh dusting of snow between himself and the morning coffee run. Sam lets him be, feels like an outsider for the first time since they put their heads together and decided they were done playing defense, intent on storming the castle.

Behind them, the ruin of Lawrence steams in a sinkhole beneath a black sky that stretches into a horizon full of holes.

That, Dean mourned with a shrug, just the tug of his jacket closer over his shoulders. None of it was ever his anyway.

This, he fights for, not because it will change anything, but because he doesn't know how not to fight, not when it's family.

The movement is almost hypnotic, right arm, left arm, towel flick, and hum. Sam settles into watching, suddenly aware of the complete lack of distraction anywhere else, lack of pull in any other direction. He likes it. The world revolving around them. It's about damned time.

Of course, they've paid dearly for the privilege.

Sam can tell the exact moment the glass is cleared enough for Dean to see himself. The new Dean.

He barely remembers the demon that gave Dean the scar over his left eye. On the occasions when he can't not remember, and the face claws its way to the front of the glass over his mind's eye, Sam calls it Jack.

"You don't know jack about what's coming, human."

Occasions like now, when its calling card is glaring, red and raised off Dean's forehead, highlighted by the sheen of sweat spreading over it.

"Don't know Jack, huh? Should I? Are you Jack? Because, from where I'm standing, you're all Jill...baby. I mean, look at that manicure. Whattaya call that nail polish? Goth-witch chic?"

Maybe it was the "baby" that set the bastard off. They hadn't been in Hell long enough to learn the proper demon meet-and-greet etiquette, and apparently a game of "lemme twist your words around 'til I find you amusing" was considered impolite. Go figure. Dean always did have a way of putting his foot in it, smiling while he tracked it across the carpet when he could've just scraped it on the curb and been done with it.

How were they supposed to know Jack had a long tail snaked around behind them, another hand with more girly fingernails quivering on the end?

"Ooh, they told me you'd be funny. I do so love a clever wit. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. Went right for the pansy-assed girl jokes. I was hoping for some originality." A sigh. "But if we must go with cliché, then tee-hee, hear me giggle." A roll of his eyes. "You know what would really put a blush on these black cheeks?"

Most likely, it was the snarky eyebrow waggle he got in reply that pissed old Jack off. A second later the eyebrow was gone, peeled up to Dean's scalp along with half of Dean's forehead, and what was left was drenched red over pasty white, all over the ground and Sam.

"A nice face lift. Preferably yours. That girly enough for you, hunter?"

Jack really shouldn't have laughed at Dean. Only Sam's allowed to do that. It's in the handbook, Big Brother Worship for Dummies.

Along with that bloody piece of Dean, something ripped out of Sam, too, something he'd grown increasingly weary of carrying like a Kevlar vest turned inside out. It wasn't something he carried to protect himself.

His memory's kind of wonky beyond that, flashes of black and blood against a glare he can't see beyond. Screams. And the ground pitching beneath him. Everything's surreal. Somewhere between the pastels of Mother Goose and the dark shadows of Grimm.

Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Hell came tumbling after.

Forever's passed since Dean's last seen himself. A second can be forever, depending on what happens within it. That scar is evolution, devolution, creation, and annihilation. Forever.

Turns out, of all the deadly sins, vanity is the hardest to cure. Whatever's humming in Dean's throat chokes off. His hand misses a beat, slides off the glass, and whooshes against the hem of his jacket.

It's healed well, considering how little care they afforded it with Hell imploding around them. The eyebrow's back in place, just cross-hatched by raised scar tissue on each end. Sam has stopped seeing the "blemish," forgotten already that it hasn't always been there. Dean doesn't have the same benefit. It's probably good Dean hasn't seen it until now. He'd have asked how it's healed so quickly, and that's a question Sam's not ready to consider. One of many.

As it is, Dean sees it, and his face, the old and the new, falters along with his arm on the roof. It's a stutter like the manual turn of a crankshaft on an ancient engine, a quick hiccup that still needs more umph to turn over. It's enough to move Sam. He could pretend he doesn't see and go to the other side, start clearing another spot, but he doesn't. He goes instead to the same side Dean's been wiping and reaches across him so they bump shoulders. I'm here, dumbass.

Dean blinks with a jerk, a little like a steer jabbed with a hot shot, then goes back to work. His fingers ghost over Sam's belt on their way back up to the windshield, pause there a little longer than it takes to maneuver their shoulders out of each other's way.

For that second, everything falls out of focus except those fingers, and they're back on some ledge halfway between Hell and wherever this is, clinging to the only thing they still believe in.

XXX

It takes them days to climb out of the rubble. Of course there's rubble. The implosion of Hell and the "dissolution" of every evil son of a bitch on either side of its gates were bound to result in some collateral damage. There's a hole in the fabric of reality, a physical one, but then what's reality except what we make it? If physical means touchable, then it's real, so says the jagged cuts in their hands, burning strain in their muscles, pound of blood in their ears. Clinging to the great wall that is Hell's last guard tower, there's only pain and down, down, down, up, up, up. Just two choices, but they can choose, which is more freedom than they had before it all broke loose. This time they choose up, the only reminder they have that they are still human.

So they climb. For days. Silent days broken only by grunts and outstretched hands, rub of split knuckles against bloody fingertips, fingernails long since ripped from their beds. Ominous plinkplinkplink plunk...plunk...plunk of rocks bouncing toward them then over, and down, down, down. They're not sure they've ever heard one hit bottom, and neither one's willing to venture whether that's because they're too far away to hear or because there is no bottom. Sam suspects there may be just a hole in the world that goes in halfway and then heads out without changing direction. When the static misery breaches the fringes of delusion, he wonders: is it even possible to fall through a hole in the world; at what point does down become up, and is it possible to make a sudden splat in the middle? A Stanford education, for Christ's sake, and this is what he uses it to think about.

In. Out. Up. Down. Days and days of not knowing which. Sweat with the tang of blood and creosote crusted over parched lips.

