Summary: Dean and Sam have been hunting a chubacapra, but things go wrong and the beast takes a slice out of Dean. Sam's on first aid duty and the long vigil gives him far too much time to think about Dean's deal and the Grand Canyon and the moon and bee mead. This is a sequel to Fairy Lights.
Bobby's feedback over the phone had been that the chubacapra thing was a myth dreamed up by some idiots in the desert with too much time on their hands and not enough shade or water. People, he'd said, had all gone crazy in the heat and began to believe that a wild herding dog was an evil creature set to destroy them. Bobby's suggestion was that it was not real and not worth their trouble. Dean's leg attested to contrary.
As Sam carted his brother inside the motel room and laid him on the bed, the blood soaking through the torn denim was further proof of just how wrong Bobby had been. But the blood didn't freak Sam out as much as the fact that Dean had his eyes screwed tightly shut, and never made a peep, never made a sound, not for the whole drive back to the motel.
When Dean's head touched the pillow, his mouth moved and a second later Sam hear his name. "Sam--"
"I'm here," Sam said, looking at the torn jeans, at the sweat on Dean's face, feeling more sweat trickle down past his collarbone. The motel was hot, and outside was even hotter. The air conditioner, up at full, made a noise like a wheezing ghost, and didn't help at all. But to open the windows would only let more hot air in. Cold water would help cool Dean down.
Sam ran the water in the sink, but the faucet ran tepid, like blood cooled to room temperature. The waistband of his boxers itched with sand that had somehow, somehow, gotten in there when they'd rolled down that hill. He might even have prickly pear thorns stabbing his calves, but they were tiny, and might have pulled themselves out. Or gotten laced in the hem of his jeans.
Soaking the washcloth seemed almost of no use, but he went to Dean and laid it across his brother's forehead anyway.
"Nightingale," said Dean, barely moving his mouth.
"What?" asked Sam, thinking that Dean knew something he didn't.
"Fucking Florence Nightingale," said Dean.
"Fucking shut up."
Sam felt the side of his brother's face. The heat in it was rising.
"Somethin' Sammy," said Dean. His voice was clotted, his teeth grit together over the words as if he could chew his way through them. "Need somethin'."
"Hang on," said Sam, remembering something about chubacapra bites, but not exactly what. "I'm looking."
With one hand, he pulled the journal to him again and sat on the bed beside Dean. He flipped through it was fast as he could, looking for the page he needed. His fingers were slick on the pages, leaving marks.
There. Chubacapra bites. Oh, man. Shit. Fuck. Damn. Washing the bite with water would only be good if aloe vera gel was put on it after. And layered on again every few hours. The wounds should have no bandage while they were healing.
He was lucky he'd not rinsed the wounds with water, but more importantly, they didn't have any aloe vera gel. Sam had just been in the first aid kit, the day before for something else, and they were fresh out. Antibacterial lotion and alcohol they had plenty of, but no aloe vera.
Sam stood up, letting the journal fall on the other bed, the pages flipping open. The nearest store, some mom and pop place up the road, was only a mile away, but the Impala had almost blown a seal or something getting them back over the hills from Bisbee.
With Sam driving, and Dean crumpled on the seat beside him, there had been no one to tell Sam to pull over, or slow down, or where to pour water in the engine or even if he should pour water. By the time they'd reached the Shady Rest Motel, which was neither shaded nor restful, there'd been a green cloud coming up from the hood. Sam didn't dare drive it till Dean had had a look at it. He'd frankly rather put his head on a plate and serve it up to Dean than drive an inch further with Dean's best girl choking green smoke. He would have to walk it.
He looked at Dean, who was pale, his face streaked with sweat and grit. If he started cleaning Dean up now, he'd just have to jostle him all over again when he came back with the gel.
"Dean," he said. "I'll be back."
His response was a cough and a sigh, and Sam opened the air to let the heat blast in.
Heat was heat, and he'd been in Arizona before, when the temperatures were high, but it'd been a dry heat. One hundred degrees was almost nothing that way. But now, with the humidity up to seventy percent during the monsoon, it was like being on a high boil for twenty four hours of the day. It should be cooler at night, especially in the desert. That it was not, was a cruel and unusual joke. Arizona in high summer, in the monsoon season, was a punishment he'd not sure what he'd done to deserve.
He closed the door behind him, checked for money in his wallet, and began to walk.
Walking in the daylight, with no hat, but only a mile to go, he figured he could make it. And make it back, even though the first three steps down the road were murder. The bright sun clamped a vise around his head and squeezed. The reflection from the bright sand alongside the road bounced up at him in a sear, and pops of sweat beaded up along his hairline.
"Shit," he said. He should have brought water. But he was five minutes out and to waste ten more to go back and fill up a plastic jug with tepid water didn't feel like a good use of his time. Ten minutes might make the difference between Dean loosing the leg and keeping it. If the journal said aloe vera was the only cure, then aloe vera it would be.
Seeing the building where the store was way off in the distance, dancing on the top of a heat cloud, he began to trot.
That lasted only five minutes, because the faster he moved, the more his whole skin felt like it was being shucked off by invisible hands. The core of him was boiling and he felt something soaking into his socks. He stopped to reach down and realized that yeah, he had prickly pear thorns in his calves. Three long ones. They were bleeding. Well, there was nothing for it. Dean could pull them out later. They had tweezers. They had rubbing alcohol. Sam would be fine.
By the time he reached the little store, he was covered in sweat. When he opened the door, his heart, jumped uncomfortably in his chest as he realized the store was small, and was just a faux trading post that the locals liked to pretend was real, and mostly filled with junk from china decked out to look like local Indians had produced the wares. Sam had seen enough real Indian artistry to know the fake stuff when he saw it. But he also saw an aisle filled with the other sorts of things that tourists on the road needed, and among them was a little box filled with six tubes of aloe vera. They were ninety-nine cents each. He grabbed five, which left the one, and then grabbed that one too.
"So many," said the man behind the counter when Sam placed them down on the glass next to the register.
"Yeah," said Sam, shaking his head. "My brother and my sister and my dad, all got a real bad sunburn today." He tried to look concerned over the imagined scorched brood waiting for him. "I had sunscreen, you know. They'll never learn."
The man shook his head too and rang Sam up. "Wanna bag?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Sam, knowing it would be easier to run with just one thing to carry. Then man put the tubes in a bag, twirled it, and then handed Sam the bag and his change. Before he could say goodbye and thanks, Sam was out the door and gone.
He tried a slower trot on the way back, but his chest was tight after two minutes and he realized, also, perhaps too late, that they were still at six thousand feet, so it wasn't exactly sea level. At the same time, he'd hate for Dean to find out he couldn't run even a mile, regardless of the fact that it was one hundred and fourteen degrees. The store had had an outdoor thermometer. He'd tried not to look at it and failed. Now his brain felt seared, but he made himself walk as fast as he could anyway, his shirt sticking to him everywhere, his hair flat on his head, soaked through. Perspiration was supposed to help cool the body, but it was only making him feel like he was on parboil.
By the time he opened the door to their room, he was as hot as a fireball, inside and out. Sweat dripped into his eyes as he closed the door behind him, thinking that the room should be cooler, much cooler. But it wasn't. It was darker, at least, so he didn't have the glare in his eyes.
Dean was only a shape on the mattress as Sam walked over to him and dumped all of the tubes on the table next to the bed and switched on the lamp. He stripped Dean of his boots and socks, shaking sand on the floor, tossing the articles aside. Anyoldhow, though Dean might be shocked at that, it wasn't a good use of his time. He was thirsty, so thirsty, his throat felt like raw iron, but he couldn't stop what he was doing. There was a time frame, he was sure, during which he could do something about the wound, though it wasn't in the journal he'd read that. Maybe it had been online.
"Help me out, Dean," he said, working as fast as he could to divest Dean of his jeans. Dean was inert, not quite limp with sleep or unconsciousness, but, instead, fighting the pain. And not helpful. The blood was messy on Sam's hands as he peeled the jeans down Dean's legs. Then he took Dean's shirts off, all two of them, knowing how much sense they made in protecting bare skin against the desert's roughness, but also knowing how hot they felt.
