Dean's arm beat with its own pulse; the other guy had braced it fairly well, but pain from broken bones and shredded muscles wasn't going to go away without some pretty strong pain killers. All he wanted was to sleep. Just close his eyes and pretend he wasn't trapped beneath the earth with a crazy man who claimed to be his brother in the middle of what was apparently a monster's lair.
"This is the last night of the full moon," Sam was saying, continuing the litany of information he'd started the moment that…that thing had flown out through the top of the cavern. "It'll feed tonight and then go back into its nest until next month."
Dean pulled himself slowly to his feet, using the roughened cave wall as a support. He found himself puffing out quick huffs of breath once upright to combat the surge of pain that threatened to light his nerve endings on fire, but pushed through it and as he moved forward, heading toward where the flames had caught the dried leaves ablaze.
"We don't get it tomorrow, we have to come back here in a month," Sam declared.
"You're assuming," Dean grunted, "that we'll actually make it out of this cave."
Sam was blessedly quiet for a long moment. "We'll get out."
Dean kicked out the scattered flames that found the cave debris, herding a few rebellious, burning sticks back to their big fire with the thick soles of his boots. "Sure about this, huh?"
"We didn't survive the Apocalypse, Hell, Lucifer's Cage, Purgatory, and the Mark of Cain just to die trapped in a cave," Sam declared.
"Uh-huh," Dean eased down next to the pack again, wrapping his good arm around his aching torso. His ribs were on fire and he was pretty sure something was stabbing him inside. "And I'm guessing these… hunting shenanigans are how we survived the freaking Apocalypse?"
"Something like that."
Dean heard the smile in the other guy's voice. "What's so funny?"
"Just…I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've heard 'shenanigans' and 'apocalypse' in the same sentence."
Dean couldn't help but allow a small grin to slip past his reserves. "Well, we're not getting out tonight. And as much as I hate being in here, with that thing out there, it's pretty much the safest place right now."
"Why do you hate being here?"
Dean shifted, trying in vain to find a comfortable position against the rock wall. The only thing that offered him any kind of solace was the warmth of the fire; outside of that, he was basically miserable. The last thing he wanted to do was justify his fear to this guy.
"It's dark and cold; that's not good enough for you?"
"It just that…you were the one who wanted this hunt. You were actually pretty psyched about going spelunking."
Dean shot him a look.
"It means cave exploring," Sam elaborated.
"I know what it means," Dean grumbled, though in truth he'd come up with a completely different definition. "And I don't know what this guy you remember thought about all of this. All I know is…," he winced, frowning, and tried once more to adjust his arm, "it feels like being buried."
Sam was quiet once more and Dean sensed him tensing next to him. "Yeah, well. Makes sense that would bother you."
"Why? Was I buried or something?" Dean scoffed.
Sam looked at him and for a moment the look of anguish and regret in his eyes was so raw and familiar, Dean caught his breath.
"Yeah. You were."
Dean stared at the other man for several seconds before blinking and looking back toward the fire. "I don't want to know."
Without another word, Sam folded his now-dry shirts on top of the pack and reached over. When Dean realized that the other man was actually trying to ease him down onto the padding he resisted.
"You're exhausted," Sam argued.
"What, like you're not?"
Sam dropped his hands, staring at nothing for a moment, clearly captured by another memory. Dean simply waited him out; at least the guy wasn't trying to get him to lie down anymore.
"I remembered why we were in the cuffs," Sam finally revealed.
Dean froze, searching his memory. All he could come up with was a strange collage of steel and pain and emptiness that stretched for eternity. Cradling his wounded arm, he watched Sam.
"The cop…his name is—was—Larkin," Sam began. "He didn't want to turn his investigation into the serial killer deaths over to the Feds—to us specifically."
"Well, since we're fake Feds…."
"Yeah, well, the second night of killings convinced him that he needed help," Sam continued. "So, when we said that we thought the killer was holed up in these caves, he agreed to help. Then we got down here—"
"And let me guess, dropped some truth on him and he thought we were nut-jobs."
"More or less," Sam conceded. "He actually thought we were the killers."
"I probably would have, too."
"That's what you said…and why you let him cuff us together."
Sam winced slightly as he said the last words, scrunching his nose up slightly and for no reason whatsoever, a thought slid through Dean's mind like quicksilver: He looks like Mom when he does that.