They have no choice but to drink the water seeping through the cracks in the hardpan beneath their fingers. No idea where it comes from or what's washed in with it, but positive they'll die of thirst if they don't drink something. So, they drink. Sometimes while clinging precariously to the rock face, tongues scraping bloody from teasing the stubborn drops out of cracks they can't see in the dark. Sometimes Sam finds a nook and gets a hand free, so Dean can sip from his palm, every muscle trembling with exhaustion. Sometimes, it's the other way around. Sometimes they drink huddled together on crumbling ledges they're not sure will hold them, each with one hand wedged into a crevice, and the other in his brother's belt, cheeks pressed against the wall and mouths open like helpless nestlings. If the ledge falls, they'll go together, maybe one arm short, or they'll stay together, anchored by one or the other's bloody fingers.

That kind of devotion, determination, and grit doesn't rationalize, doesn't compartmentalize where it's appropriate. It starts in their chests, moves up into their throats and down into their guts, lower into soft places that harden and slick with life and need. And they're pressed together in spaces barely big enough for one, just the ache and each other. Alive.

XXX

They haven't really been apart since then, not while both were conscious. They've got the whole world to stretch their limbs, and yet, they're too close together to be separate, and too far away to be whole, aching in the wake of blood that pumps fast enough to create a vacuum. It only takes a moment for Dean's hand to brush past, go back to clearing the ash from the car. It's the longest second of Sam's life, and not long enough. He swallows it down and tries not to notice the way Dean's chin trembles beneath parted lips.

Dean gives a half-hearted sweep at the last of the soot over the driver's side, then pushes away with a chuckle. "It's just a little rust..."

"Not the end of the world," Sam finishes, his face twisting out of his control, a war between relief and irony.

Dean bumps back with his shoulder, hard enough to push Sam behind him a step, his smile no less effective for the new lines over his forehead. "Bitch." No, it's really not.

"Jerk."Damn straight.

They've sure come a long way to end back at the beginning.

XXX

They climb for so long, they wonder if maybe rubble is all there is. Maybe every gate collapsed at once, and the holes they made swallowed the ground between. Maybe they are all there is. Maybe, but even if they are, neither will see the other live and let that be failure. Even if Dean's too macho to say, Sam's not too naive to know he's always been Dean's world, anyway. So, they climb, not for themselves, but for each other. So neither is alone.

Eventually, something changes. The water's tangier and seems to run down the rock face toward them rather than seeping through. Sometimes they can't drink it. Sometimes the tiniest sip burns the way bath bubbles tingle when they go up noses and down the backs of throats instead of over tongues- "down the wrong pipe," as Dad used to say, smacking them on their backs until the coughing stopped. They climb a little slower, dragged down by the weight of worry at what they'll find-worry about where they might be heading, where the water running off is less pure than the water they sucked out of rocks that used to be the walls of Hell.

They don't really think about it much, can't form thoughts between the screaming in their heads. They're not okay.

The thirst gets less urgent about the same time their thoughts start to swim, but neither sees the clever irony in that. Who needs to drink when the air's so thick with steam that the climb resembles a slow rise up from a free dive to the bottom of the ocean and each breath sloshes around in their lungs?

They're closer to something different, if not better, and still there's no light overhead.

When they finally find a ledge both big enough to sprawl on and sturdy enough not to quake beneath them, they drag themselves onto it and sleep. It's not until they awaken to rain pelting in their faces that they realize they've made it to the surface, that the flat rock beneath them is the door on the Gate to Hell, its mystical key embedded in the earth below it. When their skin turns slippery and tingles, they take shelter in a crypt, thankful this gate opened in Lawrence, where the dead were slightly more extravagant with their trappings than they'd been in Cold Oak. They push the bones into one corner and sprawl together in the other to wait for the rain to stop.

XXX

For the first five hundred miles, they leave the radio on, search up and down the dial. There's never anything but static, not even EVP. When Sam's arm gets tired of reaching, he slides more to the middle. Dean doesn't move his leg when their thighs butt against each other. Sam doesn't think twice about sliding his foot down off the hump in the middle so his knee bumps Dean's, toe drags behind his calf before thudding onto the floor board. The value of personal space seems to have evaporated along with the rest of the human race.

Sam doesn't even need his Stanford education to recognize the scabbed over burns on Dean's face and hands, the smell like pickled eggs clinging in their clothes.

Acid rain.

It rains every day, or every night, hard to tell with no sun. The absence of thunder is almost more unsettling than the stark red and blue flashes on the belly of the sky. All above is not as it should be, and they've yet to see enough of what's below to know what they've dragged themselves into. But it doesn't bode well when retreating lightning is the only way to pin down daybreak.

The road's in good shape, but their maps are mostly useless. Every exit leads to just another stretch of the same nowhere. A gas station, a truck stop, convenience store, a ways beyond that, suburbia in all its glory, like the photo negative of human existence, black and white, and faded. There're cars in the garages but none on the street, no smoke from the chimneys, no factories in the back. Everything that would be significant, towering skylines, monuments, all gone. Topeka, Witchita Falls, Oklahoma City, just weeping, scabby craters like they were nothing but pox. Five hundred miles of scars and not one single drop of pumping blood.

After the first hour, they don't speak, too busy looking, listening, wondering. A part of Sam sloshes inside his skin like a wave breaking over something miles below the surface. Turbulence he can't name, not guilt, not rage, not grief. There should be something to mourn, something to salt or burn, something dead to move upwind of. But there isn't. No bodies. No abandoned cars on the road. No Emergency Broadcast System to tell them they're about to get caught in the rain. But for the squelch of static over the speakers, occasional feedback whine from a bad connection in the dash, the silence is comfortable. It shouldn't be. It just is. They've lost some momentum, but the drive is still there, and the road's an old, old friend.