With Dean mostly bare on the bed, surely he was much cooler, and perhaps Sam was soaking up all the heat in the room because now he felt like he was on fire from the inside out. He couldn't stop to hop in the shower, he would save that till after he'd gotten Dean cooled down and fixed up. The slices on his leg were open and dark, oozing across the pale expanse of Dean's right thigh, and Sam wondered how deep they went. Maybe he didn't want to know.
He rinsed out the washcloth and wiped at the wound, long, slow swipes of the cloth, checking to make sure there wasn't any sand or bits of grass in there. Dean's leg shivered beneath his hands, but didn't wake up. Sam grabbed a tube of aloe vera and opened it and without much ceremony, emptied the entire tube into the wound. Right away, the leg stopped bleeding. Right away. It was almost weird. Dean sighed.
Sam opened the second tube and emptied it to the halfway mark. You had to put the stuff on every few hours, the journal had said. But if one tube was so effective, Dean would be alright by morning. All Sam had to do was stand by and rub the aloe vera in. Well, he could do that. And it stood to reason that the antidote against a desert creature would be a plant of the desert itself. Perhaps Dean would be impressed with him, perhaps not.
Sam reached out and stroked Dean's forehead with the backs of his fingers, leaving a slight streak of aloe vera that shimmered in the light. Dean seemed to be getting cooler already, but Sam didn't want to get his hopes up; he had to be attentive in case this called for him to fill the tub with ice (from somewhere, though the ice machine seemed to be on the fritz) and dunk Dean in it.
But then, as Sam's hand paused, Dean sighed again, deeper this time. The angle of his neck eased, and his jaw stopped looking like he was chewing through leather straps. There was sweat on his forehead, but it was light, almost normal, as was the sweat on his arms and stomach. Sam let himself sigh now, let himself walk into the bathroom and take off his shoes and socks. He and turn the water on as cold as it would go. He stripped and got in, and turned his face up into the spray as if he were standing face up in the rain. He drank it as it came down, almost warm and not refreshing, but it was water.
He turned the shower off, and then stepped out of the shower, dripping water everywhere. But then, maybe that wasn't a bad thing? He stepped out of the bathroom experimentally. His bare feet felt the grease in the carpet, and he himself smelled like wet dog. His calf was stinging as he put on dry boxers and a t-shirt, but he ignored that as he filled a plastic bottle with water from the tub (the sink wasn't deep enough to allow a bottle), and sat it on the nightstand, next to the clock. Then he pulled up a chair, and sat in that. And watched Dean sleep, checking the clock every so often.
When he was thirsty, he drank from the bottle. When he was hot, he got up and turned on the shower and stuck his head in. Just his head. This allowed water to drip on him for about half an hour, till the heat dried him. He'd be a hell of a lot more worried, he knew, if the wound wasn't closing like it was, slowly and steadily, and still Dean slept on.
At the four hour mark, Sam emptied an entire new tube of the gel on Dean's leg. With damp fingers, he eased the gel into the wound, which looked good, like it had been healing for weeks. That was good, he let himself take a deep breath. Wetting a washcloth and wiping Dean's legs and arms and face was a secondary thought, but a good one. And, from time to time, Sam allowed himself to stroke Dean's neck, the underside of his jaw, wanting to ease the tightness there, knowing it was not only that. He liked his hands on Dean's skin, but it wasn't fair to Dean, if he was doing this while Dean was unconscious.
When he sat down, Dean was looking more comfortable, and as the sun went down and the heat eased by a mere fraction, Sam saw his brother's eyes flicker open.
"What?" Dean asked, his voice blunt, as if Sam had told him something foolish.
"Dean," said Sam.
"It's outside," said Sam, not letting a mental eyeroll in his voice affect his tone. Dean would worry about that car more than his own self, and if he knew about the smoke that had come out, well, Sam would rather he waited till morning. When the wound had closed.
But Dean was moving, trying to sit up. Sam sat up in the chair and pushed him back with both hands.
"Clothes?" asked Dean, his voice rising. "Clothes." His voice went down, demanding now.
"Yeah, I took 'em off. To help you cool down, and so I could--"
Dean's hand had found the wound, and he lifted his hand and tried to look at it, his eyes going slightly cross, almost as if he couldn't focus. Sam leaned in close, his chin almost on Dean's shoulder, cutting off the light from the lamp, his breath warming the air even further.
"Dean. You're okay, the car's okay. You got a scratch, an' I put aloe vera gel on it. That's why it's sticky. That's not blood, it's gel, okay?"
"No, it was just a scratch, but it was the chubacapra, remember that? We fought it and won, but it got you just as you got it."
The killing blow had been Dean's, but that was not so unusual. In his mind's eye, Sam could see the curve of Dean's body, silhouetted against the brightening dawn, the knife in one hand, the shine of his eye as he brought the knife down. Right through the critter's spine, taking its head from its scorched body. The growl had sounded almost human and its last act was to slash Dean's leg open, leaving behind a trail of poison from its claws. He remembered watching Dean fall, remembered lunging forward to try and catch him, scrambling up the hillside just as Dean tumbled down it, the prickly pear plant raking his leg, and Dean in his arms.
Dean's eyes, still unfocused, opened to look at him. Wide, hot eyes, the fringe of lashes flaring against his browbone. There was a runnel of sweat down the side of his face. His lips seemed dry and Sam lifted the bottle of water to him.
"I know it's warm as piss, but do you want some water?"
In silence, Dean closed his eyes and nodded, and Sam unscrewed the cap and tilted the bottle up. He put his hand on the back of Dean's damp neck and lifted the bottle to Dean's lips, and watched to make sure he drank some. He only wanted Dean to drink, to rest, to get well. It was hard to let go of touching Dean, but he lowered Dean's head to rest on the pillow.
When Dean tried to open his eyes to say thanks, even though thanks were not needed nor expected, Sam's own thirst exploded. It wasn't a physical thirst, but he lifted the bottle to his own mouth and tried to slake it with water. His heart remembered the blanket made of stone spread amongst the pine trees only yards from the Grand Canyon. The night under the partial moon, and the promise they had made.
Something like this, though, a mere fleshwound, was not enough to ask to be inside of Dean's lights. There was no ceremony needed. Not this time.
Sam took the washcloth now from beside Dean's head, and it was bone dry. He went to the bathroom and ran yet more tepid water, and went back to Dean and wiped him down, starting with his neck, and then his chest, taking his time, being gentle. He had to rinse the washcloth a few times, but it was worth it. When he touched the side of Dean's face, yes, cooler now. And still. Not jumping around as though he had bees in his skin.
Sam sighed, tipping his head back, feeling the sweat and grit slide along his neck. He stood there calculating. He had three and a half tubes left and around ten hours left till sunrise. If he used half a tube now, and a whole one, say, every three hours, it would be dawn when he ran out. If he needed more, he could, well, hike ten miles if need be, now that he had seen what the aloe vera could do.
That was his night. A cycle of sitting and watching the clock, the TV on for a time, and then off for others. Emptying tubes of aloe vera, spreading the contents with his fingers, watching the wound close and turn pink, a series of thin, pink lines. Rinsing out the washcloth and then wiping all the exposed parts of Dean. Shoving his own head into the spray of the shower, and then sitting again. Waiting for the next time.
The heat never waned, he felt it eat into every crevice of his body, sweat building up during each cycle so thick he wanted to scream. Once, in the darkest part of the night, he went to the door and opened it and felt the rush of hot air drive into the room, erasing what little good the air conditioner had been able to do. In the morning, when he'd figured out the mystery of what was wrong with the Impala, they would switch motels. He didn't care how much it cost. There had to be someplace better.
Dawn caught him sleeping in the chair, stiff from head to toe, his calf aching from where he'd tried to pick the spines out with his fingers in the half-dark, his eyes scratched with grit. But Dean was sleeping, also. Sleeping and not sweating. Turned on his side, even, the wounded leg crooked up, his knee dug into the thin mattress, sheets weaving like ribbons among his legs. Just like always. Sam let himself sigh. Made himself stand up. He had one tube of aloe vera left, but when he checked Dean's leg, he realized it wasn't needed. There were thin scars, but the wound was closed, and only some slight swelling to mark their passing.