Blinking, shaking his head roughly, Dean refocused on what the guy had last said. "Wait, I let him cuff us?"
"But then the Olitiau attacked us, killed Larkin, caught you across the face with the edge of its wing, and we were running. Getting hit by the saliva…that's what knocked you over the ledge."
"Some mighty hunter, taken out by bat spit," Dean mocked.
"We still have a job to do, Dean," Sam pressed.
"So you say," Dean groaned, giving in and lying down on the folded up shirts Sam had offered. "All I want to do is get out of this cave and back to…to whatever life I left up there."
"I told you—"
"Stop, man…just…just stop," Dean broke in. "I can't listen to this anymore."
Sam sighed heavily and something inside Dean felt weighted, as if he knew he'd disappointed the other guy and was sorry for it. But right now, he couldn't bring himself to do much about it. Exhaustion and pain were more than worthy opponents and he was losing the battle. He slid into sleep without so much as a warning to his companion, hoping for rest if not healing.
He got neither.
Stripped of the protective walls consciousness provided, the images and sensations that had been tugging at the edges of his mind since surfacing into this weird reality beneath the earth became solid, practically tangible. He was instantly saturated with what could only be memories—too full of substance to be fabricated from his subconscious. He heard screams, felt pain, but it was the darkness that was most disturbing.
In his sleep, he felt himself rush back to reality with the odd sensation of rising from beneath water. He was in a box, rough-hewn wood surrounding him, and no light seeping through the miniscule cracks he felt with his fingertips. What little air surrounded him tasted stale, as though it had been trapped too long inside the dark and was dying without benefit of light.
Panic overcame him and he instinctively fought—slamming first his fist, then when that hurt too much, the flat of his hand against the barrier above his head. He was thirsty for air, desperate for something to focus on, something to see that wasn't this endless night. The images playing on the backs of his eyelids were horrific, impossible, filled with terror and blood and pain.
Breaking through the rough wood, his fingers felt dirt, loose and malleable, falling through the cracks and covering his face. Turning to his side, using his body as leverage, he continued to fight his way upwards, the earth shifting around him, covering him, parting for him. He breathed as shallowly as possible so as not to breathe in dirt, but that combined with the effort to dig his way free had him panting with exertion, light-headed, and weak.
The urge to scream, to growl in frustration, to cry with helplessness sat balanced on the edge of his sanity, tilting its head and watching him seek the surface. It had to be there. He needed it to be there.
And then…air. At his fingertips. Wind. Grass. Light.
He pushed harder, shoving both hands up into the dirt-free space, splitting the earth apart until the light trickled in through the roots and worms and soil. His arm and shoulder and head broke through as one, the desperate panting becoming more of a gasp, a sob, a prayer to an uninterested entity saying thank you…thank you.
"…easy, Dean, take it easy."
The voice echoed through the air around him, shimmying through the light that bathed him with welcomed, amazing warmth after so much cold. So much darkness.
"Wake up, man, c'mon, you're scaring me."
That wasn't right. There wasn't anyone here. He'd been alone. Completely alone.
"Hey, I'm right here, okay? Just…dude, you need to breathe, okay? Just calm down, Dean, Jesus. Breathe with me."
A large hand grasped his and suddenly he was no longer climbing from a grave in the center of an empty clearing, but lying in a dank, dark cave, the glow of firelight turning the profile of the man hovering over him copper. The man—Sam, he remembered, Sam Banner…no…no that wasn't it—lifted Dean's hand and pressed it flat against his chest, covering it with his own hand, in a gesture that sent shivers of memory through him.
"Feel that? Me breathing? Do that." Sam pulled in a deep, slow breath and Dean found himself instinctively matching it, forcing his stuttering lungs to steady. "There you go."
"What the hell, man?" Dean rasped, his voice an ugly, raw scratch of sound against the crackle of their fire.
"You woke me up," Sam said, helping him to sit up and handing him the water bottle.
Dean drank deeply, shocked at how dry his throat was.
"You were like…not screaming, exactly, but…you scared me. Thought you were going to have a heart attack."
Dean let his head fall back against the rock wall, handing the bottle back to Sam. "Bad dream."
"Yeah, no shit."