The first time they stop for gas, it takes an hour to figure out how to pump it out of the underground tank with no electricity, a feat that's not quite on par with building an EMF detector from a Walkman but most likely a bogey for anyone not Dean. It's not easy. Nothing is. But there's food inside the store for their trouble. Little Debbie and Hostess, bottled water and piss warm beer, everything a growing boy needs. They take all the Slim Jims and beef jerky they can carry, potato chips in single serving bags so they won't get stale, and bean dip, because their daddy taught them meat and potatoes should always come with a vegetable.

They empty all the money out of their pockets onto the counter to make room for a few more Ho Ho's, and go back to driving, the silence broken by crackling cellophane and the slobbery noise Dean makes chewing beef jerky with his mouth open. They're way more comfortable than they ought to be traversing an alien landscape.

XXX

They drag themselves out of the crypt when the lightning streaks low on the horizon, moving gradually away in silent ripples. The lightning's cyclical, brightest in what seems like twelve-hour intervals. Meteorology was never really Sam's thing, but the sun must still rise and set. Lightning's just the tail end of the reaction, all they can see this side of that perpetual black cloud bank and the thick air always threatening more skin-melting rain. If it really is twelve hours, (his watch didn't make it up the embankment, not his shoes or the sock on his right foot either), then the days haven't shortened or lengthened much in the time since they stopped tracking it. They can't have been gone that long in the grand scope of things.

Still, this place, red lightning over black skies, everything dulled like old newsprint, smudged under the greasy thumb of judgment or fate…They've never been here. It can't be home. That's fine, though. They have no intention of staying.

XXX

Restlessness claws at the backs of their necks to keep them moving, won't let them go to ground knowing full well the only ground they have is each other. Not ready for what that means.

So, they drive, no what or why to solve, just a giant sea of where. Even that's a question they can't really answer, not with the skyline full of holes where cities used to be. No time's wasting, nothing's building except the charge in the clouds overhead. They fall into a rhythm not unlike the thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk of the Impala's tires over the broken highway. Nowhere to go. Just being, everywhere they can, places with no names.

The cities are gone, all of them as far as they can tell, but the small towns, the suburbs, all the unincorporated little mars on the landscape still stand. Empty.

They get out at what used to be Dallas, just to survey the damage. It's gone. No rubble, no gaping abyss, just a crater oozing slime and tainted water, like evil was a giant tentacled beast with cities in its suckers that evaporated along with it.

They know Hell was another realm altogether, not some underground dungeon, but it had roots in the world, and they ran deep. There's a lot of nothing where it used to be. This is their inheritance, what they get for still living.

When the first streaks of lightning spark on the horizon, they talk. Like the sky's not the only thing split open. They grab a six-pack of long necks out of the backseat and sit on the edge of the crater, just the width of the beer carton between them, ankles bumping together against the wall.

"Y'know," says Sam, "there is some mythology that says the righteous will be lifted bodily into Heaven at the end of days." He's not exactly sure what he's suggesting, just thinking out loud, a hint of an idea that's been pulling the short hairs at the base of his neck all day.

"The rapture?" Dean laughs, slow and ironic around his bottle, then takes a long drink before settling it between his legs. "Do I look like Kirk Cameron to you? I mean, c'mon. Why bother lifting everyone bodily into Heaven except the two dudes who were already in Hell? Seems like, if someone wanted to leave us behind, all they had to do was keep us in Hell and let the rest of the world go on its merry way. Though, how any world could be merry without my wit and charm to brighten it, is beyond me." He waggles his eyebrows with only half the oomph it requires to be convincing, the rest swallowed either in thought or disappointment. It'd be just like Dean to be disappointed, more ready to die for a cause than to live without one.

Sam laughs, rolling his lower lip behind his teeth with his tongue. "Yeah, I guess. But, who's to say we're the ones left behind and not...?" He stops himself mid-sentence and shakes his head. "Never mind."

"Sammmmyyyy." Dean raises his beer back up to his lips but pauses to speak before taking a swallow. "You're not actually thinking this is Heaven? You? Mr. Picket Fences himself?"

"What? I saw some picket fences back there."

Dean shrugs, head cocked in concession. "Maybe. But there's one flaw in that theory."

"What? Besides the fact that you obviously rode in on my coattails."

Leaning in as his eyebrows leer toward the horizon. "No virgins," Dean says.

Sam laughs around the mouth of his beer bottle. "Suure."

"No, seriously. I mean, if the virgins are all somewhere else, then they're pretty damned frustrated without me to help them, you know, shed some of that virtue." A wistful sigh. "Plump, juicy, trembling...ow!" He coughs around an elbow to the ribs. "...virtue. And if this is Heaven, well, lemme say there's a distinct lack of virgins. I'm calling bullshit on the whole paradise thing. False advertising, in my opinion."

"Dean, I think the end of the world is probably a good time to start using your upstairs brain."

"No, I'm serious here, Sammy boy. Nothing impairing my judgment but the beer, and unlike you, I can hold my liquor. The way I see it, your whole rapture theory? Kinda hinges on the missing virgins. Find me a blushing virgin, and I'll tell you where we are."

Drinking from his own beer, Sam swallows wrong, chokes just enough to bring heat to his cheeks. He catches Dean watching him out of the corner of his eye, a hint of snark forming in his one good eyebrow. Sam knows that look. "Dude, I'm not blushing."

" 'Course you're not."

"Dean! I was not blushing."

"Never said you were. I'm sure it's just sunburn." Eyebrows raised to the black sky above.

"I...I don't blush and...I just choked, AND I am NOT a virgin."

Dean seems to find the lip of his beer bottle highly amusing. "Choked, eh? Sounds like a virgin problem to me."

"And how is choking a virgin prob..." He almost chokes again and jabs a knuckle into Dean's shoulder. The dick. "I'm not GAY either." Not technically. Bi-curious probably counts, but Dean doesn't know about that. And face to face with the only man left in existence is probably not the best situation in which to mention he just might swing that way.

Dean manages to stop his sideways topple with his opposite elbow against the ground, ends up sprawled lewdly without even spilling his beer. "Well, then you're at least half virgin."

"Dean!"