"Touchin' me?" demanded Dean, waking up, his eyes fluttering beneath his eyelids.
"Yeah," Sam whispered. "Yeah."
"Don't," said Dean. Then he sat up, leaning on his elbow, turned back towards Sam. The sheets had pressed marks into the line of his ribs. "What're you doin'?"
"Do you remember the chubacapra?" asked Sam, keeping his voice low, trying not to stare.
"Yeah, shit." Dean reached down to his right thigh and looked at his hand, much as he had the night before. But his hand came away clean, except for the residue of the aloe vera gel and his eyes were clear as he looked at it. "It got my leg, didn't it." He looked up at Sam. "How come my leg didn't fall off?"
Sam held up the remaining tube, figuring that if aloe vera worked this well, he'd make sure the first aid kit was always stocked with it. "This," he said, putting it down on the table. "I read about it in Dad's journal. It was the only thing that was going to work."
"We don't have that," said Dean. He rolled over now, pressing against the mattress to sit up, his legs easing to the floor. "Where'dyou get it?"
"Store up the road," said Sam, not mentioning that he'd walked or why.
"Oh." Dean nodded at this, trusting Sam as he did.
"We need to move motels," said Sam.
""s wrong with this one?" Dean looked around.
"It's hot. The air conditioner doesn't work. There's no ice machine. It's hot."
"Ah." This from Dean as he stood up on shaking legs in spite of Sam's motion of protest.
"What's all over you?" Dean asked, his eyes glancing Sam's way. It was almost amazingly indecent the way he stood up and walked, almost not limping, his leg mostly able to carry his weight, to open the front door, when last night his thigh had been sliced open.
With the door open, he stood there in his boxers and looked at the day. Looking out over Dean's shoulder, Sam could see how bright it already was, feel the rush of newly baked heat come at him, and started to sweat all over again. His mouth opened to start explaining how legs were stained with the blood from the prickly pear thorns, or the blood from Dean's leg, or the aloe vera gel that had a tendency to get everywhere, when Dean cocked his head to one side.
"What's that smell?" Dean asked.
Sam sniffed the air. Then he walked closer to Dean and sniffed again. Sam could only smell heat. Barefooted, Dean stepped onto the fake plastic grass on the walkway, and as though about to go to where his car was parked, only feet away. Then he stopped, perhaps realizing how hot tar could be on bare feet.
"Does that smell like burned rubber to you?"
"Burned rubber?" asked Sam. He felt the shock in his stomach and tried to keep his face in neutral lines but Dean caught him.
"You drove us back," said Dean. It was not a question. "What happened to the Impala. Did somethin' happen to her?"
Sam wanted to shrug, but Dean pushed him aside and tried to pull on his jeans from the day before. His blood had stiffened them, so growling, he grabbed for another pair from his duffle. These were also dirty, several states dirty, but they went on easier. Then he slipped on his boots without socks and shoved past Sam to the parking lot. Sam followed, trying to stay in the shade, feeling the rocks and gravel on his bare feet.
Bending, ignoring the sun pelting down on his bare back, Dean pressed the latch and opened the hood. For a moment, he stood there, looking. Sam could see his back tightening as though he were going to launch himself at something. When he turned, Sam could see that that something was him.
"What color was the smoke?"
Dean limped back into the shade, and gave Sam a shove. "I said, what color was the smoke, you moron!" Then he turned back to the car, pulling at something, poking at something else. Sam braved the sun and the sharp gravel and came as close as he dared. The sun was beating down on his head with both hands.
"There's a slice in this radiator tube," said Dean. "I checked this fucker only last week, I checked it."
"It was green," said Sam. "Coming over the pass. Only about five miles or so."
"Five miles?" It was almost a shout, and the fact that it wasn't could only attest to how angry Dean was. "You drove that far with my baby choking on herself?"
Sam opened his mouth to answer. It wasn't going to help to explain that Dean had collapsed in his arms and had been bleeding all over his jeans. It wasn't going to help that he'd left the blood to dry on the upholstery either. All night, as a matter of fact. He might have bent a tire rim or two, as well, pulling into the bumpy, pot-hole-ridden parking lot of the Shady Rest, even though Dean had commented on it when they'd arrived and pointed it out to Sam how bad it would be to drive the Impala too fast over that kind of ground. Sam was in all kinds of trouble. He just didn't know where to begin.
And it was obvious, anyway, that he had, in fact, driven Dean's baby and boiled the engine.
With a growl, Dean shut the hood and pushed past Sam, limping, and went into the room to snag a phone book. He picked up his cell phone and opened it, holding it at the ready as he flipped through the pages.
"You wanna new motel," muttered Dean, punching the numbers in with his thumb, "well, you're just fucking shit out of luck. My baby wouldn't make it two feet. She needs a tow, an'--yeah? Yeah. I'm at the Shady Rest. Right. Yeah. Off the main highway, an' I need a tow. You know a good radiator man? Okay…okay. Good. Can you come get my car and take her there? Yeah. I got a credit card. We're good. Thanks."
He closed his phone with a click and looked at Sam.
"And tell me you didn't drive her anywhere after that."
Sam shook his head, his hair falling in his face. Dean's eyes were a curious color, green stones in a hot fire. He didn't want to get any closer, didn't want Dean coming up to shove his face in Sam's face. In Dean's mind, Sam had mortally wounded the Impala, perhaps forever, and hang what the excuse had been.
"But then--" Dean stopped. He put the cell phone down on the table next to the tube of aloe vera gel. He touched it with the tip of a finger. "How'dyou get this then, if you didn't drive?"
Sam rubbed his chin, feeling the dirt there come off in rolls. "I walked."
"You walked? Where? In the heat?"
"It was only a mile, Dean." He said this quickly, snapping his mouth shut.
Now Dean was still, his chest rising and falling once as he took in what he saw before him. Really seeing it, Sam guessed, though he wanted to squirm. And looked down at himself too. There were sweat stains under his armpits of his t-shirt, and streaks of blood on his legs. His fingers were covered with dirt and gel, and there was something dark under his fingernails. His calf was throbbing.
"You wore shoes, right?"
Sam looked up. The fire had gone from Dean's eyes, the curious green color had faded. He nodded. "It was only a mile."
Dean was looking out the still open doorway and his eyes flickered as if measuring the heat of the morning already building to uncomfortable levels.
"Christ. How long--"
"You were out since dawn yesterday. It was only twenty-four hours."
"The aloe vera did the trick, though," said Sam, covering his swallow, wanting to cover the sheen of sweat he suddenly felt along his midsection. "Never seen anything work so fast."
Dean, looking at him, saw past it all.
"Thanks," he said.
Dean used the back of his hand to wipe his forehead, and Sam saw, that in spite of the miracle of a desert plant's sap, Dean was somewhat unsteady and probably shouldn't be walking around, at least for a day or so.
"You should take it easy," Sam said, allowing himself to move forward. "The shower feels like warm spit, but it's better than nothing."
Now Dean was looking up at him, pushing air out through pursed lips, making Sam think of cool water and how thirsty he was. Sam closed his eyes and made himself think of something else. Then he heard Dean sitting on the bed.
"The tow truck might could take us someplace different," said Dean. "Go ahead, make some calls. Pick a place."
Sam opened his eyes and felt as though he'd been given the keys to the kingdom. As punishment, he had been willing to stay at the Shady Rest till the car was fixed. If it could be fixed. But instead, Dean had forgiven him. He felt at least a degree cooler already.
Dean lay back with a sigh gusting from his lungs, safe, alive, and Sam began flipping through the phone book. He found a place with a small two-line ad and a little black and white image of some kind of plant. It was called Desert Waters, and promised a cool repose for travelers. He dialed the number and got a clerk, who made them reservations for two nights. And then began giving them directions so briskly that Sam couldn't keep up.
"San where?" Sam asked.
The clerk explained. The motel was located along the main highway through the San Pedro valley. But just after you crossed the river, you had to take a sharp left and follow the river downstream for a mile. The motel was right on the edge of the park. Sam shrugged as he wrote this all down on the motel's notepad. Then he clicked the pen a few times as he listened to the clerk go through the schpeel about check in and check out times; it was pretty much the same wherever you went.