"Was…, uh." He narrowed his eyes, lifting his head to stare at the fire. "Was climbing out of a grave."
He waited a beat, then, "Did I? Climb out of a grave?"
"Yeah," Sam replied, suddenly becoming very interested in the buttons of the jacket he wore. "You, uh…you died. To save me. My soul."
Dean frowned, not wanting to hear…but that dream had been so vivid. He needed to know more.
"On my feet," he recalled Sam saying.
"Uh, no," Sam shook his head. "That was a different time. You've…you've kinda died a lot actually."
Dean rubbed his face, wincing as his fingers hit the open wounds on his forehead and cheek. Images played with his head, teasing him with a memory and then pulling it away before he could get a firm grasp on anything tangible. The space beyond the fire was starting turn gray with the slanting moonlight, time marching forward despite their circumstances.
"I was alone," he said finally. "When I got out of the…uh, of the ground, I remember being alone."
"Yeah." Sam's reply was no more than an exhale.
Dean narrowed his eyes and glanced over at the other man. "If we're brothers…how come you weren't there?"
Sam winced. "I didn't know you were coming back."
Dean lifted his chin. "Bet that came as a surprise. Me gate-crashing your life and demanding you give me my old room back."
"Your car, actually."
Sam tipped his head, a crooked smile ghosting his lips. "You demanded I undouche your car. And you took it back."
"Why is this funny to you?"
Sam chuffed. "Because, man. We've been through all of this already. I mean…it was literally years ago."
There was something dismissive in Sam's reply. It flared a white-hot anger inside Dean that had him needing to move. He pushed away from the duffel bag.
"Yeah, well, doesn't much feel like that."
"No, hey, wait—"
But Dean wasn't interested in this guy's apologies or reasoning. He was in pain, his head was a tangle of real and not real, and he was basically buried alive with some guy claiming to be family. There wasn't one fact in this situation wasn't completely insane.
Using the rock wall behind him as leverage, Dean heaved himself upright, digging his fingertips in for a grip when the world shifted around him.
"Dean, man, c'mon."
"C'mon, nothing," Dean snapped, watching as Sam pushed effortlessly to his feet and wanting to punch the guy for his impeccable balance. "You stand there with a straight face and tell me we hunt monsters…that I've…that I've died. Multiple times. And then laugh because it happened a long time ago? Fuck you, man."
"Look, I just meant that a lot of other stuff—way worse stuff—has happened since then, that's all!" Sam yelled, then coughed roughly from the force of sound. Dean could practically hear the guy's lungs rattling in his chest. "I thought you'd gotten past it."
"I gave you that impression, did I?" Dean cradled his wounded arm against his chest, the harness a welcome weight.
"Yes!" Sam yelled, pressing a hand to his sternum. "You did, actually!"
Dean moved slightly away from the fire, the flames suddenly too close. "Just said not to worry about all that Hell stuff, I'm good."
Sam brought his head up so fast Dean could have sworn someone pulled on that long hair of his. "Wait, what was that?"
"What was what?"
"You remember Hell?"
Dean was unable to speak for a moment, breath caught at the base of his throat. You remember Hell…. The screams, the darkness, the terror…it had been Hell?
"Dean." Sam spoke his name like a bullet fired between them. "Dean!"
"You do, don't you?" Sam's voice was hushed.
"I…I don't—" He couldn't pinpoint anything beyond that dream. The dream of being buried. The dream that had become his reality.
Sam suddenly bent and started digging through their pack.
"What the hell are you doing?" Dean growled.
"Getting something to carry water in," Sam snapped.
"What for?" Dean shot back, knowing the answer and not liking it.
"Because we're washing that poison off of you!" Sam bellowed, straightening with an empty water bottle in one hand and the flask in the other.
"No." Dean replied, dully.
"Look, I'm not going to dunk you in it—"
"I said no!" Dean shot back.
"Why not?" Sam yelled with equal measure.
"Because I don't want to remember!"
The words were practically hanging suspended between them, solid enough he could reach out and grab them. They stood on either side of the dying fire, the cave around them turned to ink as night slowly released its grip. Dean could sense dawn coming; the air had started to smell different above their heads. Cleaner, somehow.
"But…why?" Sam's question broke across the silence, cutting time in half and making the taller man sound all of twelve.
