Sam can tell by the shallow breaths and poorly muffled coughs that Dean's awake before he opens his eyes in the morning. He's almost afraid to peek, but Dean's still there, impossible not to feel him with everything tangled and mashed together in just a few feet of space. And what's touching between them doesn't zing with any charge that says 'back the fuck off.' It's easy, quiet.
He's not sure how to play this, never really had his blinders completely off before now. Maybe part of him's been hoping that 'more' would end up being the two of them together in some kind of relationship that would pass for romance, you know, if they weren't brothers and mostly straight. But he hasn't really thought beyond that hope to what it actually is between them, what makes it okay to wake up in the same bed, to be touching and holding on when they're not dying or leaving, haven't anywhere to go. But it isokay.
He props himself on one elbow, just like he would if Dean was across the room in another bed, because if they can't sleep together and wake up still themselves, then he figures, they're probably doing it wrong. Dean's got all the pillows, lies tipped-up slightly, his arms folded across his chest. Except for the lolling of his right foot at the end of the bed, Sam'd think he's brooding, closing himself off, but his size 10 stocking foot goes left and right like a skier in a giant slalom, and Dean's eyes follow it, save one quick glance and half-smile of greeting he spares Sam.
Thinking. Sam can live with that. Dean's been doing it a lot since there's no one else but them to do it, no one but Sam to say he's wrong, and those discussions go both ways. Sam flops back down on his back, grunts in feigned frustration, and snakes one of the pillows away from Dean. It accidentallywhaps Dean in the face before it's properly crammed under Sam's neck, which doesn't seem to faze him a bit. That's good. A little disappointing, maybe, because a wrestling match in close quarters could turn interesting, but good. If Dean was looking for an excuse to blow up and storm off, that was as good of bait as anything, and he didn't bite.
Not that Sam's opposed to biting, but he's glad.
He clears his throat, like he's been preparing a monologue especially for the occasion of actually waking up in the same bed together, which of course, he hasn't, never let the hope run quite that far ahead of him. Sleeping together and waking up together are apparently, in Dean logic, two completely different hurdles, and Sam's the guy out front knocking them all down on his way to the finish line. Hey, he's never claimed falling in love with his brother was going to be pretty, but it doesn't have to be a train wreck.
"Look, I know we don't really do the talking thing, and that's fine, but just so you know, this silent, introspective thing you're working here?" Sam curls one arm behind his head, slides the other under the sheet, lazy scratch over his treasure trail. "It's really fucking hot."
Dean quirks one eyebrow, still watching his toes but with a more sideways tilt to his head like it's harder to stay focused. "I know."
This time, when the pillow hits Dean in the face, Sam doesn't pretend it's an accident. The wrestling match that follows is a little more than interesting, turns into a mishmash of really good friction and really awkward angles, but they finish pretty much together, and that's kinda the point.
When Dean comes with a gasp over Sam's stomach, his eyes are half open and hungry, just enough light to make it clear he wants Sam the way Sam wants him, and that's all the talk they need. For now.
Things can't keep going the way they are. It's too easy. Well, the parts of it that don't involve nebulizers and flame throwers are pretty easy, even the part that involves two grown men sandwiched into a full sized bed. Getting them both in the bed starts to become way simpler than getting them out. Sam doesn't know what's happened to pin that twanging restlessness under the squelch bar. They're still in basically the same predicament they've been in all along, and yet something akin to mellow has settled in.
Before, there'd been a sense of dwindling-dwindling time, dwindling resources, dwindling hope. Now there's more. Call it the synergy of together or some other poetic BS. Sam calls it easy. Sam calls it better. Sam calls it more.
It's only fitting that the sky picks then to fall.
Sam's barely awake when Dean calls from the doorway. The only clue that it's actually morning is the aroma of coffee brewing in the office next door. (Dean always makes it there, since it's actually closer to the bed than the kitchenette on the other side of the apartment.)
"Sam! Come take a look at this."
"Nnnn." Sam throws a pillow over his head. If it was an emergency, Dean would just scream, wouldn't bother with complete sentences.
"Sam! Get your ass out here or I'm gonna... holy shit."
Well, that's not a complete sentence. Sam bolts upright, a finger snagging his shorts off the bedpost, before he heads for the door. He steps out so quickly, he nearly ends up covered in hot coffee.
Standing stock-still just the other side of the doorjamb, Dean doesn't even notice the little bit of hot joe that splashes onto his hand when Sam bumps into the cup. He's too busy staring out across the hangar. Following his line of sight, Sam has to squint and rub the sleep from his eyes to see anything out of the ordinary. When he does, he thinks he must be mistaken.
All this is just formality. They're already halfway down the stairs, couldn't stop their feet inching closer if they tried.
There's not much to see, but still, it's a little horrifying for Sam, who's spent days and days trying to improve the air quality in this place. Motes. No telling if they're harmless dust, or mold, or friggin' pixie dust, but they're there. They shouldn't be.
Sam can almost hear the memories shuffling in his head like hands sorting shoeboxes full of Polaroids. It's his analytical side, the one that says shadow demons can't cross into bright light that makes him not believe in what he's seeing, forces him to try to debunk it rather than accept. But he can't. Flashlight, torchlight, fire light, sunlight…the long and the short of it is, you can't see motes without light. And these motes? Right under the skylight.
"You don't think…?" They're close enough to the anomalous column of light in the center of the hangar to reach out and touch it, the way you'd reach out and put your fingers into a lighted fountain, but they don't. And Dean doesn't have to say what he thinks for Sam to come up with his own whackjob sci-fi scenarios about what's causing flecks of dust to sparkle like fireflies in a world with no sun. Not the most pleasant image is the one of alien worshipers on the top of the Empire State Building oohing and ahhing at the beauty of a massive alien death ray.
"Uh…no, I don't think…" It actually hurts to say even that much with his neck stretched out as far as it can possibly go, eyes straining up past the ridge of his brow in an attempt to get a glimpse beyond the edge of the light without actually stepping in. Turns out neck muscles are kinda attached to jaw muscles. Hard to talk with your mouth pulled open.
And then the sky falls. Or at least, the skylight.