"And we're both at least half frustrated, so my bet's on this being Hell."

Sam can't help but laugh. "We destroyed Hell, remember? Where's the fire and brimstone?"

Dean shrugs and drags himself to standing but stays bent enough to chuckle in Sam's ear. "I dunno. Must be a special Hell." Something falls out of his pocket and hits the ground with a rustle of cellophane. He snatches it up, drops it in Sam's lap. "Here, have my Ding Dong. Just be careful you don't choke on it."

XXX

The urgency bleeds out of them in bursts of static over the airwaves, unanswered questions for which they're willing to accept the answer, 'just because.' They stop crossing the city limits and checking their speed by habit like some hick cop's gonna give them a ticket or run them out of town. Stop opening closets half-expecting to find someone huddled inside. They don't find friends or enemies, no war or peace, but plenty of everything they need and even more they've always wanted-little houses and picket fences, yards full of tricycles and baseball bats. To the victors... spoilage. They leave it all behind just to keep driving. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and thigh to thigh.

The future's not planned, but there's still enough past to haunt them. Haunts their bones and their blood. And it's a haunting they can't solve with a can of lighter fluid and a match, something locked in Dean's chest they can't exorcise.

XXX

They're in Wisconsin, in a little campground they'd stayed in a few times with Dad. It's their third silent night there. With Dean fighting a cold, there's no reason to keep going. The place is supposed to be familiar, comfortable, but nothing is. That long ago whippoorwill floating overhead in the leafless trees is just a memory, but they suspect there must be red blood pumping somewhere to support the booming mosquito population in the Fox River bottom. Red blood and fresh water. If there's life left to be found anywhere, they should find it here.

It finds them, instead. Proof of life and death.

Dean coughs and taps his stick on the rocks with one hand while the other covers his mouth.
Sam doesn't wonder where Dean caught a cold. Not out loud.

Dean coughs again, high and tight in his throat. "E.T." he croaks, holding up his stick like one long, glowing finger, "phone...hommmme."

Sam's about to put on his best 'I am not amused' face, complete with eyeroll and forehead crease, when Dean wheezes, a little hitch on the end of it that says whatever's trying to break loose still hasn't. "Next off-ramp we hit we need to find a town with a drug store, grab something for that cough."

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, maybe." No argument about wasting time or money. "Should probably refill our first aid kit, too."

"Yeah." Nothing to add, just a nod.

She comes out of the brush near the cabin they're holed up in, just the other side of the clearing where they've started a fire to cook, since the propane tank is empty. A doe, white-tailed with big patches of bare hide over her shoulders where the hair's fallen out or been rubbed off. She looks full grown but totters into the clearing with all the strength and coordination of Bambi on the frozen lake, a quiver in her belly, breath panting through her flaking nose. She's sick, near dead, and delirious. Any prey animal with its senses would steer clear of the campfire even without the added warning of Spam sizzling in a cast iron skillet.

She staggers too close to the fire to be seeing, let alone feeling the heat searing the ends of her dull coat.

Dean handles it without a word. The killing. Like it still means something to be a hunter. It would be inhumane not to. Sam doesn't mention she might be the last of her species, because it doesn't matter.

It's been so long since they've had need to shoot anything, they both jump when he pulls the trigger. The report cracks against the back of Sam's skull, and he closes his eyes against it the way he did he first time he ever fired a gun himself, remembers the Pepsi can that only fell over because of the breeze, anything to forget those big, glazed eyes.

Sam's never heard a sound quite like the one she makes when her jaw falls open, tongue lolling out. The last wheeze of a bagpipe trampled on a battlefield.

Her belly's full. Full of sprouts with almost no color in them, still-green pulp from tree branches, and a mucousy algae that only grows under water on the bottoms of rocks. Lower, her womb's blackened and filled with pus, at its heart, a mummified fetus that couldn't live on sprouts and algae. They both know when they see it her meat won't be any good to eat, but they burn it. The world is full of waste, leftover prosperity and greed. There's so little life, they can't leave her to rot.

The rancid smell clings in their clothes and hair, thick and greasy, coating their sinuses so every breath is foul and lingering. No fat drips down to stoke the fire. They stir it up themselves, toss in whatever wood they can find that's not too wet until she crumbles to ash. They don't have to watch, yet they can't look away, silent homage to what's gone and might never be again. When the wind shifts and the smoke curls around Dean like phantom fingers, he doesn't move away.

When their sticks stay over the coals too long, they flare up and glow bright red. They were light sabers once, years ago when Sam and Dean were just kids and they only played at being heroes. No cowboys and Indians for them. Enough guns and knives in their real life not to be fun in play, but they could be Jedi, could put down the light sabers when they got tired. The memory tickles at the back of Sam's brain, bait wiggling in murky water that can't seem to draw a bite.

Hiss, whoosh.

There was something magical in the way the sparks had showered off those glowing sticks when they clashed them together, something lingering in how they'd floated on the breeze. Something Sam can't forget, and it's tied up in something else he feels like he'd rather not remember. Their past seems false here with the canvas so drastically changed. Pictures of the ocean on a backdrop of fire. There are days Sam thinks none of that ever happened, and it's always just been this, just DeanandSam and the road. He spends surprisingly little effort trying to prove that wrong.

Still, this ghost is set on rising, paints messages on the fogged up mirror inside his head.

Hiss, whoosh..."Luke, I am your father." Hiss, whoosh...

When the first sprinkle of rain hisses in the fire, they tap the embers out on the rocks and duck inside, the unfinished memory still wheezing its way up some long mountain trail in his mind.

XXX

Sam wakes in the night to a drip-drip-drip on his pillow. Not so much awakens as surfaces. A dream lingers, bits of dialogue, the clack-bang of glowing fire sticks clashing together, hiss-whoosh, hiss-whoosh. The video and audio tracks of two separate movies war inside his head. He burrows deeper into the musty bedclothes and tries to ignore it, the pelting on the roof hypnotic enough to lull him under.

Hiss-whoosh... "Luke..."