"Why?" Dean repeated. "Because this life of yours—the life you said we both live—is nothing but…but darkness and misery and," he curled slightly over his wounded arm, "a helluva lot of pain."
Sam was quiet. Dean could hear him breathing. Could feel himself breathing. Could sense how the rhythms matched, as though they'd fought their whole lives just to hear that sound. Just to match that rhythm.
"You're right," Sam finally replied. "It…there has been a…a lot of pain. But…, Dean, you gotta know. There's been a lot of good, too. We've…we've done really good things for people. For the world."
For reasons he couldn't define, Dean's chest seized at that thought, the stabbing sensation spiking enough to make him gasp involuntarily. Sam noticed and instinctively reached out for him when a scream cracked open what was left of the night.
"Oh, shit," Dean breathed, taking a step back.
Sam looked up toward the opening in the cavern as another cry echoed down to them, this one weaker and much more…human.
"Get over here," Dean ordered, moving on muscle memory alone. "Get over here, get behind me."
"Are you nuts? You're barely on your feet!"
"Dammit, just do it!" Dean crouched slowly and grabbed up his weapon awkwardly in his left hand. A memory was trying to surface, pressing at the base of his skull with an ice pick, demanding to be examined, but he didn't have time.
Sam obeyed—finally—and just as he rounded the fire to stand at Dean's side, the Olitiau dove through the opening, straight down to the cave floor. The two men flinched away from the stir of debris, smoke, and ash kicked up by the beat of the creature's wings and Dean registered something falling from its talons just before it pulled its wings close and spiraled through the tunnel like a SCUD missile toward the other cavern.
"What the f—"
"There's something over there," Dean cut the other man off. "It dropped something."
Sam released the water bottle and grabbed up the small flashlight. Dean moved stiffly around the fire and they followed the beam of light to where the Olitiau had dropped its burden. Dean heard it before he saw it and his stomach clenched.
"It's a man," Sam breathed. He brought the back of his wrist up to his mouth. "Oh, hell…we know him."
Dean couldn't believe the man was still alive. Both of his legs had been ripped off at the knee, blood even now pooling beneath him. His torso and arms were slashed from the creature's talons, and a hole had been ripped through one cheek. His blue eyes were opened wide and terrified, unblinking against Sam's flashlight beam.
"Hey," Dean tried, crouching down and pressing his fingers against the man's cold, clammy neck. "Hey, man, look at me. Easy…easy, there."
The man's eyes tracked to Dean then and he saw them fill with tears. The man tried to speak, a garble of sound gurgling up through his throat and spilling blood from his white lips.
"Don't try to talk." Dean shook his head, rage burning the backs of his eyes. "It's okay. You can let go now."
The man's lips moved without sound and tears spilled from the corners of his eyes. Dean nodded and pressed his hand harder against the man's neck.
"You can let go."
The man's chest seized once and then Dean watched as the fear drained away and he grew still. For several seconds nothing moved, then Dean felt the weight of Sam's hand on his shoulder. It was both comfort and camaraderie, two men standing on the same side of chaos.
"We knew him?" Dean asked, sliding the dead man's eyes closed with the flat of his left hand, blood smearing like war paint on the man's cheeks.
"He was…I can't remember his name, but we questioned him. About the deaths in town. Before we narrowed it down to the Olitiau."
Dean swallowed, thinking of the fear in the dead man's eyes. The tears. "You know how to kill this thing?"
"Yeah," Sam replied. Then, "You told me."
"Maybe you should remind me, then," Dean reached up and grabbed the other man's strong right arm, pulling himself to his feet, looking Sam in the eye. "Because we are ending it. Now."
The beam of the flashlight tossed odd shadows across Sam's smile.
"What are you grinning at?" Dean pulled his brows together.
"Nothing. You…kinda sounded like my brother just then."
Dean looked down; he wasn't ready to like being favorably compared to this guy's brother yet.
"We can't leave him here," he said, nodding toward the mangled body. "Help me drag him over to where the cop is." He glanced up at Sam. "If you're right, and we do get out of here…someone's going to be missing this guy."
Sam nodded wordlessly and took one of the dead man's arms. Dean bent to do the same, but a knife of pain from his ribs pulled him up short, vision whiting out and a deafening hum echoing in his ears. He tried to take a breath but knew immediately if he so much as gasped his chest would erupt into flames.