Sam barely registers the crash and the much, much bigger motes of, holy shit, falling glass shards, before Dean's on top of him, both of them pressed into the concrete floor. After a few seconds, the crash of showering glass is just the tinkle and crunch of tempered shards around them. Taking a quick mental tally of body parts, Sam realizes he's come out ahead. Two extra arms and legs and the six feet of Dean between them. Six heavy feet.
Dean coughs like a cat with a hairball and slowly raises himself up on his elbows, one knee snugged up tight between Sam's thighs. He probably does have a hairball, considering his face is mashed against the side of Sam's and Sam needs a haircut even more than Dean. (The last time he pulled it into a ponytail, Dean threatened to take his knife to it. Sam's secretly going for a ninja braid.)
Dean coughs again, this time lifting his head along with the rest of him. The proximity makes it hard to focus, and Sam squints a little as Dean runs a hand over his head, loosing more cubes of glass onto the concrete.
"You okay, there, chicken little?"
"Who you calling little?" Sam doesn't really expect an answer, which is a good thing, because he'd miss it if it came. He's too busy, blinking, shaking his head and blinking again. Something's off just enough that he puts a hand to the back of his skull, half-expecting to find the tacky of blood, or worse, something squishy that Hannibal Lector might consider appetizing. His hair's dry, if not a little greasy. So, why's Dean…? "Dude, you're glowing."
Dean smirks. "What? It wasn't good for you, too?"
It takes a good amount of effort for Sam not to give Dean a good hard knee to the groin for that. Dean's just lucky he's already blocking that route of attack. Instead, Sam lurches to a sitting position, his hands gripping Dean's shoulders through his shirts. "I'm serious. You're like…aglow."
Dean smiles. No smirk, no snicker, no quirk or snigger. He smiles. "I know! Isn't it great?"
Confused, Sam brushes a hand over Dean's shoulder. The radiant outline that makes Dean look like he's been attacked by a rogue copy of Photoshop, comes away in his hand. He turns his palm to the sky, feels like he's holding a ball of light. Between his fingers, the light has a fine grit, almost powder-like in consistency, shifts into the ridges of his hand, his life-line as long and deep as the Grand Canyon in the shadow of his fingers. Turning his eyes, to Dean, he sees the smile hasn't slipped yet. "It's not…? I mean…your asthma…"
"Nope," Dean says. "Not mold, or dust, or pollen, and I don't think I've got any in my nose anyway."
"So what is it?"
Now the smile is a smirk, a cocky, self-assured look Sam hasn't realized he's missed until now. "It's paint."
"Well, not just any paint." Dean shrugs. "Alien paint."
"Right." Sam rolls his eyes and then his whole head to the side, taking in the mess. "And that was, what? E.T.'s answering service?"
"No." Dean reaches out and finds the end of a wire in the glass, starts reeling it in. "Just my kite." He shrugs as the silver object slides out of the carnage and up to his thigh. "Must've caught a down draft."
"Ya think?" Sam lifts the kite up, examines it skeptically. "This was worth almost losing your hands over?"
"No." Snatching it out of Sam's hands, Dean pokes his finger through a space on the side where it looks like two pieces of material that had been fused together have now come apart. When he withdraws his finger, there's more of the glowing dust on it.
"What is it?"
Dean smears the dust between his fingers, light glinting in his eyes. "Remember when I said it was almost like the metal itself was a power source? I thought solar-powered. I mean, made sense. Galaxy's full of power stations, always a star in sight. No need to pull off the intergalactic super highway."
He tilts his head to the side with a quirk so obvious he doesn't need to say what he's thinking. Of course, he does anyway, "Except if they had one too many cups of space java. I can hear 'em now." He puts a hand on Sam's shoulder, shakes it for emphasis. "You should've thought of that before we got in the car. Now you'll just have to keep the hose kinked until we hit the next exit."
Sam's bladder gives an involuntary throb at the memory that invokes. Some kids were traumatized by family car trips once or twice a year. Winchesters have a rare form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that localizes somewhere behind their belly buttons. When Dean's thumb unfastens from his collarbone and strokes up along Sam's jaw, the twinge goes a little lower.
Dean catches himself and drops his hand away, shrugs a little. "Anyway, turns out, it wasn't the metal with the solar power capacity. It's this paint they put on the back of it, like the paint they use on mirrors to make 'em reflect. Thing is, the metal's almost indestructible, but the paint peels right off. That's why they kept the painted sides sandwiched together between two layers...and," Dean blushes and looks away, "And you're too busy staring at my mouth to hear a word I'm saying."
"Maybe," Sam admits. He can't help it. Dean's smiling, ecstatic, confident in a way Sam's only ever seen him feign before. It's distracting. Sam's more than capable of "getting" the gist of what Dean's saying, but hard physical science is kinda Dean's thing. Sam's more a social sciences guy. He's more than okay having to focus all his social genius on the one other member of society. Besides, it's not really Dean's mouth he's looking at. It's his eyes, because they might duck and blush, but they keep coming back. Coming back to Sam. And they're open. With light gleaming in them. "Is there a short version? Dean Winchester New World Science For Dummies?"
Dean meets his gaze, looks long and hard, and Sam lets him, hopes he likes what he sees. It goes on long enough Sam finds himself wanting to duck away, but he doesn't. When Dean speaks again, it's with the tail end of a breath he's lost somewhere in the moment.
"Basically, this stuff's all glowy because I finally got it above the cloud bank and into the sunlight. Which means," his throat convulses around something but doesn't push down the wash of pink spreading up his cheeks, "the sun's still up there. And with this, we can bring it down here."
Sam watches the blush creep up Dean's cheeks, the steady advance of humility over pride, niggling fear he'll be laughed at or dismissed. Sam has no intention of doing either. "Well okay, then," he says, already leaning in.
Dean doesn't close his eyes until they're too close to stay focused.
Dean's workshop has always been a mystery to Sam. It's not that Sam's incapable of understanding what goes on there, or even that he doesn't care. It's just, when Dean starts talking about it, the glint in his eyes is the only thing Sam can see, and the way he moves between models and notes, one bench to the next, every bit as fluid and efficient as he's ever been cleaning guns or knives makes Sam feel like the moon watching the Earth orbit the Sun.