Hiss-whoosh... "C'mon you guys have to have at least one puff. Just one. So we know you won't tell our parents."

"All right," hiss-whoosh, "but just me, not Sam."

"Dean..."

"It's all right." Hiss-whoosh..."He won't tell on me."

Sam doesn't know how much longer it is before the drip-drip-drip becomes a trickle and the hem of the sheet's damp and cold. He jerks like a marionette, killed in the show, but rising up to take a bow at the end. He sits straight up and flings the covers off one side of the bed, his feet over the other. He's torn off his first two long-sleeved shirts (acid burns itch like a bitch, best to take precautions) and dropped them on the floor before he can be certain the third is still dry.

He starts to take the last one off, for good measure, claws at the hem for a few desperate seconds, but the threat's passed, and the dark is heavy over his shoulders. Damp air hits the flesh over his stomach and elicits a bone-weary twinge deep in his muscles, making him want nothing more than to curl back in on himself and fall straight to his bed and whatever dream may come.

Of course, his bed's an acid bath. No sleeping there tonight.

Hiss-whoosh...

The dream's already flooding him, pooling in his feet so they're heavy as he trudges across the room and falls in beside his brother. Dean doesn't even grumble. Hiss-whoosh... They've shared closer spaces than this. It's just shoulder bump and slide over, down in the sheets and back to back between yawning breaths, barely parted eyelashes. Hiss-whoosh... Dean coughs and shakes the bed just enough to keep Sam from falling right back to sleep. Great. Floods andearthquakes. It really is the end of the world.

Another coughing fit follows, building on the first. Should've just slept on the floor and not disturbed his brother. Hand pressed over his eye sockets, Sam whispers, "You need a glass of water?"

"Get him some water!"

"I'm trying! He can't drink it."

"Why won't he stop coughing?"

"You made him smoke the cigarette."

"I didn't make him do anything."

"Hey! Sam, wait! You can't go out there. They'll smell it on you."

"I don't care. He can't breathe. Dean. Dean, I'm going to get Dad, okay?"

His own whisper cracks against his skull like Dean's .45, eyes pop open under the callous of his hand. Shit! Shitshitshitshit!

Hiss, whoosh...He's wide awake, propped on one elbow a second later and shakes Dean's shoulder. "Dean. Dean, do you still have your inhaler?"

Hiss... Dean actually stops breathing, hesitates like Wile E. Coyote on the edge of the cliff he's just stepped off. Then, whoosh, and a high, whining cough. "I don't need it anymore."

"You have asthma."

"I outgrew it. Doctor said I probably would. Haven't had an attack in at least ten years."

"No one really outgrows it. And you've been wheezing and coughing for days."

Hiss-whoosh, hiss-whoosh, hiss-whoosh... "I have a cold."

"Oh yeah? Who did you catch it from, Dean? And how come I'm not catching it?"

Hiss, whoosh-hiss, whoosh...cough. "Cuz you're a freak. Now go to sleep before I kick your ass out."

Dean makes an obvious effort to suppress the wheezing cough, turns over enough to hide his face in his pillow.

"I'm sorry," Sam says. "I forgot." He says it aloud, though maybe he meant not to.

Dean pretends to sleep, and Sam lets him pretend. They may have the world at their fingertips, but it's stale, moldy, and empty. All of it that matters is facing into the wall, choking on the decay.

He spends the rest of the night listening to the whine in Dean's chest, for that hitch that says it's about to stop, one hand on the bedpost and the other fisted in the bedsheet, irrational desperation pinned against the mattress. He keeps a pinky finger stretched against Dean's last rib so he can feel every breath. Morning can't come fast enough.

XXX

Leaf mold. Leaf mold and smoke. They used to be just road hazards. Now they're triggers, long fuses on a ticking bomb they'd taken for granted was defused long ago. Dean's triggers. Maybe he thought he'd outgrown the asthma, built up some kind of tolerance, but it rains every day now. The world's a giant spore, and the smoke and decay never get far off the ground. Dean's smothering.

And there's no sun. Not like they can hang the world out on the line to dry.

As ominous as the return of Dean's symptoms may be, it gives them a direction, something they've been lacking for months.

Sam picks the highways south, away from the Great Northern Woods and across the plains. Dean doesn't argue. Driver drives. Shotgun picks the road. New road. New rules. Same give and take. After doing as much research on asthma treatment as he can from pharmaceutical catalogs and drugstore pamphlets, long disclaimers full of warnings like "shouldn't be stopped suddenly" and "may increase the risk of asthma related death," he decides on a case of rescue inhalers, swipes them from a corner drugstore in Waupun, Wisconsin.

A few thousand miles of mostly wheeze-free nights later, Sam worries a little less. He knows he shouldn't, but it's too easy to find their comfort zone in the monotony.

If the concept of personal space was forgotten in the months of searching for other persons and finding none in the vast sea of space, well, it's completely abandoned with the reminder that what they have isn't exempt from dissolution just because it seems to have come through the impossible already. The entirely common and possible, plausible, can still sneak up and bite them in the ass. They could still raise their flag on the mountaintop just to fall backward off the cliff. So they pick a road drive into the unknown. What's familiar just might kill them.

XXX

Sometimes they give up searching the dial for a signal and put in a tape. Dean leans back in the driver seat, his head lolling against the bench so he can barely see the road over the tip of his nose. Sam sprawls against the passenger door, throws popcorn or M&M's against the side of Dean's stubbled jaw (they often forget batteries for the electric razor for days at a time) until Dean's eyes crinkle and he retaliates...by singing along.

"Kyrie eleison on the road that I must travel. Kyrie eleison on the highway in the night…"

They laugh through a couple choruses, together. Bad harmony's better than solo, just because it is. Eventually, their throats are sore, and the air's stale, and even rock ballads echo like bagpipes over the Highlands.