He didn't register sitting, but the next thing he knew he was on his rear and Sam was crouched in front of him, resting a heavy hand at the back of his neck. The grip was grounding, strangely comforting, familiar. After a moment he was able to draw a thin breath, then another, enough to bring the world around him back into a hazy focus.
"'m okay, man," Dean muttered, rolling his neck to dislodge Sam's hand. "Leggo."
"You just sit here," Sam ordered. "Sit here and do not move."
Dean wanted to protest, but the marrow of his ribs had turned to magma and the noise of his own pulse was blocking out every other sound. He nodded numbly, focusing on finding the balance between breathing shallow and getting enough air he didn't pass out. He watched the bob of the flashlight as Sam dragged the body of the Olitiau's victim to the far edge of the cavern near where they'd left the cop, a trail of blood following in his wake.
As the beam of light left him behind, Dean raised his eyes to the wide crack in the ceiling of the cavern, far above him, waiting for the stillness of dawn noticed only by those who stood in the night and felt the world change around them with the coming of day. He didn't have the memories that Sam spoke of with complete conviction; he didn't know the people Sam brought up with such casualness or the mission that seemed to rule the lives of these two brothers.
It was like listening to someone tell him the plot of a movie he'd starred in but hadn't seen.
Watching that man die sparked a slew of visceral emotions—retribution, resistance, a need for validation, a need to protect—within him until he wanted to reach in and rip them from his chest. There was something right in what Sam was saying. Something that fit him, whoever he was. Even if he couldn't remember being a brother, he somehow knew he was a warrior.
"Hey," Sam greeted him, as he returned short of breath from the cave wall. "You okay?"
"Fine," Dean snapped. He shrugged off the other man's helping hand then pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.
"Before you say another word," he cautioned, damning his voice for wavering as his body betrayed him, "whatever we plan we come up with to get this Oil thing—"
"Olitiau," Sam corrected helpfully.
"—will not involve me sitting by the fire waiting for you to come back after you kill it. Get me?"
Sam crossed his arms over his chest, a look of defiance sitting at home in his hazel eyes and the gray light of early morning turning his face pale.
"So, instead, you'd rather get yourself killed, that it?"
"Yes," Dean replied without hesitation.
Sam shook his head. "Damn if you're not the stubbornist son of a bitch, memories or no memories."
Dean wasn't sure what the other man meant by that, but he knew that he had to be part of the fight that took the creature down. He simply could not be left behind—and he couldn't say why. It was a feeling so wrapped in edges it cut him with its very existence.
When Sam said nothing beyond shaking his head as though disappointed, Dean turned and made his way back toward where their fire had burned down.
He kicked some of the leafy debris toward the coals, catching a bright flame, and watched as Sam dropped more kindling and then some larger branches until the flame grew once more, heating the small space around them. The harness holding Dean's wounded arm close to his chest rubbed at his neck and he tugged at the strap, thinking.
"Those weird bullets kill it, right?" he asked, glancing askance.
Sam nodded, crouching down at their duffel and unbuttoning the jacket he still wore, exposing his bare chest to the chilly cave air.
"Lore says they can be killed by copper, but it's almost impossible to get close enough." He pulled his T-shirt over his head, wincing slightly with the movement, then tossed his hair out of his eyes as he looked back at Dean. "You gotta hit the heart."
Dean watched the other man add the rest of his layers, frowning when Sam paused to cough roughly into the crook of his elbow. It sounded wet, rattling. As though his lungs had been loosened somehow.
He didn't want to care about that. But there was something buried deep within him that bubbled up concern at the sound, at the hunched shoulders, at the way the other man had to pause to catch his breath.
"And we're assuming the heart is in the typical place?" Dean continued.
Sam nodded again, dropping to a seated position. "'Cept now…I mean, last night was the last night of the lunar cycle, so."
"So…it's daylight. Thing's in its…lair or whatever." Sam flopped a hand toward the dark tunnel shadowed by the curve of the cavern opening.
"So, we call it out." Dean lifted his good shoulder, his mind turning, slipping, grabbing, grinding. He felt like a motor with a gear missing.
"Call it out." Sam dropped his chin, his eyebrows disappearing beneath his hair. "Y'know, this isn't some western, Dean. It's not pistols at dawn or whatever."