So, when Sam shows up for lunch that day, and Dean's...motionless, just standing in the center of his workshop, Sam's knees wobble like he's just stepped off an escalator.
It takes him a second to realize Dean's not completely still. His hand starts to levitate up from his side, and there's a remote control of some sort in it. One press, and a single bare light bulb pops on over a blanket of stretched cotton batting Sam's come to understand is the model of cloud cover. At first that's all there is, but Dean raises his other hand, both at shoulder height like a conductor in front of an orchestra. His left hand moves, side-to-side, click press, click press, and tiny motors whirr to life across the room.
Lights flicker in succession until Sam picks out the mirrors Dean's fabricated from the spacecraft metal, turning on little pedestals he's got rigged with the robot fingers of some gizmo or other. It's a nifty trick, in itself, but doesn't really explain why Dean's so...still.
Dean's voice is small, hopeful but tentative, when he whispers, "Aziz, light..." and presses another button. The room is suddenly too bright to stand, and they recoil, arms thrown up over their eyes, Dean into Sam, who catches him under his arms and steadies them both.
"It works." Dean's breathless, something close to a hysterical laugh in the timbre of the words. "Sam! It works!"
"Yeah..." Sam tries hard not to be dismissive, knows there's a point he's missing, something Dean's probably made before.
"Hope you kept your shades," Dean laughs, his eyes as wide as they can be with the glare pinning them down.
"Sure, I...oh." And that's when Sam remembers.
That's not a light bulb. That's the sun. And suddenly, the future's so bright.
"Ya see, we just poke enough holes in the canopy, get slivers of light crossing paths, and it's like the clouds aren't even there."
Sam's suddenly glad he thought to move Dean's bed into the lab. Doesn't take any hard science to figure out what it's there for. Just biology and some heavy breathing. Then it's, 'oh, what a soft bed you have,' and 'why are we still standing up.'
Dean releases first as his knees hit the bed and he falls backward. He doesn't leave, just makes sure Sam's still watching as he catches his balance, like he needs to see his own reflection in Sam's eyes to know it's real. He pulls Sam down between his knees and leans in again, rougher, teeth scraping over Sam's jaw while their fingers brace into his thigh. Sam hisses inward, fast and sharp, when Dean slides back behind his jaw, stubble pressing against the soft spot below his ear. He tilts his head, sways forward as Dean does the same, each panting breath a kiss down the side of his neck.
Sam starts to breathe a rapid counterpoint, anticipation rising out of his chest in little tugs. He sits up straighter, curves into an arch as Dean's hands slide up from his thighs, over Sam's hip bones, barely there until thumbs hook under his last rib on each side. A shared gasp draws them together, Sam's chest hitching faster, and Dean's drawing longer and deeper.
There's still a faint whistling, broken descant, the recurring theme they can't forget, and that's as far as it goes. Dean stops, his adrenaline/exertion damp forehead pressed against Sam's collar bone, thumbs stroking over the quivering obliques at Sam's waist. His touch is conflicted, thumbs gentle and reverent while the rest of his fingers press hard enough to bruise, curled into a claw at Sam's back.
Sam reaches for Dean's belt loops, the way he did on the climb out of Hell, when neither could sleep without being anchored to the other. No push or pull, just feeling for the spin that will finally align them, tiny brace against the vertigo,
"Shit, Sam." It's just a puff against Sam's t-shirt, no inflection of guilt, though it feels like a confession.
Sam lifts his head, turns so the soft underside of his jaw nestles over Dean's crown. "You really need a haircut," he says.
"Do not." A hint of tired laughter.
"I mean it. I'll never be able to sleep with this mess tickling my nose."
Dean sighs, the last trapped, spent air that's been holding out the fresh. It's warm through Sam's shirt, soft in the valley over his sternum, and it can stay there forever as far as he's concerned. He shifts up onto the cot, and Dean doesn't pull away. They find a way to tangle their feet together so ankle bones interlock instead of knocking painfully. The rest of them follows soon after.
Sam's almost asleep, when it's over, still absently twitching his nose against strands of flyaway hair, when Dean says, "You sneeze on me, and I'm going to shave your ass and put the clippings in your pillowcase."
"Don't need a pillow. Got you, Shaggy."
"You're so getting Scooby Snacks for breakfast."
Dean's asleep before Sam can answer.
As is often the case with science, the theory is sound, but the practical application of Dean's master plan proves elusive.
Dean tosses a piece of broken asphalt off the side of the building. It disappears beyond the horizon of their knees dangling over the edge while they lie back and look at the sky-treacherous black sky, with a tiny dot of light in it that barely constitutes a pinhole. If it's the light at the end of the tunnel, it's a hella long tunnel.
"Sometimes, Forrest, there just aren't enough kites," Dean grumbles, tipping his head up just enough to take a hit off his beer and swallow before falling back again. "And that's all I've got to say about that."
"Well, there is onething we haven't tried." It's been tickling the little part of his brain he usually ignores as illogical and a little crazy ever since they got here. He usually doesn't go there, but he can't dismiss it entirely, either, after all, it's where he keeps his daeva flares. Necessity and inspiration generally go hand in hand. He just knows Dean'll never go for it.
"Well, if I'm reading this right, our problem is not being able to get high enough and still deliver a large enough payload to have an effect."
"Pretty much. Yeah."
"Has it escaped your attention that we've got a hangar full of top of the line aviation at our disposal?"
Dean's silent for a few seconds, long enough for Sam to know he actually considers the idea. That's saying a lot about how desperate he is to make this work, given his fear of flying. Then, he laughs dismissively. "We're not pilots, Sam."
Raising himself up enough to lean on one elbow and meet Dean face-to-face, Sam counters, "That didn't stop the Wright brothers."
"I can't fly. You know that."
"No. You'll crash."
"Dean, I already know how to start up just about every plane in the hangar, have moved some of them more than once in order to get some air moving in here, and I've done a little reading. Most of these things practically fly themselves. It's just taking off and landing that's hard."
"Exactly." Dean isn't meeting his gaze now, a sure sign he'll cave if Sam can turn on the puppy eyes. "That's where we get the term crashlanding. You'll crash."