If Sam curls in on himself, falls asleep with one knee against the back of the seat and one across Dean's lap, he pretends not to notice when Dean loosens the lace on his boot so he won't have those itchy red welts across the top of his foot when he wakes up. And Dean never protests if Sam stretches and wriggles, ends with his ankle bone over the zipper of Dean's jeans, the toe of his boot in that ticklish spot at the bottom of Dean's ribs.

Other times, they're caught in a rainstorm, nothing but open road ahead, and not enough Turtle Wax or slime in the world to ease Dean's mind.

Times like that, Dean's foot hits the floorboard, and the Impala screams down the road in search of shelter or a break in the storm. Sam usually ends up crushed against Dean's side after they take the first off-ramp so fast they might as well be riding a Tilt-a-Whirl. He doesn't even bother trying to scooch back to his side, and when they finally find an overpass or an eave to park beneath, they take turns changing hands on the radio dial, isolation woven over helplessness that makes them desperate to find something, anything else in the static.

At some point, Dean whispers, "Just stop," his voice rough and sluggish in his throat. Instead of trading hands on the dial, he lifts Sam's off, presses his own over the top and into his knee, to stop the fidgeting. The latent quiver pulls it up higher on his thigh.

Eventually, they switch off the radio and let the rain lull them to sleep. Sam wakes up the next morning with a crick in his neck, stubble rash on his throat and a drool spot on the front of his t-shirt. It's all good. You know, for being the end of the world and all.

XXX

When their focus isn't consumed by hunting and running, there's time for reflecting, bouncing light into dark corners just to see what's there, where their possibilities lie. And like everything else they've encountered since Hell, the literal and the metaphorical become eerily hard to separate.

XXX

"What is it?" Dean finally manages, smearing the slime between his fingers like he can perform chemical analysis with the whorls on his callouses.

Sam shrugs. "You want my educated guess, or my experienced one?"

The Dean Winchester patented blank stare. Okay, so it's probably not fair to split hairs with a guy who's a few hours out of the long, dark tunnel of delirium. Sam doesn't really expect him to answer, but he's been talking mostly to himself for the last couple days, and it turns out? Sam's a bit of a smart ass. He never paid much attention before.

He clears his throat, a little bit of hysterical laughter caught on his soft palate. "Well, my best guess is that the sulfuric acid, from the demons blood or whatever, got seeded into the clouds. It's exuded…"

"Exuded, heh," Dean laughs, sounding like he's exuding a little something down the back of his throat himself. "Sounds kinky."

"Okay, so it comes out…" Exasperated hand to his knee and an Elvis quirk to his lip. "Is

exudedwhen it rains and has some kind of chemical reaction with the minerals in the ground, the salt in particular, and the slime is a by-product." He hikes his knees up to his chest, rests his forearms atop, the denim stiff and crusty after he soaked all their clothing to counteract the rain.

"My experienced guess, you know, based on all the years we've spent hunting this shit, is that it's ectoplasm." He doesn't look up but pauses, expecting an argument. Doesn't get one. "Just, like, a higher form than we're used to seeing."

At the last statement, Dean rolls his eyes lazily up at him even as his lids drop to half-mast, jaw squaring. Sam can smell the sarcasm over the pickled eggs. Sometimes a silent Dean is as big a pain in the ass as a snarky one.

"There's a lot of mythology that suggests the earth isn't just a physical body," Sam stammers, because even he's never bought into that philosophy, but yeah, whole new world here. Skepticism be damned. "Lots of people believe it has a spirit." His fingers knead at the crusty denim over his knees, suddenly not confident enough in his rambling speculation to meet Dean's gaze. "So, I'm not sure exactly what it is we did down there, Dean. But it was enough to bring down Hell, and that took something way bigger than you, or me, or us." His eyes flick to Dean, and this time Dean looks away.

"Anyway, whatever we...channeled... or," he swallows, "sacrificed... to do that, it probably brought a whole lot of this slimy shit along with it. If one spirit can cover a wall just by walking through, imagine something moving through the whole planet."

"Huh, always wanted to be a Planeteer. That or a Power Ranger." When Sam doesn't laugh, Dean rubs his fingers together, deep in thought for several minutes, takes a sniff, this time without cringing. "Do you think it's...Did we ki..."

"Kill it?" Sam finishes. "The Earth? I don't know."

XXX

"Dude, do these make my ass look fat?" Dean twists around, craning his head over his shoulder and trying to look at his own ass in the mirror on the open changing room door.

"No, but they make your legs look kind of crooked," Sam says without turning his head. He's got his eyes fixed on the watches inside the jewelry case, not that time matters much at the end of days, but they're there if he needs one. It's strange not to need anything they can't readily have. Abandoned Wal-Marts for the win. Every schmuck town has one, and who needs designer brands when they'll probably stop for new in another week?

"How do you know? You didn't even look."

"I'm not gonna turn around and look at your ass so you can hit me with the silly string and fart spray you snagged from the outlet mall." He grins at his brother's bemused silence.

"Can't con a con man, I guess." Sam recognizes that distant tone, the one that says Dean's not giving up that easy, catches him looking around to figure out how Sam knew. Dean raises his eyebrows, swings the changing room door so he can see the spray can behind his back reflected off the glass of the watch case Sam's looking into. "I get it. A little smoke and mirrors. Aziz! Light!" He says, but the crazy accent he puts on it fades at the end, lost in the drag of thought.

"Dude, does all your education come from movies?"

Dean shrugs without turning around. "Nope. Some of it comes from t.v... Conjunction, junction, what's your function?" He sings under his breath, crazy-assed chin dip and head bob that snakes down his body in what only Dean could consider groovin'. Sam catches a glare off the door mirror playing over the counter top, swaying back and forth as the door opens and closes. He's about to say something to the effect of 'a good strappy pump will do wonders for your calves' but catches the faraway look on Dean's face, snaps his mouth shut. There's nothing quite as fascinating to Sam as Dean... thinking.