"Funny," Dean replied, rifling through the contents of the pack they'd dumped into a pile on the floor until he found what he was looking for. "Maybe it's time to make the monster play by our rules." He held up the whistle.
Sam's eyes flashed in the firelight. He leaned forward and slowly took the thin, silver tube from Dean's fingers.
"Dean, you are a goddamned genius."
Dean let the corner of his mouth bounce up at the compliment. "Bats use sonar, right? Even King Kong bats."
Sam nodded, picking up the line of thinking. "We set a trap, call it out, and bam. No more Olitiau."
"Kinda what I'm thinking."
Sam's grin was bright, lighting his face and loosening his shoulders until he looked almost boyish. Dean smiled back and looked away. He didn't want to like this kid. He certainly didn't want to care what happened to him.
But there was something….
"What kind of good things?" He asked suddenly.
"What?" Sam blinked at him, confused.
"You said there were good things in our life. What kind?"
"Oh, uh…well, we've saved the world. A lot." Sam lifted a shoulder in almost forced casualness, curling his fingers around the whistle.
"Right." Dean scoffed, easing himself down to lean wearily against the rock wall.
He started to carefully unhook the harness that was holding his broken arm in place, thinking through their plan. He didn't have to know about demons and ghosts and all that craziness to know that sheer physics were working against them. No way were two men going to take down that giant bat with a lucky shot without some serious strategy behind their approach. This was a modern-day David and Goliath. They were going to have to trap the beast first.
Without really being aware of it, he started to link the harness he'd removed from his arm with the second set of rigging lying on top of the pile of rope next to their pack. Sam watched him and quickly picked up on the net he was weaving. Grabbing the rest of the rope and the carabiners, Sam added them to the pile next to Dean.
"I'm serious," Sam continued, standing up and heading over to where they'd left the body of the cop. His voice echoed back through the cavern, ricocheting off the rock walls and pinging Dean with tiny pinpricks of truth. "I mean, first it was Hell's Gate in Wyoming. We stopped that from opening, but, uh…."
Dean looked over and saw by the dim light that Sam was wrestling the third harness off of the dead cop.
"That didn't end so well because you sold your soul to a crossroads demon to save my life and ended up going to Hell a year later."
"Didn't think that one through, huh?" Dean had to make light of the words Sam was tossing his way or he was afraid they'd shake him apart.
Sam returned, dropping the harness onto the pile. Dean tried not to grimace at the blood on the straps and on Sam's hands. Still deep in thought, Sam used the Holy Water from the flask to wash off the blood.
"We beat two Archangels and stopped them from bringing on the Apocalypse…only that ended up with me going to Hell, so…." Sam glanced toward Dean and his expression flattened. Clearly some of the horror Dean was feeling at Sam's words was echoed in his expression. "Too much?"
"Maybe you and I have a different definition of good."
Sam sat down, drawing up his knees and resting his arms across them. "I guess maybe…the good things we did for the world always came at a price for us. Maybe that's why…."
When Sam didn't continue, Dean frowned, tilting his head to grab the other man's attention. "What?"
"We haven't exactly made the smartest decisions sometimes."
"Well, that's a relief." Dean dropped his head back until it was resting against the rock wall. "At least we're human."
"What I mean is…we kinda made life harder for us…for everyone because we couldn't—" Sam stopped again, glancing at Dean almost shyly, as though afraid to confess a sin. "We couldn't live with each other dead."
Dean pulled his bottom in, catching it between his teeth, processing that bit of information. "So I have you to thank for all these times you say I died, that it?"
Sam shot a surprised look at him.
"I mean, I clearly keep coming back, so…."
"You're mocking me," Sam realized.
Dean instantly felt contrite, but couldn't find his way out.
"It's okay, I get it," Sam said, letting him off the hook. "I can't say I'd believe me either. But just so you know…I died a couple of times, too."
A hard knot pressed against Dean's wounded ribs at those words.
"And you found a way to bring me back. Or keep me from the edge. No matter what, you kept me alive, even if it meant…," Sam shook his head, a muscle jumping along his jawline. "It's like we started out this ginormous piece of granite…but our life just keeps chipping away at it, turning us into a shape we never thought we'd be, never saw comin'. And we get smaller with each hit…but," he shrugged, looking at Dean with his cat-like eyes, "we're still granite."