Sam's kinda got the upper hand, leaning over Dean the way he is, and reaches across to grasp Dean's chin, turning his head enough to meet Sam's eyes. "I don't see where we have a lot of other options," he says. "And I want to try."
This time Dean looks him right in the eye when he says, "You'll crash."
And Sam looks right back with enough puppy droop to his lids to sell compost to a manure salesman. "I won't crash."
Technically, he doesn't crash. He does all right for the most part, right up until the day he actually has a job to do, and even then, the job goes without a hitch. Above the clouds, drop the payload, and out. But on the way back, he gets distracted and misses the landing strip. By the time his head stops pounding the glass and the plane stops skip-hopping across the hardpan, he can't remember what the distraction even was.
It's not a crash. Technically. Which is exactly what he's going to tell Dean... as soon as his eyes quit trying to go shut on him. As it is, he barely manages to key his radio before the world goes dark.
He lifts his pounding head, his eyelids lagging behind, and has the radio to his mouth when he realizes his hand's stiff around it like it's been keyed for hours already. And yet...
For a second, he stares at the radio, wonders how he can hear Dean with his finger still on the button. Or one of the three buttons he sees on one of the three radios in one of his three right hands. That's strange in an impossible sort of way, but even impossible isn't unbelievable anymore.
"Saaaaammm!" This time, the shout's followed by a hollow thump, thump, and he looks toward the sound, flinching like it's a sledge hammer raised in attack. It takes him a good few seconds of staring directly into Dean eyes through the canopy to realize he's staring directly into Dean's eyes through the canopy. Just Dean's eyes. He's thrown off by the thick cloth pressed over Dean's mouth and nose. He must be using it to keep out the smoke from the fire.
"Dean!" Suddenly his head's clear except for the little pink tinge to his vision that must be blood from somewhere. Unfortunately, a clear head does not equate to nimble fingers, and by the time he undoes his harness and flight helmet, bats the taunting oxygen mask away as it dangles in front of his throbbing head, Dean's nowhere in sight.
He opens the canopy and vaults to the ground in one smooth movement that ends anything but smoothly, an electric jolt through his ankles and up the express highway of long bones to his brain. For a second, the world implodes behind his eyes, black and suffocating, and he sways on his feet. He's sure he's about to pass out right until the second he sees what he's looking for.
Dean's leaning against the back of the plane, a fire extinguisher dangling limply in his hand, and the rag still pressed over his mouth. His eyes are open, but glazed, fixed on the fire crackling not thirty feet in front of him. It's not the plane, thank God, but one of the engines has ignited a large mesquite bush, and the wind's huffing the flames in long, hot streams of sparks toward the tail end.
And Dean, ever the vigilant big brother, has placed himself between the fire and Sam. Maybe Sam should be grateful, but all he can think at the moment is how stupid that is. If Dean didn't choose that very second to start a slow slide down the fuselage, Sam would be hard pressed not to kick his self-sacrificing ass.
But Dean falls, slow like syrup down a melting sundae, and Sam catches him just before he loses consciousness completely, his hand falling away from his face, the rag and the inhaler cartridge inside dropping to the dust. The empty inhaler cartridge.
This is not going to happen. Sam knows it isn't. Why? Because tragedy has a purpose. Heroes die because the world is so stagnant that only death affects people out of their complacency. It's the pessimist's ending, and Sam, being the only person left to affect, has never been more optimistic.
So, this? This thing he can't even say? It isn't happening.
Grunting with exertion, he hauls Dean to his feet and back around the other side of the plane. The smoke follows, wind picking up abruptly as it streams along the line of the fuselage, and he gasps and chokes, deep strangling spasms, that much more worried that Dean's silent beside him. He doesn't pause to ask Dean's permission before hoisting him into the cockpit.
He thinks maybe Dean lurches feebly toward the exit as Sam jumps in beside him, possibly worried about the Impala abandoned in the desert or just about getting out of the plane. He doesn't entertain the notion, whatever it is, just presses the oxygen mask over Dean's blue-tinged lips and straps him in. Dean's eyes are barely-open slits boring into the side of his head as he tries again and again to get the engines to fire. Sam can almost hear the 'I can't believe I ever let you do this' of accusation in the glare. The attention only makes him tighten his own focus, his jaw firm with intent, until his eyes fall on the fuel cut-off.
The switch is supposed to trip in the event of a crash, cut off fuel to the engines and stop a fire from reaching the gas tanks. Despite his assertion that he absolutely did not crash, Sam flips the switch and tries the ignition again. The engines whine to life.
Dean might be half unconscious, but he stiffens when the plane vibrates beneath them, his fingers clawing into Sam's thigh. Actually, that hurts, and it takes some effort for Sam to resist batting them away. It's no time to panic. Dean'll have to suck it up.
"Dude, I'm right here. I'm not gonna let anything happen to you." Right here being practically sitting in Dean's lap. It's a one-man plane, with a one-man cockpit, but Sam doesn't mind, considering they've been sharing a one-man bed for weeks. Dean's eyes grow wider, still glassy and bright. He doesn't settle as quickly as Sam would like, flails about until Sam has to pin him to the seat with his weight. One hand snakes free and smacks him on the forehead, waves front of Sam's face, bloody and trembling.
Sam gets it.
"I did not crash," he says. "And stop worrying, I'm not even going to take off. We'll just taxi back into the hangar."
Dean seems to accept that and relaxes, slowly, though without gaining any of his color. His eyes falling shut, head lolling against the glass, the oxygen mask fogging up just enough to keep Sam focused.
Of course, Sam doesn't see any point in taking it slow. There's nothing but open desert between here and there, and this is a medical emergency, so he guns it to near take-off speed.
It shouldn't be possible to not-crash without ever taking off in the first place. Still, he nearly does.
They're almost upon her, a shadow in the swirling sand, taller and more solid than it should be with no light to silhouette against. Then, he remembers what it was that distracted him into not-crashing in the first place. She looms before him, the proverbial black dog, only draped in blue, hunched and staggering slightly like she's been walking for miles.
A woman. Or a ghost.