By the time he shut off his phone, Dean was half asleep on the bed. Feeling tired himself, Sam went ahead and got dressed and packed up their stuff, not wanting Dean to have a second chance at making them stay. He was done by the time the tow truck arrived, and he girded his loins and went out to ask the driver to give them a lift, or tell them how they could get a ride to the motel.
"Yup," said the driver. "You pay me, okay? After we drop off the car."
The driver, whose name patch said "Ike," was getting out of his tow truck as he said this, eyeing the Impala with admiring eyes. "Who's the idiot who blew the radiator, eh?"
"My brother," said Dean, coming through the doorway in blue jeans, pulling his t-shirt on, and rubbing his eyes. He snickered. "He couldn't smell a burning break liner at five inches, not even if you paid him."
Sam let himself be laughed at, and watched as the two men lifted the hood and looked at the engine. They poked at things and pulled at others and then Ike stuck out his chin as he lowered the hood.
"Not saying, mind you, but looks like you just had a little leak, and no real damage to the radiator. My guy'll patch the radiator, give you a new tube. You should be good to go by the end of the day. Tomorrow noon, the latest."
Sam's body released all its tension and he let out a whoosh of relief before he could stop it. Dean's response was a sideways grin; Brother Sam had been that close to paying with his whole skin and both of them knew it.
Sam got his shoes and socks on and made the circle around the room, checking the spots in the usual order, according to the ritual. Dresser top, drawers, bathroom counter, tub. Bed, table, chair, under the bed. He grabbed most of their gear in his two hands.
"All clear," he said to Dean, who was standing up, having just laced his boots.
Ike was finishing up, attaching the Impala to his rig with as much care as he might hand a baby to its mother. The Impala usually had that effect on people, car people that is, though Sam for the life of him couldn't figure out why. Though, the fact that it was Dean's baby, his best girl, and his second home all rolled into one was something Sam knew, that outsiders didn't. In the end, everyone seemed to handle the car with kid gloves, not least of which was Dean himself.
They were finally able to climb into the truck's cab, Dean in the middle so Sam could have more room for his legs. The drive was hot; there was no air conditioning. Dean and the driver talked about cars and Sam let himself stare out of the open window, letting the hot air stir his hair and trying not to think about how thirsty he was. How much he wanted to be slaked.
He almost laughed at this. Almost. It would be mighty hard to explain to Dean were they alone, and as for the driver, well, Sam might as well keep his mouth shut there. And when Dean and him were alone, well, maybe he'd be too afraid to try. And again, there was no reason. No need for being inside the lights.
They dropped the Impala gently off at a repair station in the small town of Martinez, and then the driver took them to the motel, and he didn't need directions.
"Yeah, I know that one. Couples mostly, or bird watchers."
Sam felt himself frowning, never having though of bird watching as being an Arizona pastime.
The driver looked at him, leaning forward to see past Dean. "You know, condors, hawks, that kind."
Sam made himself nod, and looked out the window to see the valley unfold before the road, with the mountains in the distance all around. It seemed a little greener here, and he supposed the river was the reason, though he'd not heard of there being any rivers in Arizona. Well, that was the benefits of travel, he supposed. Learning stuff you couldn't get on the internet. The air felt cooler too, or maybe it was just a trick his eyes were playing on him. There were even trees, cedars to be sure, but taller than the ones around Bisbee, and with darker green leaves. Not as many as in, say, Wisconsin, but more than he was used to seeing by the side of the highway in Arizona.
"Trees," said Dean.
"Yep," said the driver, making the sharp turn after the river without looking. "That's the San Pedro valley for you. A spring or something, I dunno. It runs all year."
The truck pulled into the little parking lot in front of the Desert Waters motel and came to rest in front of the lobby. The hotel itself was in the shape of a V, all the doors facing north, each door trimmed with a little roof for shade.
"Get your bags, then, or my wife'll have use for 'em," said Ike conversationally.
Sam got their bags out of the back of the truck, and Dean paid the guy with cash. Sam could understand that. Ike was driving them on the sly, and any credit card payment would not get approved, since that wasn't his regular job. Dean might stiff an established business, but there was something in his soul that wouldn't stiff a man who'd taken such good care of his best girl.
"They'll call ya," said the driver. Then he turned the wheel and went back the way he'd come.
They stood there, bags in hand, each looking at the other.
"You, I think," said Sam. Dean was the cleaner of the two and less likely to scare the clerk. Sam stepped into the shade with his bags and waited till Dean came out with the key. It seemed to take forever because even with the shade, it was baking his brain.
"Room four," Dean said, swinging the key from the red, diamond-shaped piece of plastic.
"Yep," said Sam. "They got air conditioning right?"
"Nope," said Dean. "But she said we'd be alright."
And Dean would be alight because Sam would look after him, but Sam felt his heart sink. His stomach was boiling and his head felt like it was going to be exploding quite soon. His body needed temperatures below one hundred degrees and fast.
He waited while Dean opened the door, and carried all the bags, his fingers stretching. Dean stepped into the darkness of the room, his gait a little uneven in the quiet room, and Sam followed, feeling something whoosh over his head. He ducked. Dean turned on the lights. There was a ceiling fan already in motion. The walls were soft cream colored. The floor beneath his feet was rough, red tile. There was a window at the far end, but it was closed and curtained. It felt like a cave. A dark, cool, quiet cave.
"No air conditioning," said Dean. "I guess the walls are a foot thick. Real adobe or something."
"Oh." It was the only sound Sam could make. He put the bags on the bed, the only bed, and walked to the sink and ran the cold water. It came out cold. Ice cold.
"She said the water was from a spring."
He was cooling off already. Not by mere degrees, but by galloping degrees. His head felt soothed and his skin hummed with pleasure.
"You tired?" asked Dean.
Sam barely heard him. He was pulling his sneakers off, heeling them off, not even untying the laces. He stripped off his socks, barely missing the cactus thorns. Then he ripped off his t-shirt, ripped back the counterpane and sank full bodied into the sheets. They were cool and soft. He felt like he was floating. He heard Dean snigger at him, and then, nothing.
It was only hours later when he woke up; he could feel it in his bones how long he'd slept. It would have been nice to have slept through to the dawn, but his stomach was punching the insides of him and his leg felt hard and angry.
"Dean?" he asked, trying to sit up in the darkness. His elbow smacked into something.
"I'm up now," said Dean.
Sam could feel his brother stirring. Feel the ease of Dean's body against the mattress next to his and made himself think of something else. Dean turned on the bedside lamp with a click.
"Got blood on the sheets."
Sam tuned to look and then scooted out of the way, sitting all the up, his arms behind him. Yeah, it was his leg this time, swollen with something that was making his leg hard to move. And he'd been bleeding again. There was a blob-shaped stain near the bottom of the bed.
"What'd you do?" Dean's voice rose. He reached down to tug on Sam's pants.
Sam kept his wince to himself.
"You got somethin' here--" Now Dean was sitting all the way up, using two hands to roll Sam's pantleg up. One of those hands, those kind, brotherly hands, jammed hard against his calf and Sam heard himself hissing.
"You can stop now," said Sam. He pulled his legs off the bed and stood up. "I'll take care of it myself."
Dean, stripped to his boxers and t-shirt, was staring at him. "You can't reach that."
"Watch me," he said. He was going to make a run for the bathroom, thinking at the same time how stupid it was. He needed Dean's help; he couldn't reach around his own leg to see clearly. But he didn't want--he didn't want Dean breathing on him like that. Not now. Not after the Grand Canyon.
But Dean, sharper on less sleep than Sam would ever be, was in front of him blocking the way to the bathroom, turning on the bathroom light before Sam could even move.
"What's up with you?' asked Dean. He staggered a bit on his leg, but faked it with a lean against the doorjamb. "Sit on the john, sit on the tub, I don't care. Let me look at it."