"And this is the life you want to go back to," Dean asked, picking up a packet of beef jerky from their bag and taking several strips out before handing the packet to Sam. "This is the life you want me to remember. Where every good thing we do for the world takes away a piece of us."
Sam was quiet for a long moment. Long enough that Dean began to regret the harshness of his tone. Then the other man chuffed slightly and Dean looked over, surprised to see a lazy smile digging dimples into Sam's cheeks.
"The good stuff?" Sam started, then dipped his head forward so that his hair fell across his forehead and he had to toss it out of his eyes. "The really good stuff? Has nothing to do with our jobs. It's just…it's us."
Dean frowned, confused. "Thought you said we were brothers."
"We are, that's my point."
Dean bit off a piece of jerky, waiting.
"It's like…listening to Zeppelin in the Impala—same damn song for the hundredth time and suddenly we're both signing along to it. Or…," Sam chuckled, eyes distant with memory, "camping out in a clearing because we can't find a motel and seeing the whole universe on display in the night sky above us. Or fast food on the road or pie in the motel room or beer on the trunk of the car or…hell, randomly catching a Jayhawks game because we're close enough to Lawrence."
"Jayhawks?" Dean tilted his head.
"It's a—" Sam waved his hand. "Forget it. All I'm saying is…our lives, man. Us. Being your brother. Growing up with you and fighting with you and for you and because of you. That's the good stuff."
Something had begun to stir in Dean's chest, tight and hot like the remembered burn of tears.
"You should write for Hallmark," Dean returned, reaching for the water. But Sam was caught in the past and seemed intent on sharing, spiraling that burn to the base of Dean's throat then up behind his eyes.
"This one time…I think we were in Philly? We found this vacant lot. It was summer…I was like twelve, so you were just about sixteen."
Dean felt his brows meet over the bridge of his nose. He hadn't thought about their age difference. Who was older, who was younger. Their childhood together.
"Dad got this job at a garage for a while and we had this little studio apartment, only you were like…stir crazy. You convinced me to go on patrol with you. Keep the neighborhood safe."
"Geeze, sounds like I was a douche."
"Naw," Sam shook his head, closing his eyes and pressing a hand to his sternum as he cleared his throat. "You were just trying to keep us entertained. It's hard to go from hunting werewolves to sitting in a studio apartment watching a TV that only gets two channels," Sam opened one eye and looked at Dean, "and only one of them's in English."
Dean tilted his head at that, conceding the point.
"I remember we were out walking and we came across this empty lot with a basketball hoop—no net, just a hoop. We didn't have a ball, of course, but you said we could fake it." Sam opened his eyes, his gaze trained on the wide break in the ceiling high above them. "We used a rock. It clanged so loud against the backboard it echoed off the apartment buildings around us. We played until sunset. It was one of those perfect ones, you know?"
He rolled his head against the wall to catch Dean in his gaze and Dean found himself nodding in spite of himself. "The whole lot and all of the buildings turned this…this surreal red-gold and it was just the right temperature…just the right amount of wind…and you…Dean, you were laughing, man. I think I knew then it was something special, being able to see you laugh like that."
Dean looked down, the burn spearing the backs of his eyes. He suddenly wanted to remember this. Wanted to remember Sam.
"Dad found us," Sam continued. "I remember he said he followed the swearing and clanging. He just leaned against the chain link fence, watching us. You remember how he was—" Sam started, then caught himself, glancing quickly at Dean. "Er, well. He had this way of just…studying us. Like he was looking for a weak point, some place we would need to guard later. But this time, man, he just…he just grinned, watching us until it was time to walk back."
Sam tossed a stick in the fire and Dean watched sparks from the coals fly upwards and die as the air overpowered them.
"That's the good stuff, Dean."
They were quiet, listening as the wind slip across the crack in the cave ceiling above, listening to the silence around them, listening to their own breathing.
"Tell you what," Dean said finally, looking over at the other man. "We kill this thing? I'll jump in that water myself."
Sam grinned, but didn't look back at him. "Deal."
a/n: If some of you are thinking Sam's memory sounds familiar, but not "show" familiar, I pulled it from my story Ramble On, which was posted back in 2006. I always liked that story.
Continued in Chapter 4: Over the Hills and Far Away