He doesn't have time to decide. "Hang on!" He yells, and pulls back the stick, flipping switches he's memorized during hours of mock flights in the darkened hangar. He doesn't have time to wonder why Dean doesn't hang on. The engines scream, then cough, then scream higher and louder. His stomach hits his tailbone at the precise moment his heart decides to choke him, and he probably imagines the whites of her eyes widening at the moment the plane lifts off.
He's never seen a ghost do that.
It's the shortest flight in history, he's sure. He circles the hangar once to line up with the runway, and uses the altitude to scan the desert, but who or whatever he thought he saw is gone, swallowed in smoke or hidden in the brush.
Or maybe she was never there. He did hit his head pretty hard…afterhe saw her the first time.
By the time they touch down/ don't crash, back at the hangar, he's in Dean's lap. There's a damp spot on each side of his rib cage, hot from being pinched for so long, and cold, because the hands have fallen away.
It's been a good twenty years since Sam's been small enough to sit in Dean's lap. Dean should be complaining. He isn't. He should at least squirm and push Sam away. He doesn't.
There's a red light on the control panel he's trained himself to ignore, another priority higher on his personal scale that took precedence at the time. He can't ignore it now. Irony's a bigger bitch than Mother Nature. He has to squint before it comes into focus, and then he hits his head for the second time that day, as he lurches forward. "Dean!"
The oxygen tank is empty. So says the computer attached to the valve where the oxygen tank would be...if Sam hadn't removed it for easier access in an emergency. Air emergency hadn't even crossed his mind.
His hand fumbles in the seatbelt mechanism, his other popping the canopy, and he twists around.
Dean's silent and still, a pale sheen painted over a mask of deepening blue in gradually spreading pools beneath his eyes.
For the second time in too-few months, Sam feels for a pulse. Dean's head falls to the side away from the gentle press of Sam's fingers. That's the only thing moving beneath Sam's fingers.
Everything blurs together after that, shaking Dean, probably too hard, the lurch that pulls Dean over his shoulder, long jump to the concrete floor. He drops Dean to the ground, and there's running, cursing, puffing, chest pounding, and waiting. His heart races, giant drops of sweat slip from his nose and chin, plunk hollowly onto Dean's cooling forehead, and when his arms give out, he collapses over Dean's ribcage, nothing rising from it but the acrid stench of smoke.
This isn't the way it's supposed to end. And yet, it does.
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.
There's no moisture left in him anywhere, just this sucking vacuum it fell into and the raw, cutting ache of empty. He doesn't know how long he's been like this, how long they've been like this with he the only one still suffering, but his long fingers feel arthritic, locked through Dean's belt loops. He thinks maybe he can drown himself, die like Dean, choking under infinite sky, if he just refuses to get up, keeps his nose buried in Dean's still chest.
Until recently, he hadn't been this close to Dean in years, but there was a time he spent all the long, empty nights in crappy motel rooms, with Dean's arm over his shoulder, and his face pressed against Dean's chest, the television blaring some movie so they couldn't hear the ladies turning tricks in the next room. Funny, how Dean smells the same now, a little smoky, a little salty, and safe. Like death doesn't count for anything.
For some reason, a logic that only works on people insane with grief and children too innocent to ever lose clarity, he remembers one movie in particular. Not the name, but the movie. A boy with a computer brain. He drowned at the end, maybe half a mile from freedom. Only his best friend believed he was still alive, said a computer doesn't die, so the boy wasn't dead, either. Couldn't be. The friend had been right, in that movie, all those years ago.
But for all Dean's been to Sam, larger than life and brighter than the sun, he's never been immortal.
Except for the part where they totally climbed out of Hell. And the part where he woke up on that motel room floor in East Texas, even though Sam's sure none of the medicine made it to his lungs. Except for the part where he made the sun shine. Except for the part where he's Dean, and Sam's still here, clinging to the ledge, and hasn't let go. And won't.
Maybe that's the precise moment when the dusting of alien paint catches the sun rising behind the clouds and pierces the darkness. Maybe it's the sun creeping up behind them through the hangar's open door. But something works its way through Sam with a slow, curling warmth, through his toes, up the backs of his legs, settling in his chest, and then, out the ends of his fingers.
Everything whites out behind his eyes, and when it fades, he's tired, so tired, he doesn't feel Dean's fingers reach for his belt loops, just drops his head where the tears have all gone dry.
Sam twitches but doesn't lift his head. The Impala's rumbling in the background, and that's the thickest damper on the face of the earth, makes everything blur and drift away.
"Dean, just get coffee and hash browns at the drive-thru. I'm gonna catch a few more winks." Dean's stomach has been Sam's alarm clock for years. Sam's always takes a little longer to rise and shine.
The engine cuts out, and the door slams, thud-thud-thud up behind him, footsteps too light to be Dean. Sam's eyes fly open as soon as she touches the leg of his jeans.
He rolls over, immediately throwing his hand up over his face, because, holy shit, it's bright, and he can't see a damned thing more than a silhouette, a soft shimmering shape, long curls and a flowing robe.
"I'm Grace," she says, or the voice comes from her direction. He still can't see her face. "I'm looking for Sam."
She steps closer, holding out her hand, and he can see it's not a robe she wears, more like an old sheet tied around her like something from the Middle East, desert wear, he thinks. And he remembers where he's seen her before.
She seems uncertain, wary, looks away as she says, "I'm sorry."
He swallows. "Don't be. My brother…"
"Is getting one helluva backache from lying on cold cement. Geez, Sam, this was really the best you could do?" Dean slides to a sit beside him, his knees popping and stiff. "Well, would you look at that. It worked."
Sam turns slowly, the world swimming in an ocean he thought had dried up, and his eyelashes barely holding back the flood. His throat convulses, something between laughing, sobbing, and throwing up everything he's ever eaten, a burn in his chest that hints at the latter. He has to blink once, just to be able to see, and when his does, a finger traces the wet trail down his cheek. Dean's finger. And those are Dean's eyes looking back at him, Dean's hair…glowing.
And in Dean's eyes, the sun rises over Sam's shoulder. The sun. Rises.
"D'ya see it, Sammy?" Dean beams. "It worked." He shields his eyes from the glare, but doesn't look away.