Dean gazes down at his pen light, flicks it on and off a few times, watching the beam bounce off the mirror and toward the bank of windows at the front of the store. He's been enthralled with mirrors lately. A lifetime ago, Sam would've thought he was just looking at himself. Dean's always so friggin' light on confidence when it comes to matters of intelligence and worth, but there's no shortage of hubris when it comes to his appearance. He's allowed that. Only now, Sam worries he's obsessing over that scar, the same way he obsesses over every little spot of rust on that car of his. He spends most of his mornings boiling coffee grinds in a saucepan and waxing the car. Sam stopped hanging around for those festivities about three weeks out of the Pit, takes the time to read, or, you know, cut his toe nails or something.

Dean fixes his gaze on the dark corner behind the returns desk and swings the door a few more times, then purses his lips and flicks the flashlight back off. Still humming "Schoolhouse Rock," he leaves the door mirror open and strolls over to a rack of earrings on a mirrored carousel. He spins the carousel, chin scrunched tight under his bottom lip. "Hoop or dangly? Hoop or dangly?"

"Uh, Dean..." He's finally lost his mind. It was bound to happen. Clever wit's only separated from madness by context.

"Dangly," Dean nods. "Definitely dangly." With one finger, he turns the display, just so, glancing back over his shoulder until, "Liiiiiiiiggghht," a grey shimmer of reflected light lands on a yellow, smiling Rollback sign in the returns kiosk, the darkest corner of the store illuminated. "Huh."

"Nifty trick. Like pinball with light." His voice doesn't sound as impressed as he feels. It's the practiced, unaffected tone of the kid who got too many cuffs to the back of his head in return for open adoration.

"Something like that," Dean dismisses. "Nothing new. Same principle as a periscope. What's the matter? They didn't have Advanced Trig at Stanford?"

"Fuck you." A chuckle and a couple knuckles to the shoulder. "Just on principle."

"Oooh, ya know, I've never fucked on principle before. On a lot of other things, carpet, metal, glass...in the water... on sand...a couple of pool tables... behind bars..." He takes longer between each statement, his voice trailing off wistfully. Finally he stands and adjusts his pants. "Damn, how'd we get into this conversation in a friggin' Wal-Mart, anyway? They don't even have any good skin mags."

Not that it should matter. In the last few laps of the country, they've managed to clean out every newsstand, enough to know the world ended in May, over a year after the last day they remember, and there isn't a girl in any of those mags they don't already know by name. Intimately. Sam grunts a little. Really, what's he supposed to say?

"Yyyyeah." Sam scratches behind his ear, forehead scrunched, and says, "Sooo, if cavemen and astronauts got into a fight, who would win?" Completely arbitrary, random, and ambiguous. Perfect.

Dean slides out of repressed and into swaggering confidence in the span of a breath. "Wewould. We're the friggin' princes of the universe." Dean turns toward the counter. "So, what's got you all squinty-eyed and introspective over here?"

"Nothin'," Sam dismisses, elbow on the counter. "Time's getting away with us a little. I was just looking at the watches. The ones that are set all say it's July 4."

"Independence Day."

"Yeah, kinda feels weird not to celebrate. I mean, the world might be a dead end at the moment, but it's all ours. Don't get any freer than that."

Dean claps him on the back and steers him toward the grocery aisles. "Celebration's what you want, then celebration's what you'll get." He finds a case of Bud on the end of the aisle, reaches in and takes out one long neck. "Let freedom ring." Popping the cap off, he hands the carton to Sam. "Your party, means you carry the beer. I'll supply the fireworks."

"Don't flatter yourself."

"Bitch."

"Jerk."

XXX

"Dean, so far I'm not impressed with your fireworks. I see lightning every day." He twists around on the hood of the car, can just see one of Dean's arms behind the open trunk lid. "What're you doing back there, anyway? I'm up here drinking alone, and you know that's bad news." Sad thing is, it really is bad news. He's not looking to get drunk. That never ends well. But entertainment's scarce at the moment.

He's not sure where he got his drunk and disorderly gene from exactly. He knows how it works. It's just chemistry. Alcohol dulls inhibitions, lets a guy do things he normally wouldn't. Thing is, everyone has different inhibitions. Dad's were good for keeping his temper in check, at least until he'd had a pint or so, and Dean? Well, Sam's not quite sure Dean even has inhibitions.

Sam can't help but wonder if maybe he got his from Mom. It's the only explanation he can think of for why alcohol makes him sing Culture Club and hump the legs of random... guys, after just a couple beers. He doesn't even know for sure when it started, just that Jess caught him putting his best Patrick Swayze moves on some guy from her Chem Lab and never let him forget how hot she thought it was. His alcohol tolerance has gotten higher under the weight of impending doom and the world, but well, there's good reason he usually leaves the heavy drinking to everyone else.

Not that he's ashamed to be the proud beneficiary of the horny, bisexual, drunk gene. He's fine with that. It's just not a part of himself he's really bothered to explore...much. Like, why complicate things when he's just as turned on by girls, and the world's full of beautiful women?

Except, now it's not. The world's not full of beautiful women, and even if he's ready to embrace his inner Boy George, well, the only dude around is his brother. Of course, he probably should've thought about that before he and Dean parked the car over a ravine with a case of beer to watch the lightning streak across the horizon.

"C'mon, man. Whatever you're doing back there you can do up here. Just, uh, bring a towel or something." The car vibrates beneath him as Dean slams the trunk closed.

"You're a real attention hound when you're drunk, aren't you? I bet you were the life of the party back in school." He swaggers around the front of the car, slides onto the hood next to Sam, something that looks vaguely like night vision goggles mated with a pair of rabbit ears planted in his lap.

"I'm not drunk." Sam takes a swallow off his bottle, a bad joke bubbling under flat beer. "Don't make me drunk. You wouldn't like me when I'm drunk."

"What makes you think I like you now?"

"You must. You come bearing gifts." He gestures toward Dean's lap. "Don't tell me... 3-D porn-o-vision."

Dean stares at the device, lower lip out slightly like he can't believe he never thought of that. "Do not mock the prototype. There's a lot of hours in this baby."