Sam hesitated, his mind doing a fantastic job of conjuring up images that simply should not be conjured up. Dean staggering through the dark forest, Dean's legs splayed across the pale rocks, thighs wide, the bottle of mead held tightly in his fist. Looking at Sam as he toasted the moon. Sam felt himself starting to sweat in spite of the good coolness of the room, in spite of the overhead blades circling around, keeping the air moving with the ease of the ocean.
"Sammy, don't fuck around. Just go and sit down. I'm too hungry for this."
Sam did as he was told. Dean was right. There was no point; to prolong it would only make it worse. He went to sit on the edge of the tub so that Dean could use the closed john as a table. As he settled himself down and gripped the edge of the tub for leverage, Dean brought over the first aid kit. It used to be the plastic box that was sold in stores. But that had gotten smashed somehow, perhaps by them throwing their gear in all the time. So now, it was in a wooden box with a lid on hinges. A bit cumbersome, but the wood tended to hold up pretty well and so there it was. Dean set it down with a clunk.
"What is it?" Dean asked, parking his backside on the floor, folding one leg towards him and stretching the other one out. That leg was stiff, Sam noticed, though, true to Dean's nature, he ignored this and reached for Sam.
"Thorns," said Sam. "Prickly pear, I think."
"Trust you," said Dean. He lifted Sam's leg and rolled the denim back. "Shit, this has got pus in it; why did you wait?" He pressed the area a little with his thumb.
Sam ducked his head. The answer to him, at least, was obvious. Dean had needed him, so his own needs came second. He looked up through his bangs, and through half-closed eyes watched Dean's nimble fingers take out the tweezers and yank out the first of the thorns.
"Quit being brave," muttered Dean, swabbing the area with rubbing alcohol, "'cause I know for a fact this hurts like a bitch."
"Yeah," said Sam, allowing that much; to do otherwise would be to draw Dean's attention to him more than it already was. "I couldn't see the angle they went in at, so--"
"That's what big brothers are for," said Dean, giving the second spine a yank. Sam felt as though someone was drawing a red hot poker out of him. "But this last one," said Dean, prodding at it with his thumb, "hey, I might have to dig, right?"
Sam gripped the edge of the tub harder, his fingers turning white against the porcelain. "Go 'head," he said, his voice low.
Dean dug. Sam didn't know whether it was the feel of the sharp first aid knife slicing in his skin, the sharp, metallic poke of the tweezers, or the fact that Dean's head was bent so close it stirred the hairs on the back of Sam's calf. As there was the sound of ripping flesh, Sam bent forward to bury his head against his knees, decided it was a tie. He whispered owowowow against the edge of his kneecaps and felt himself grow hot all over.
"You okay, Sammy?" asked Dean, his hand cupping Sam's unwounded calf. Though those hands could be so hard, kill so quickly, his fingers were soft, curving, and Sam felt the contrast. He pulled his leg away.
"Alcohol," said Dean, warning just the second before he splashed some on the holes in Sam's leg that he knew were still oozing. It felt like fire, like someone was shoving something hot into his leg, and then pulling it out again.
"Hey," said Dean, "maybe some aloe vera, huh?"
"No," said Sam lifting his head, shocked to find Dean's eyes level with his. "That's for you."
"Quit being a martyr," said Dean. He pulled out the aloe vera and slathered it on. Sam did not know if it really helped or not, he imagined that it couldn't hurt anything, but it was Dean's hands on his legs that sent him shivering.
"Alright?" asked Dean, the furrow in his brow telling Sam that soon Dean was going to realize that there was something far more amiss than the gouges left by some errant prickly pear thorns.
"Yeah," said Sam. "I don't think I need a bandage, so--"
"Sit, idiot," said Dean. He slapped on a bandage, and then gave Sam's leg a pat. "Now you can get up and we can go eat."
As Sam stood up, his knees wanted him only to sit down again, so he strode past Dean, and went to his bag for clean socks. He felt Dean following close behind, doing he same, getting a clean shirt, socks. It was like it always was, the ritual of getting ready for dinner in a public place. The changing of clothes so that no one's eyes would catch what they'd just been doing. Not that there weren't some who wouldn't like to hear about the chase, the hunt, the kill. Sam didn't want to know any of those people, nor, he suspected, did Dean.
"Think there was a diner down the road," said Dean.
Sam made himself nod, and pretended to think about this instead of--
"But how we gonna get there? It's at least five miles."
Now Sam had to think, and it was good to have a reason not to think about the thing he should not be thinking about, and the fact that Dean wasn't in shape to be walking that far. And not to think about the thing he had been thinking about. Dean's mouth and breath and touch--
"Cab?" he said.
"Out here?' Dean blew air through his lips in disbelief. Sam made himself not watch. It was going to get ridiculous quite soon if he couldn't control all these stray thoughts.
"Maybe the clerk knows," said Sam, taking the key and walking out of the room, leaving it to Dean to follow or not, and, if he followed, to make sure he had his wallet on him.
The clerk indeed did know someone who could drive them for a fee, her cousin Martin, who happily came to fetch them in his Vega station wagon and take them to Estella's Mexican Café, which was at least ten miles past the diner. He assured them both that Estella's food was not to be missed, and besides, they could catch the diner at breakfast.
Martin took ten bucks from Dean as he dropped them off and told them if when Estrella called his house and he wasn't there that his sister would come at get them, if it wasn't too late. By the time Sam had thought of an answer to this, Martin and his Vega had sped off, leaving them tasting dust in their mouths, and, a second later, in the canvas awning, the sizzling smells of refried beans, roasted corn, and garlic.
Sam wondered, as they walked in through the plywood door, at Dean's lack of comment over Martin's heap of crap car, or the fact that Dean had let himself be driven. Or even at his patience while they waited to be seated. He knew they were both starving, could almost hear Dean's stomach's growls over the screams of his own. Almost. He put a hand on his stomach to try and keep it quiet and saw Dean's eyes track the movement.
"Just don't eat my arm, okay, Sammy?"
Sam gave him an eyeroll in response and shifted his weight to his other leg. If they didn't get seated and he didn't get some of those corn tortillas and salsa in plastic bowls everyone else was digging into, he just might eat Dean's arm. Then his mind started to wander and he made himself stop.
They were seated not two minutes later, at a booth that had opened up along the windows. It was dark outside except for the single light pole in the dirt-covered parking lot. Sam thought he might be feeling some coolness come in through the windowglass and concentrated on his menu. Better that than looking at Dean and showing what was on his mind. Hadn't he already objected to Sam touching him? And why did Sam need this, this thing? The ceremony on the rocks outside of the Grand Canyon was meant to be a one time thing and he'd honestly thought only--
Dean was snapping his fingers in front of Sam's face.
"She wants to know if you want a beer," he said.
"Uh." Sam looked up into the face of the waitress, who had the most amazingly black hair, and the longest braid he'd ever seen. "I'll have…whatever." His hands reached for where the beer menu should be but Dean snorted and pointed to the chalkboard over the side of the bar.
"Two coronas, please," he said. "With lime."
The waitress nodded and went away. Dean slapped his menu closed and looked at Sam.
"You spacin' out there, buddy. You gotta watch that or I'll start to worry."
This was not a threat, or a joke. It was a promise and Dean was already looking hard at him. Brow furrowed, his eyes darkening just enough to let Sam know he was serious.
Sam put his menu down and spread his hands over its open pages. It was basically a hand printed menu heatsealed between two plastic sheets and then attached to another sheet by a ratty piece of yarn.. There were the standard items that always appeared on a Tex-Mex menu; both he and Dean knew such menus by heart. "I'm just hungry," he said. "And tired, the heat, well, you know me and heat."
"Yeah, I do," said Dean. "Look, Sammy, if you're hot we can go--"
"No," said Sam, able to laugh a little bit. "Remember the last time we went north to get out of the heat?"
"Yeah," said Dean, apparently distracted. "We almost f'd that one up, huh?"
"But the beer wasn't as good as this," said Sam as the waitress set two bottles down. Sam took his lime and squished it in and then licked his fingers, thinking about margarita salt and then caught Dean's eyes on him. Watching as if he felt like he shouldn't be. Then he turned his head away.
"I'll have the number one," Dean said to the waitress. "And with extra guac and sour cream on the side, okay?"