"Yeah," Sam chokes. "Yeah, it did."
"Um…" The woman steps closer, draws back the hood of her garment, reveals the face of someone young who's grown old in her soul, weathered beneath the surface. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting something, but I've been trying to reach you for weeks, ever since I found your broadcast on the radio. And my car broke down about ten miles out. I thought we were going to die, but then I saw that burning bush, and this car parked not too far away. I figured it had to be a sign from God or something."
Sam can't help it, then. He laughs, like a mad man, in total relief, disbelief, and wonder, because the old adage is true. When it rains, it pours. Only now, it's raining sunlight, and the sky is golden. It's raining new.
She seems shocked, but continues. "I don't know if you meant what you said, but if you've got room for two more…"
"Two?" Dean asks, standing with the aid of a hand pressed into Sam's shoulder. A hand, he then offers to Sam.
She's already gone back to the car, is bent over the seat when Sam stops laughing and gets up himself, still squinting in the unfamiliar glare.
"Yeah," she says, turning, a bundle in her arms that she keeps pressed to her chest. "I'm Grace," she repeats, nodding toward Dean in introduction. Then she lowers the bundle. "And this is Schotzie."
A baby. A laughing baby with no teeth and sunlight in her blue eyes.
"That depends," Dean says, crossing his arms beneath a smug grin.
"On what?" She asks, her face falling. "I'll do anything for my daughter, anything."
Sam can only imagine what anythings she imagines, wants to elbow Dean in the ribs despite him being mostly dead all day.
"Do you cut hair?" Dean asks. "Because Sam keeps cutting my ear, and if he starts braiding that thing he's got on hishead, I'm gonna name it."
And they laugh. All four of them, before Dean holds out his arm, and she ducks beneath it, already home.
All in all, Sam decides, it's a pretty good start to the day. Golden and new. Something tells him this time gold will stay.
Four Years Later
Four and a half years after dragging themselves out of the hole that used to be Hell and into the hole that used to be the world, Sam can say with fair certainty that what matters is not saving the world. What matters is what you do with it when no one else wants it.
For the most part, they've done pretty well. There are holes in the cloud cover in key locations all over the country, and banks of solar mirrors, waiting to catch and distribute the light. A lot of work has gone into it, the work of more hands than just Sam and Dean. Grace was just the first, and once they lit up the sky over Area 51, they came in a slow, but steady trickle. People. Friends. Family. People they never knew before the world ended, and will never not know again.
Not everything's perfect, though. Sam's work takes him to the sky, sometimes for weeks away from Dean, and when they're together, it's a secret. They're a secret. Or should be, some ancient paradigm keeping them tight-lipped and square shouldered in the company of people they think wouldn't understand, so they won't notice, won't guess what goes on when they slide their cots together in the dark.
Sam's not amused at the irony of having spent his life running from the dark only to end up clinging to the night and dragging it further into morning every day. He's not careful, steals a few extra minutes after dinner, a few more before breakfast, doesn't give Dean the chance to protest. He's purposely not careful. Tired of hiding.
It's bound to be one minute too many, eventually. And one day it is. Grace walks in to find Sam raking his teeth over Dean's collarbone, and his hand circled around both their cocks. Sam's just glad he can't see himself. Dean's expression is freaky enough for the both of them.
She doesn't even look away as Sam jumps to tuck himself behind Dean's thigh, jerks the sheet up off the floor. She just cocks one hip and holds out a jar of applesauce, blows a few strands of dishwater blonde hair aside, her ponytail holder having slid down to her neck so the short hairs hang loose.
"For what it's worth, I find the silent introspective types pretty hot myself, but if you guys are gonna be locked in here all day, one of you's gonna have to open this fucking jar for me, or you're gonna have to explain to my kid why she's going hungry."
Always the gentleman, or at least, always the caretaker, Dean clears his throat and holds out his hand. She puts the applesauce in it, and he reaches between his and Sam's chests to open it, hands it back without comment.
She takes it with a nod, walks stiffly over to the dresser, and picks up the radio. "And turn your radio off. Schotzie thought someone was dying."
Maybe it's his naturally inquisitive side, but Sam can't help but ask. "Um, does this...?" His hand motions back and forth between himself and Dean.
"...bother me?" She rolls her eyes and heads for the door. "Please," she says, back to them, "If you weren't doing each other, I'd have one hell of an inferiority complex since I've been here four years and neither of you's ever so much as grabbed my ass." She shrugs, grabbing the door knob on her way out. "Whatever trips your trigger, guys." She pauses before the door clicks shut. "Oh, and now that it's not a secret, you're washing your own nasty-assed sheets."
Sam raises his eyebrows as the latch slides into place and looks down at Dean who mirrors the expression. "Was it me, or did that sound like, 'hallelujah,' 'boutfuckingtime,' and 'getsomeforme,' only with way more words?"
"No, I think that about sums it up."
"Then why do I feel like I just got molested by a Jack Russell Terrier?"
Dean shrugs and pulls the sheet off his side of the cot, throws his feet over the edge.
"Nu-uh..." Sam snakes an arm around Dean's waist and pulls him back in, one hand on his chest, knee between his thighs. "You heard her. We're off the hook for breakfast, so you're mine for another hour...at LEAST." Despite the force of his words, he hesitates, watches the muscles jump in Dean's throat, across his chest, eyes dart toward the door and back, spinning, spinning, trying to find the sweet spot between stability and change. Sam has to remind himself it's the change Dean wars against, not Sam, but he ducks low, arches down so his teeth scrape up from navel to collarbone, slow, deliberate, and possessive. By the time his mouth opens over the soft muscle of Dean's neck, the uncertain quiver under Dean's skin is all shuddering desire.
He doesn't expect Dean to heave up beneath him, flip them around hard enough to knock the air from his lungs, doesn't plan the kiss that whites out his vision. Dean's fingers in his hair hold tight enough to hurt, but Sam's thrumming too much to care, groans into the hollow beneath Dean's jaw, fingers tightening to claws over Dean's ass.