"What is it?"

"Your fireworks." Dean holds the invention out expectantly, and Sam shouldn't, but he hesitates. He's not even sure he knows where that thing goes, let alone where it's been. The aluminum foil helmets they wore on that M. Night Shyamalan movie to keep the aliens from reading their minds looked more sophisticated than Dean's new toy. The shiny bits glinting off the frame look a little like condom wrappers, and he's not entirely sure Dean wouldn't actually go there. "What're you waiting for? You want sparklers to make it more festive? Put 'em on."

"Not 'til you tell me what it does."

Dean shrugs. "It's a surprise. But if it works, it'll be better than porn, I swear."

Leaning back. "If it works? You don't know?"

"It wasn't finished until just now. I figured Fourth of July was as good a time as any to try it out."

"And you're using me as your guinea pig."

"Look, dude, it's a present. Do you want it, or don't you?"

Sam's not sure he does, but Dean's got that look on his face like Sam just asked for cereal when Dean already made Spaghetti-O's. "Fine. I'll be your Igor, Dr. Frankenstein, but if all my hair falls out from the gamma rays..."

"I'll knit you a cap, Rapunzel." He's already lowering the goggles over Sam's head, is careful with the strap in the back not to get it knotted in Sam's hair. When a few strands pull tight, Sam freezes reflexively, lets Dean smooth them free, his broad hand steady against the back of Sam's skull. "That good?"

Sam shrugs. "If good is completely blind with five extra pounds of hardware strapped to my head, then yeah. Peachy."

Dean pings him on the ear. "Always such a fucking joykill. Here." A soft snick accompanies a high-pitched whine, and the world takes on a greenish glow. It's better than pitch black, but Sam can't help craning his neck back and trying to look under the frames instead of through the lenses like the whole contraption is a baseball cap perched too far down his forehead. Dean stops him with a soft cuff to the back of the head, then puts a hand on each of Sam's cheekbones so the goggles are firmly over his eyes and turns him toward the sky. "What do you see?"

That's the sixty-five thousand dollar question, one Sam can't answer as the breath rushes out of his lungs. His head snaps back for a second like someone's snapped a picture in his face, then the light evens out, starts to swirl.

"Earth to Sam. Sammy? Whattaya see?"

Sam spends another second, mouth agape before his chest expands enough to support breath. "It's...amazing? What...what is it?"

"I don't know. You have to tell me what you see."

"Well, it's kinda like...It's light, only it's swirling across the sky in long ropes, arching and fanning out, like one of those static electricity globes in super slow motion."

"Huh. I guess they work then."

"Work to what? What is this, Dean?"

"It's the sun. Or, at least proof that there still is one. What you're seeing is, kinda on the order of an EMF detector, only on a larger scale, with the signal transformed into light patterns that allow them to be tracked by eye. It's basically the planet's electromagnetic field and solar wind."

Sam takes a few minutes just breathing and taking it all in. "Like the northern lights."

"Something like that." Sam hears Dean break open his own beer, take a long swallow, the Winchester toast to a job well done.

"When did you have time to do all this?"

An elbow to ribs. "C'mon, Sammy. How many coats of wax do you think the car really needs?"

"Ah." He should've known. "Why? I mean, it's amazing. Don't get me wrong. I could stare at this all night. But why?"

The scratch of fingernails through hair. Sam hadn't realized how different it sounds through Dean's hair now that it's grown out so long. "Just testing a theory."

"Which is?"

"Nothing. Just, I've been wondering, you know, whether this is really the world we left or just, like, something else entirely, that just looks like it. We never see the sun. For all we know, we could still be in Hell, just maybe the flip side."

"Another dimension."

"I guess."

"And this proves otherwise?"

"No, but it proves there's still a sun in the sky, and they say the sun is the key to life on this planet, so it's a start."

Sam can practically hear Dean thinking just then. Dean's mind, probably the only thing more fascinating than the sun. He reaches around behind his head, starts to undo the harness. "You need to see it for yourself."

He pulls the headset off, doesn't even mind the one or two clumps of hair that come with it, turns and places it over Dean's face in one smooth movement. He doesn't bother fastening the straps at the back, uses his own hand to bridge the gap, his palm to turn Dean's face to the sky.

Dean goes blank for a second, stops breathing altogether, the last breath a half-laugh like the joke's on him.

Sam knows whatever inner vision Dean had for how this would look has fallen far short of the mark. Dean's impressed himself, and that's hard to do. A couple of times, Dean straightens, ready to make some profound statement, then sinks back down, mouth snapping shut. Sam watches, suddenly bursting to the brim with the pride Dean's apparently unable to express in himself. He wishes Dean could see the grin on his face, but watches as Dean's jaw goes slack, instead, lips parted.

Sam doesn't think about it, though afterward, he'll probably blame it on the beer. But he's not drunk when he leans in and kisses Dean, not drunk when Dean starts to kiss him back. His hand holding the goggles in place loosens, and the lenses slip down as his other hand reaches up to the side of Dean's face to catch them, slow slide into something warm and soft he never knew was there.

He's about to deepen the kiss when the goggles clear Dean's eyes, and the second they do, Dean sits bolt upright fast enough that Sam slides off the hood and onto the ground. Dean nearly follows, but lurches back, hooking two fingers under the lip of the hood closest to the windshield.

Sam cracks his head on the ground, lies dazed for a few seconds as Dean's feet slide slowly back up and brace against the bumper. He breathes hard, partially from the whump of ground to skin, and partially from what came before, listens to Dean doing the same above him. He lays there longer than is necessary to recover, afraid to turn around.

Dean moves first, slides off the hood and reaches a hand out to Sam, helps him back up before retrieving the goggles. "Too many coats of wax, I guess." Sam doesn't miss the way he ducks his gaze toward the ground before taking the goggles back to the trunk.

Dean doesn't meet his eyes when he comes back either, tosses him another beer and slides up beside him. Sam can't think of one good reason not to get drunk anymore.

So he does.