She wrote this down and then turned to Sam. Sam had been intending to order the same thing, but the rule was that each of them ordered something different, so the other one could have a taste. Maybe it was only a guideline, but Sam didn't want to test it.
"I'll have--I'll have the beef fajitas," he said. "And yeah, no tomatoes, or peppers, just lots and lots of onions."
She wrote this down and moved to the next table, asking if they wanted their ice teas filled. Out of the corner of his eyes, Sam saw Dean's mouth moving, and knew exactly what his brother was doing before he looked.
Dean lifted his bottle of beer to his mouth, and in a stage whisper said, hissing, "Fa-ji-tas." Only he rhymed it with an intimate part of the female anatomy, his eyes sparking with glee, knowing he'd pissed Sam off when he said it. As he did every time.
Sam kicked him under the table. "Why do you have to do that?" he asked. "It's obscene."
Dean kicked him back. "You're the one who keeps ordering it," he said. "You want me to stop, order something else."
Both of them knew fajitas were Sam's favorite and nothing would stop him from ordering them. He gave Dean another kick on his good leg and then concentrated on the bowl of chips and salsa that had just been delivered. The chips were right out of the fryer, greasy and salty and hot all at once; the salsa smoky and smooth with bites of pepper and onions. He picked around the peppers, letting Dean have those, and even left him some of the onions. The bowl of chips was gone in two minutes.
"Well," said Dean, tipping the bowl to him to get at the crumbs, "at least my arm is now safe."
"Let's get more beer," said Sam, raising his hand and concentrating on getting their waitress's attention. Rather that than the fleeting idea that if Dean's arm was safe from Sam's hunger, the rest of him was not. He wanted to kick himself for thinking even that much, and practically stood up to get noticed so that the waitress would come over and bring them something. Anything, to distract him from the rattle in his brain.
"You alright, Sam?"
Sam made himself sit down and put both hands on the table. "I'm just--I'm just starving, okay?"
"Okay." This was all Dean said, but the tone in his voice was dubious.
Sam got lucky. The waitress and a helper brought over the mounds of food they had ordered, and as soon as the plates hit the table, they both began to eat. It was quite some time before Dean even asked Sam to pass the salt. Someone brought them two more beers and more chips and salsa, and the rise in Dean's eyebrows as he chewed, cheeks bulging, told Sam that they'd be leaving an awfully big tip. They'd run out of cash before too long, but that was okay. They could always get more.
Martin's, sister, Lucilla, ended up picking them up in a red pickup truck. She was only about sixteen, and though a slip of a thing, didn't seem at all concerned about driving five miles through dark valley bottom land with two strange men in her truck. And she didn't take up with idle chatter either, just asked them how was the food and left it at that when they answered her that it had been great. Sam found the silence in the cab comfortable, and that, along with the now cool air rushing in the open windows, let him relax.
He stretched his long legs as far forward as they would go and looked up at the stars in the darkness and thought about pine tress and dirt roads wending their way through, and of deep canyons older than memory. His thigh rubbed against Dean's thigh every time the truck rumbled over a bump. That was okay. It was okay. It was easy and sleepy, and his shoulders settled back on the seat; he could feel Dean's shoulder against his. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dean tipping his head back, and allowed himself a smile at the thought of Dean being tired enough not to protest the fact that some whippersnapper girl was giving him a lift. Though, in the back of his mind, Sam suspected the girl might have hunter tendencies and knew how to take care of herself, if it came to that.
When she got to the motel, she didn't want to take the ten, but Dean made her. It was only right, after all, and in the end, seemed pleased to have helped them out. Sam gave her a small wave as she pulled out of the parking lot and then inhaled the damp and dark green air coming off the river bottom. What a difference a few miles and a little water could make.
"Need some time alone, Sammy?" asked Dean.
"What?" Sam turned to his brother, who was flipping the key around his finger.
"You and the night here," Dean replied, jerking his chin up at the stars. "You're all sappy eyed an' breathin' funny. Thought you might want to be--"
"It's just nice to be cool for once, you jerk," said Sam.
Dean laughed, the spark in his eye telling Sam that older brother was giving him the business because he knew he could. That made Sam smile in spite of himself, grateful that the stupid fucking deal with the demon hadn't changed everything.
But it had changed enough. Enough so that Sam knew that without his brother to hold him to the earth, he would float away. That's it. At the end of the year, with Dean gone because the hellhounds had taken him, he, Sammy, would wither away into ash and float away on the wind. Never to be seen again.
These disturbing thoughts were broken by the slam of Dean's hand on his shoulder.
"M'goin' in," he said, walking towards their motel room door. Then he stopped, and in the starlight and the parking lot lights, Sam could see his brother's face. Concerned, tired, distracted all at once. "It's late," Dean said. "You're tired. Sleep now."
That was Dean. It was you're tired, not I'm tired, as if nothing else mattered in the world but Sam. And if Sam told Dean what he really needed, wanted, what then?
He didn't want to float away. He really didn't.
When he got to the room, Dean had already shucked most of his clothes and was sitting on the edge of the bed in his boxers and t-shirt. And socks, oddly. He was rubbing his thigh, looking up as Sam came in and closed and locked the door.
"What's up?" asked Sam. He came closer, and saw that Dean was rubbing right over the chubacapra marks.
"Feels raw," said Dean, the layer of frustration underneath telling Sam how Dean didn't want to be drawing attention to himself. "Like I rubbed it wrong."
"Walked around too much, is more like," said Sam. "Shit. I shoulda kept you still. Made you heal."
"It is healed," said Dean with a snap, pushing away Sam's hands as they reached out. "It's fine."
The fan purred overhead as Sam straightened up. "Liar," he said. "Let me just take a look at it, okay?"
Dean glowered at him.
"Dean," he said, making himself look stern.
"Aw, jeezus, okay. Okay, okay? Just don't, don't fuss."
"Deal," said Sam, heeling off his sneakers and throwing open the first aid box. He dug around for the aloe vera and bandages and leg wraps. Dad's journal said not to cover the wound while it was healing, but hadn't said anything about after it had healed. Sam was willing to bet that Dean had moved around too much, rubbed the skin with the fabric of his blue jeans. Done too much, in typical Winchester fashion, before he was ready to.
He dumped the items next to Dean's feet, and knelt down.
"This is gonna hurt," he said, pretending to frown. Of course it wasn't.
"Jerk," said Dean.
"Bitch," Sam returned.
When his fingers touched Dean's leg over the long, white marks, it felt hot. He cupped his palms around Dean's thigh along the bottom edge of Dean's boxers to test the skin there, ignoring Dean's jump, feeling the coolness move into silky heat nearer the area of the wound.
"You're fussing," said Dean from above him. Sam didn't let himself raise his head.
"Gonna treat this and wrap it, and maybe, just maybe you could consider staying off it for one day?"
Now he had to look up because Dean wasn't saying anything. His face was still and he seemed to be looking at a spot over Sam's shoulder. Thinking. Eyes half shuttered. There was an argument on Sam's lips, ready to be delivered. Rest up, one day, what's it gonna matter? They moved around enough as it was already. And no hunt was worth pressing a wounded leg, not when you might need that leg to get you out of a tight spot. Sam opened his mouth.
"Okay," said Dean. "One day. My car will be ready tomorrow, this'll give 'em time to do whatever they need to do to fix whatever it was that you broke."
Sam wanted to make a joke out of it, but he knew better than to try. The Impala was sacred territory, so he merely dipped his head and got out the aloe vera to slather over Dean's thigh. It was cool and slippery and then it was warm and slippery, and Dean sighed as Sam did this and Sam made himself think of something else.
"Hey," he said. "Maybe the breakfast place'll have migas on the menu."
Dean swallowed as he salivated. "Migas," he said. "But they won't be as good as yours anyhow."
This made Sam smile, and he nodded. Then he placed a soft, clean square of bandage over the scars, and taped it down. Then he wound the leg bandage around and secured it with the little tabs.
"The tape on the bandage should hold, just don't scratch," said Sam.
"Just don't scratch, he says," said Dean, scooting himself back across the bed till he was resting against the headboard. "Can I have a soda?" he asked as he peeled off his socks, rolled them, and tossed them near his shoes.