They shouldn't be able to maintain that intensity as long as they do, but the victory isn't that Dean lets Sam take some of that restless energy, that Sam will wear bruises of too-much, too-hard, too-fast, too-long, for days. The trophy is the hollow in Dean's chest below his breastbone, where Sam puts his head and sleeps into the afternoon without a single mention of work.
They're late for dinner, too.
"You sure you're ready for this?" Sam asks. "I could just get Grace and Schotzie set up with the rest of the colonists, oversee the drop, and come back for you."
Dean's got his fingers hitched in his belt loops, the strap of his flight helmet around his wrist. He doesn't look up at Sam, and even though his head nods, he says, "No. I'm not ready. But I'm not going to miss this. It's the big day, right?"
"Yourbig day," Sam agrees. He steps into Dean's personal space, props his chin on the top of Dean's head, his arms around Dean's shoulders. "You know I've got you, right?"
"Yeah," Dean huffs. He's still tense, but Sam can tell he means it. Sam's logged far too many hours in the sky now for Dean to doubt his ability as a pilot. But fear isn't logical. Never has been.
"Well, there's plenty of tranquilizers in the infirmary. We could do a Mr. T cocktail for you, and you could sleep through the whole trip."
That does the trick. Dean straightens abruptly, jerks himself free of Sam's arms. "Oh, hell no. You think I'm gonna let myself be shown up by a woman and a four-year-old?"
Sam does a mock salute over Dean's head to Grace and Schotzie, already waiting in the chopper, Schotzie bouncing and bubbly with excitement. "Well, then, let's go." He slaps a palm on the back of Dean's neck and steers him toward the final stage of their save the world plan.
In Dean's defense, Metallica never sounded so good.
"Sam!" Dean wriggles, but to no avail. "Sam, so help me, G-... or... just... so help me, if you don't put me down, I'm not gonna give you that pony you wanted for your birthday." Laughter rumbling deep in his chest like forgotten furniture over an attic floor, Sam squeezes harder. His stubbly cheek scrapes under Dean's jaw as Sam lifts and swings him around. It's a bear hug, of course, no girly hugs allowed. That's the law according to Dean, which, in this day and age, is pretty much the only law other than the law according to Sam. Why they're the law, they still don't know. Somehow, they are the norm to which everyone else, as few as everyone is, looks for stability. Go figure.
It's a physical effort to stop laughing, stark in contrast to years of fake smiles and chuckles over throats raw from screaming. Sam has to bury his face in the back of Dean's neck to cut off the next chortle long enough to supply a comeback.
"The ponies are all dead, Dean. And the horses, the chickens, most frogs, possums, armadillos, raccoons, and...domestic cats. Hell, Moby Dick is probably floating belly up in San Francisco bay."
Dean grunts as Sam's elbows dig into his ribcage. "Well," he wriggles enough to get his arms loose and returns an elbow for an elbow, "no friggin' Alpacafor your birthday, then. You can spit in your own goddamned eye, and weave your wavy locks into scarves for the kiddies to wear in the winter."
"It's always summer."
"Yeah. Mother Nature. God, what a bitch."
Sam concedes just enough to set Dean back on his feet but keeps their heads pressed together, ear to ear, Sam's chin in the groove of Dean's shoulder. He can't stop looking at their shadow, locked together over ground that hasn't raised a seed to maturity in half a decade.
Sam watches it float, long and solid against the gaunt earth, and something bubbles in his toes so he can't stand still. His belly heaves with excitement, the threadbare t-shirt rucked up between them so he can feel Dean's spine against his navel. His face is tired from squinting already. It figures that squinting and smiling use a lot of the same muscles. They'll all be sore tomorrow, but God, it hurts so good.
Still awed by the novelty of a shadow, Sam does what any self-respecting little brother would do. He makes rabbit ears over Dean's head, but Dean's too busy putting on his beat-up sunglasses to notice. Sam never understood why he kept them. There's not much left of anything they had on them when Hell spit them out. Even Dean's leather jacket is a vest, now, the zipper broken and threads dangling from the lining where the sleeves used to be. "It's the principle of the thing," Dean had said, tucking the glasses inside the hidden interior pocket. Sam's never bothered to ask what it's a principle of, exactly.
There's no religion here. No stone tablet, and no Ark, just the frayed edges of a torn veil, and principle. That and belief may be all they have, but today it's enough to make the sun rise.
Today, Deanmakes the sun rise. And not just in one spot. Today, he lights up the world. He moves his right arm, and their shadows tilt left, split at the top like a science text illustration of cell fission-identically mirrored on each side and still singular at the point where their feet brush together on the ground.
His left arm raises above his head, and ...
His left arm raises out to the side, and...
His left arm swirls around like a cowboy shaking loose his coils, and...
Dean rolls his eyes.
The doubled shadow pulses for a second, like a lazer bounced off a massive subwoofer, and Sam grabs hold of Dean's belt loops as though the ground actually shifted. Before the vertigo leeches out through the bottoms of his feet, the shadow parts converge and lengthen. Dean raises both hands, sweeps them forward over his head, controlling invisible air traffic, the servomotors on banks of mirrors turning at the hands of men, and then stumbles back into Sam as the world opens up before them.
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.
Sam's too lost in the green glow from the slime cistern to tease. Too busy thinking, "Wow, it really is green." It's been hard to tell with the world eternally wavering between grey-scale and sepia toned, devoid of true white light.
"Dean..." He knows there's too much reverence in his voice when Dean wriggles again, moves away enough for the t-shirt to slide back down. Sam compensates by sliding his hand around the front of Dean's stomach, stroking a thumb up under the hem. "Dean, it's the Sun. You made the sun shine."
"It's just smoke and mirrors, Sam. Nothing David Copperfield couldn't have rigged. You know, if he had the right weather balloons. "
"No." Maybe Sam shakes him a little. Or maybe he growls some. "You don't get to be all humble and play this down. That's the sun. You did that."
Dean relaxes into his grip. Well, he shrugs and tries to duck away, which has the same end result as sagging against Sam's chest. Sam uses the shift to rest his chin on Dean's head, closes his eyes to bask in a warmth not of steam or fire or smoldering embers.
"Reflected sunlight's not as good as direct. Not as warm. Not as much Vitamin D, only grows half as much...nnngh."