Sam jingled the change in his pocket, and nodded, and went out the door to trot under the awning to where the ice and vending machines were. He walked back, a cold can of soda sweating in one hand, and one icing up his hipbone in his pocket. When he got back to the room, with a crack and a snap he opened the can, ignoring Dean rolling his eyes at the way Sam was babying him. He stood there next to the bed and handed Dean his can and stayed near to drink his own, in huge gulps, sighing as he finished it.
"This is the coolest I've been in days," he said, waiting to take Dean's empty can away. "I don't know, it's just that the heat and I are not friends."
"I'll say," said Dean. Then he looked up at Sam as he handed the can over. "You going to tell me what's going on with you?"
"What?" Sam asked. He walked away, taking the cans into the bathroom to throw them away. Then he came out. "What?"
"What's going on with you. All these sighs, and that right there." Dean pointed to Sam and then pointed to his own forehead. "All wrinkled up. This better not be about the deal, 'cause I don't want to hear it."
Sam felt his surprise before he could keep it from his face. Yes it was about the deal, but not in the way Dean thought. The deal, in and of itself was enough to make him go stark raving mad with worry, but it was the other thing, the Grand Canyon thing, the fairy lights, Dean and him in the woods under the moon
"Yeah, there's something," Dean said, watching Sam. "What is it?"
"There's nothing," said Sam. "Just--just nothing."
Dean eased himself forward to the edge of the bed, wincing a bit, taking half the counterpane with him. Sam walked past him, intending to get to his duffle and pull out a clean shirt to wear that didn't smell of grease and salsa, when Dean snaked him with his good leg, and tumbled him on the bed. It was a wrestling match from the start, and it made the blood behind Sam's eyes start to boil.
"Quit it you dumb moron, you'll fuck up your leg!"
"Then let me win," said Dean, slamming his good thigh on top of Sam's and slipping up to cover Sam's body with his own. "Just let me win and tell me what the fuck is going on and I'll let you say uncle."
There was the weight of Dean's body and the heat of it and his breath so close, lacing across Sam's face, and Sam shuddered as he put his hands against Dean's shoulders and pitched him backwards. Enough so that he could slip off the bed and move as far away as the motel room's walls would let him. Dean sat half up, supported on his arms behind him, legs tangled in the blankets. The fan whirled overhead, silent, casting a breeze that slipped against Sam's skin, making him feel cold.
"Fuck, Sam," said Dean, standing, his bandaged leg unsteady beneath him. "Something's messed you up, you going to tell me what it is, or do I have to beat it out of you?"
Dean moved fast, bad leg or no, the room wasn't very big anyway, and there he was. Inches from Sam, his eyes hard-edged and serious. No longer engaged in a friendly sparring match to tease his little brother out of a bad mood. No, he wanted to know, and he wanted to know now.
Sam shook his head.
"Sam." This came out furious.
Sam could feel his brow furrowing, and his mouth working, and knew that these were telegraphing messages to Dean that his brother would want translated. Right away, if not sooner. He swallowed, tried to look away, tried to pretend that it was something else, that the salsa was burning a whole in his stomach, or perhaps he had something in his eye.
"Sam." Now it came out gentle, softer than before, and as Sam skated a glance across his brother's face, Dean's concern hit him. He needed to make up something, and quickly. too.
"I'm really upset about--" and here he stopped. There were hundreds of things he could pick from, starting with starving and abused children, to the lack of reliable public transportation, to--shit, he had nothing.
"Sammy, you're shaking from head to toe, you going to tell me why?" Dean's voice lowered to almost a whisper, softest of all, and that look on his face, hard as Sam tried not to see it, the openness of his face, the pout of his mouth turning into a frown.
"I'm cold," said Sam, his voice coming out thick as if maybe, indeed, he was coming down with something.
"You cold?" asked Dean, moving in closer, hands coming up to rub Sam's arms as if that alone could cure him. "Maybe you caught something, maybe you--"
Dean's hands were warm on Sam's bare skin, they were warm and he was close and if he took a step closer he'd be pressing Sam into the wall. Pressing against him, hard, solid, just like he had in the woods that night, with the Grand Canyon a black chasm in one direction, and the vast, moon-drenched sky in the other. He'd never felt so safe as he had in that moment, Dean pressing him down, keeping him to earth, his brother's mouth kissing him, helping to keep him in one place. He could hardly think to himself beyond that, beyond to the blackness where Dean would be gone and the only thing keeping Sam alive would be the memory of the way Dean had stayed his fears.
"Sam?" This was drawn out in Dean's most quiet voice, each second of it humming with all the questions that could be packed into the name, the way Dean said it.
"Sam," said Dean, as he cocked his head so he could look up in to Sam's face. "Tell me."
Sam had his gaze firmly on the floor between their bare feet.
This got him, the catch in Dean's voice as he said please, and the way he said Sam's name, and the way Dean's hands encircled Sam's forearms, and gave them a little tug, as if to finish off everything else it was that Dean wasn't saying.
Sam nodded, still looking down, hair in his eyes, seeing Dean's hands on his arms, feeling the jagged hardness in his throat. He swallowed, and then swallowed again. "Oh, moon," he said, feeling it come out like a breathy and broken sigh. "Oh, moon."
There was a pause.
Sam flicked his gaze up to catch his brother's eyes. So close and dark green, like polished stones from the bottom of a river. Lashes curving up to his brow as it pulled into a frown. Sam could feel Dean's breath against his chest, the thump of his heartbeat as his fingers circled Sam's wrists. And knew that this was the most selfish of things to want, let alone ask for, that he could never ask, but that he'd painted himself into a corner, where Dean would never let him rest.
But they had less than a year now, together, so was there really the luxury of time for him not to say what he wanted to say? Not to ask for what he wanted to ask? Knowing that Dean never had and never would deny him anything?
"We were under the moon," he said, quickly so that Dean wouldn't have to ask again. "We were under the moon, and I saw your lights, and I wanted to stay--I wanted--I want--"
"You want to stay there?" asked Dean. Sam could hear the puzzled lift of the question. "You want to stay here?"
"No," Sam shook his head, feeling like he was gasping for breath. It didn't matter where they were, the moon would always follow them, and Dean's lights, though normally out of sight, hidden, would always be there. Wherever they were, as long as they were together. He lifted his hands, almost without thinking, breaking Dean's grasp on him, settling the tips of his fingers against Dean's bare chest. The skin prickled to life.
He had to say it. Or it would never be said. "I want to see your lights, Dean. I want to be inside of your lights."
It was spoken now, by a voice as flat as the desert, as dry, as lifeless. But he looked at Dean, lifted his head, not wanting to shy away, not wanting Dean to see it for anything else other than it was, a request for something that should not be wanted.
The furrow across Dean's forehead told him that the idea of it, what the lights meant, where they'd been under the moon, what they'd done there, worked its way through Dean. What Sam wanted now. He watched Dean's face smooth itself out, and then tense itself back up, as if Sam had told him something he should, by rights, already know.
"Please." Sam felt hot all over, all of a sudden, every cold part of him washed with it, as if the warmth of Dean's skin under his fingers had spread to every pore.
There was a moment there that was very still between them. Almost suspended between them as Dean looked down at Sam's hands upon his chest, at the tile floor, his gaze as it seemed to take in the bed behind them. Then he looked up at Sam, eyes wide and dark. Nodding.
"I'm gonna," said Dean, swallowing. "I'm gonna need to turn out the lights."
Then, without waiting for Sam's response, he did this, reaching up a hand to flick off the lights, setting them in darkness, in the stillness, with only the soft spin of the fan overhead.
Sam found his mind going blank, his mouth opening up without any words to keep him going, and felt a small tug on the back of his sleeve.
Dean. Pulling him there, giving Sam's body the impression that this was just an ordinary getting into bed moment, pushing him down onto the mattress, giving him a shove to make room.
"So," said Dean, slipping beside Sam, rustling around with something, most likely a pillow to put under his head, "you gonna respect me in the morning, then, Sammy?"
"Jerk," said Sam.
"Bitch," said Dean.