Sam squeezes tighter, digs down with his chin until Dean's jaw snaps shut. "'ts better than no sun at all. I don't know about you, but I'd rather watch a reflected sunset than another red lightning storm."
This time, Dean laughs. Sam had forgotten how good that sounded, how good it feels rumbling between them. "I know what you mean. I think I dreamt of Strawberry Shortcake the other night."
"No, the doll, but she tasted just like..."
Sam spins him around and closes their mouths over the words. When the sunglasses jab him in the forehead, he bites down on Dean's lip and holds him still while he pulls the glasses off with a thumb. He'd forgotten how green Dean's eyes are. The lip slips away in the startled gasp he makes when they lock gazes and he can't unlock them. They both inhale at the same time, and the effect is magnets spinning on a table until they align before crashing together.
Dean leans in at the same time as Sam, and Sam whimpers when all he can see is the sweep of eyelashes where Dean's eyes used to be. He arches back sharply, butts against Dean with his chest until there's enough space between them again to see between the lashes. He fans his hands over Dean's cheekbones, fingers back into the hairline, raggedly trimmed fronds tickling over his knuckles. His thumbs caress over Dean's cheekbones as Sam suspends the moment, mouths open and panting, until all the green is swallowed in black pupil. Then, turning Dean's head just so, he dives in after it.
The world could be falling down around them, and that wouldn't break the kiss. They know from experience. When they're like this, tangled, woven, and trying their damnedest be the one in body they already are in mind, there's just one thing that can stop them.
And she usually does.
Dean pulls back until he hits the taut of Sam's hands, and Sam watches as the green pools seep back in around the black before Dean's eyes uncross, one after the other. They both look down at the tiny fists tugging in the hem of Dean's shirt, and sigh before Dean stoops and sweeps the towheaded cutie up, up, up to perch on his right shoulder.
Dean looks around, apparently searching in vain for something as he turns a tight circle around his own feet. She squeals with glee, then claps her hands over her mouth, tiny cheeks puffing out with the entrapped laughter.
"Sammy, did you hear that?"
"Hear what, Dean?" Sam asks, playing along.
"Could've sworn I heard a little bird. And I'm pretty sure it said my name."
"I don't know. What kind of bird do you think it was?"
Dean pauses his circling, one arm wrapped tightly around the little girl's legs so she doesn't slip. One finger curled thoughtfully over his chin, he says, "I think it was a Whina bird."
"What makes you say that?"
"From the way it said my name." He gestures toward his mouth to suggest he's about to demonstrate. "Deeannnn," he says, exaggerating the high pitch at the beginning and the long slide down. She giggles. Dean jerks, surprised. "Oh, there it was again. Deaaaannnn," he says. "C'mon Sammy, help me call him out. No one whines better than you."
"No, not like that." Dean takes a whooping breath, and reaches up to peel her hand down away from her mouth, opens his mouth for what seems like long minutes before she pipes up and they call together, "Deeeeaaannn." They swoop together toward Sam, calling, "Deeeaaan, Deaaaannn, Deeeeeeaaaaaaannnn," until Sam reaches up and pulls her into his arms, tickling until she squeals.
"Aha! There it is, the infamous, ruby cheekedededed, flip-flop footed, curly-headed Whina bird," Dean teases once Sam stops his tickling and she pants to catch her breath.
"What's up, Schotzie?"
She huffs and puffs, always the drama queen, even at four. "The," huff, "the...light," puff, "It hurts my eyes."
"Well, then," Sam says with a knowing tilt to his head, "It's a good thing it's only reflected sunlight, and not direct."
"Huh?" Schotzie has a wolf-pig thing going on with her face as she tries to raise an eyebrow the way Dean does.
Dean reaches up on top of his head where Sam balanced his sunglasses, and pulls them down. "What Mr. Great Big Words here means is..." He carefully places the sunglasses over her eyes. "...that's a good problem to have."
The glasses slide down her nose so that she has to jut her chin out and tilt her head back to keep them on her face. It's cute, if more than a little heartbreaking.
Four years old. Schotzie's four years old, and today's her first sunset.
Sam looks across the valley, at their three shadows slanting over golden rock and under colored mist. It's nothing he ever planned. It's more.
How amazing grace can be.
A/N: And that's the end. Back when this was first posted, I had pages and pages of author notes (which can still be found on Dreamwidth) in which I talked about the inspiration for the story (the song, "The Way," by the Outfield) and how an innocent idea turned into this huge metaphor or allegory or something way more than I ever intended. These are not those author notes.
Instead, this is where I explain why I've reposted this here after all these years and why I don't update any of the countless works in progress I've already posted. The truth is, I don't really watch the show anymore. Swan Song contained all my deal breakers, and I've mostly been following via recaps and spoilers since then. So, if you're waiting for updates on those works in progress, I can say with fair certainty, they're not ever going to happen, and I'm sorry. I just don't feel those characters anymore. Why post this one, then? Because it's my favorite thing I've ever written, and because I made the mistake of sending it to a zine publisher who now refuses to answer any of my emails. I have asked repeatedly that she stop selling the zines and take them off her site, but she doesn't reply. So, here. Have it for free. Don't pay money for it anywhere. I have a deleted scene that I'll post for you that's not even in the zine. The fact is, fanfiction authors have almost zero rights, and it breaks my heart that my favorite story is never going to really belong to me. Someone else thought of Sam and Dean first, and we can't all be Rob Thurman.
I was out running in the rain this afternoon, ten miles in the rain, wondering why I haven't been inspired to write anything new in such a long time, and realized that feeling like my best is already finished and is completely worthless is playing a large part in keeping me from writing anything new. I decided it's time to let this story go. Let it find (or regain) it's worth as a piece of fan fiction and give it to the fans for posterity.
This is me letting it go. I hope you enjoy it and treasure it as much as I have.
There is a deleted scene which most definitely would not fit in the "Teen" section of this site. If I get enough requests, I may put a link in my profile, otherwise it will remain deleted. I can also be persuaded to link the original author notes, but you'll probably be happier taking the story as you find it and not knowing what I was thinking when I wrote it. There is no wrong answer.