With a hard thump of his heart, Sam pulled Dean on top of him, sighing as Dean's body pushed him into the mattress, as Dean's arms came down on either side of his head. It felt odd for a moment, the length of dense thigh against his own, Dean's breath on his face, the slight sensation that Dean was laughing at him. But it felt good to be held to the earth like this.
"Don't laugh, Dean," said Sam, low.
"And don't move either. Wanna fall asleep like this."
"Just like this? Nothing else?"
Sam felt his eyes open wide, looking for something that he knew he couldn't see in the dark. He wanted everything. He wanted to pull Dean inside of him, wanted to push into Dean, wanted to wrap himself around every inch of his brother's skin, and wanted to disappear forever inside of it. His arms tightened and he pulled Dean down, down to where his lips brushed Dean's lips, and he felt that breath, the ghost of a curve of a smile.
"Everything else," he whispered into Dean's ear, "everything."
He realized his voice was shaking, that his eyes felt hot, and that his stomach felt like someone was pounding lead into it.
"I mean," he said, whispering, "it's okay if you don't, we can--" Then he stopped to swallow, holding Dean's face in his hands, in the darkness, feeling the line of Dean's jaw, the ripple of muscle as Dean grit his teeth. "I don't want to loose you. I don't want to watch--" Here he made himself stop, turning his head away for one second to take a deep breath, feeling Dean's heart pounding against his ribs and Sam's at the same time. He looked up at where Dean's shape was. "I'm so scared, Dean, I'm so scared, I don't want you to go and when you do, I'm going to float away, just float away, and--"
Then Dean pressed down and kissed him. Soft, almost sweet at first, tender-mouthed, lips brushing his. And then Dean turned open-mouthed and hungry, letting Sam taste him, tasting back. When he pulled back, his breath sounded like it was tearing. "Sammy, Sam, Sam," he said, choking. His hands were on Sam, tucking themselves behind Sam's skull, holding on hard, each fingertip pressing in as if he knew what Sam needed. His forehead pressed against Sam's, chest against chest, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. Sam shifted, he was hard now, the seam of his pants now too tight, cock aching as if it too wanted to be pressed hard. Dean kissed him again, this time with soft lips and a gentle nibbling that made the back of Sam's spine curl up and then stretch out.
"Clothes," he said, sighing against Dean's mouth, and with a quick dip of his shoulder, Dean shimmied out of his boxers. Sam knew this because his hands slipped down to the bare curve of Dean's backside, cool and shivering now.
"How's that?" asked Dean, whispering against Sam's face. "Fast, huh?"
"I meant mine," said Sam, barely able to speak. "And don't make this a joke."
"I'm not makin' it a joke," said Dean, tugging at the hem of Sam's t-shirt
Dean tipped himself off of Sam for as long as it took to shift Sam's t-shirt over his head, with Sam stretching his arms as long as they would go. "Besides, girls dig my crazy patter."
"Don't let's talk about girls, okay?" Sam almost couldn't get the words out as Dean was on top of him again, their chests skin to skin now, heartbeats pounding, smelling Dean's sweat, Ivory soap, lime from the beers, and salt.
"Okay," said Dean, sounding as breathless as Sam felt. "But that's a lot of don'ts, Sammy, is there anything left that I can do?"
"Anything," said Sam, trying to make his arms move down to the waistband of his jeans, to get at the button, so he could get the damn things off and feel Dean's bare legs against his own. "Just--anything."
"Here," said Dean. "Let me."
Sam let his arms fall at his sides, felt Dean shift on top of him, felt thighs folding against his as Dean settled on top of him. He reached out to cup Dean's bent knees, curled his fingers in the tender crease behind, and felt Dean's hands on his stomach. Heard the pop as the top button was released, felt the zipper go down, felt Dean's palm slip inside his boxers, curling around his cock, slow, tender.
"Hot," Dean said. "Like mine."
"Get these off me, Dean," said Sam. "Don't make me beg."
"Nope, won't," said Dean. It felt like he uncurled himself from Sam's body and Sam could feel him tugging, felt the jeans sliding off him, and the boxers too, till he could feel the spin of the ceiling fan across his whole skin. Then Dean slipped on top of him again, skin to skin, shivering as their hips met, as Sam was shivering, as their cocks met, hot, and Sam wrapped Dean up in his arms, pulling him close and hard.
"Is this goin' to hold you down, Sammy?" asked Dean, and Sam nodded, though Dean couldn't possibly see him in the dark.
He felt Dean's shoulder shift down, and loosened his hold. Felt Dean's hand move between their bodies, reaching for Sam's cock, pressing it in his hand, pressing it against his own. "And this?"
"Yeah," said Sam, "that. You." He took his hand down and reached between them to cup them both with his palm. Felt the soft skin of Dean's balls melting into his own, tightened his hand, and felt Dean jump.
"Jesus Christ, Sam," said Dean against his mouth, opening to kiss him, to lick him with his tongue, to swallow into Sam. And Sam answered in kind, kissing back, his fingers between them, stroking them, the back of his palm against the inside of Dean's thigh, his chest hammering, smelling his own sweat, salty like he'd been running.
Dean breathed against his neck, moving his hand, stroking them both, getting slick, his palm slipping, just when Sam wanted it hard and fast. He tipped into Dean, spilling him off so they lay facing on their sides, foreheads meeting, his hand moving up from between Dean's legs to cover Dean's cock. To push and slide with Dean, hand over hand, something zipping up his spine, and racing down his chest.
"Fuck, Sam," said Dean, mouth feeling dry as it pressed against Sam's cheek. "Fuck."
"I'm gonna, it's--" said Sam, barely able to breathe. "Do it hard."
Dean's answer was a grunt, his hand beneath Sam's moving faster, his hips pressing forward into it, into Sam. Sam could taste the sweat on his forehead.
"Now--" began Dean, but it ended with a low, short moan that seemed to burst out of his lungs, and Sam felt the hot spray of come jet through his fingers. Through Dean's fingers, up against his stomach, and high on his hip. Dean scrunched his whole body against Sam's, tucking himself into Sam's chest as if he was going to burrow there. Mouth on Sam's neck, breath in moist gasps as he ran his tongue across the muscles there.
Sam felt himself collapsing back against the mattress, his head sinking sideways into the pillow, a white shroud coming down as if to swallow him whole, and he realized he'd landed hard against Dean's shoulder. He tried to push away, to push back, but Dean was now over him, leaning into Sam, planting small, soft kisses on Sam's forehead.
"It's okay," he said, kissing, "it's okay, Sammy."
Sam shifted his body and reached down to pull the sheet over them both, shivering as he did this, pressing his head into the curve of Dean's neck. "It's not right to want this," he said, thinking that Dean couldn't hear him.
"No, it's okay, I'm telling you," said Dean, stretching out, thighs warm against Sam's. "We just gotta learn to do this without the mead, without those damn bees, and we'll be fine."
He felt the laugh in his throat, in spite of it all, part agreement, part despair. "I didn't mean the mead to, I didn't think that--"
Dean reached to pat him hard on the face. "Would you shut up, already?" He heard Dean sigh, felt the brush of air across his chest. Then Dean's hand stroked his face, hot fingers across his lips, brushing over his brow. "I don't expect you did, but it did, and here we are. It's good this way. It'll be good this way."
Sam sighed, looping his arm across Dean's stomach, feeling the heat move into him, the whir of the fan overhead, cooling along his arms. Felt the thud of Dean's heart slow as Dean moved into sleep, shifted his legs to tuck them under Dean's.
"I can't sleep like this, you know," said Dean, almost already there. "No cuddling."
"Yeah, right," said Sam, smiling against Dean's neck. "Fall asleep first and you'll never even know."
"Yeah, alright," said Dean, and it wasn't a moment later that Sam heard the soft snores.
He let himself relax. Let himself sink into the pillow, his mind casting away to nothingness. Thinking of the cool soak of water into desert sand, the cut of blue sky against impossibly green trees. And of where they were headed tomorrow. Didn't matter anyway, it was wherever the job took them. As long as Sam could crawl inside Dean's light's he'd be okay. And he would keep Dean okay, whatever it took.