It was hot, blazing hot outside.
The world was humming with the kind of heat the locals waxed poetic about all winter and started complaining about before June was even in full swing, hiding inside with their air conditioners and leaving the glorious weather to Sam and those like him who knew what real heat was. It was nothing like California, it was nothing like what Sam imagined Hell was like, and it was too humid to really remind him of long drives through Arizona with the windows down. It was nothing other than what it was, a southern Wisconsin summer, and Sam opened his arms to embrace it, grateful and greedy.
He wasn’t the only one, either. Campus was swarming with girls in tiny skirts and boys whose shirts had gone missing with the sunrise. Frisbees and raucous shouts were tossed through the air as he swam through the sea of people on Library Mall. The fountain was a mass of bodies splashing, laughing, coming together and breaking apart in endless, never-repeated eddies. Sam was smiling as he made for the old church on the far side of the green, enjoying the carefree cadence of the crowd around him, even enjoying the way sweat was gathering at the small of his back, the way the breeze felt cool against his damp skin when he unslung his backpack and sprawled down on the steps of the church, tipping his head back to catch the sun. Heat assaulted him from everywhere, like he was under fire from the sun above him, the stone steps beneath him, even the heavy air around him, but he welcomed it, soaking it in.
He hadn’t felt warm in weeks. Or even a month, maybe, if not longer. Chilled to the bone by the long silence, by his own cowardice that wouldn’t let him break it. He kept his eyes closed and his face pointed at the sun until the white-hot light felt like it was pressing against his eyelids, burning them away to the last layer of skin so that he could see the world around him in pearlescent, ghostly shades with solar flares outlining every solid shape and shorting out awareness of everything else that wasn’t physical, wasn’t permanent, wasn’t real.
‘God Sam, just let it go, ok! Please let it go’
The way the sun was rippling across his skin Sam thought there was a good chance that it’d soak all the way through this time, cleanse and purify him down to his bones, chase the chill away for good.
The sun was like an insult to Dean’s skin, a permanent slap mark on his face. He kept walking, swearing quietly under his breath and wiping sweat from his brow. The stink of the sunblock that chick had put on him made him want to veer off his course and go find the nearest bathroom, then wash or wipe his face. Anything, just as long as he got the stuff off himself. Chick probably thought she was being cutesy, making cooing sounds over his freckles—
‘I miss your face.’
‘Especially the freckles.’
‘And everything else.’
‘You always look so good it's kind of disgusting.’
‘And yeah, your freckles are awesome.’
Dean’s fingers began itching to touch his nose where he knew the tiny new bastards had managed to invade his skin before the sunblock appeared in his life. The girl had taken it out of her handbag. Who the hell carried that kind of crap with them everywhere?
Fair-skinned college girls apparently, whose primary concern in life was to avoid red blotches on their faces.
Why shouldn’t it be their primary concern? Dean felt a pang of remorse for lashing out, even if it was in his own head. The girl—Mariah? Marianne?—why shouldn’t she worry about sunburn in the summer? Why shouldn’t she wake up every day with a head full of questions such as what to wear, or whether she should skip tonight’s party and work on her paper instead, or what an inconsiderate person her roommate was for borrowing whatever chicks borrowed from each other and never gave back?
Dean killed monsters. Other people didn’t. Other people weren’t screwed in the head. Dean killed monsters so that other people could be safe and think about freaking sunblocks all day long if they wanted to. Or so he chose to believe.
He ran his fingers through his dampening hair this time, speeding up a little to get to the church. It had to be cool in there; he could stop for a moment, take a breath, then continue on his way to Bascom Hill where the main chunk of classroom buildings were supposed to be located.
Everywhere around him the human beehive undulated with relentless energy. Students, hundreds of them it seemed, with the excited or blissed out demeanor that spoke of glorious summer weather. It wasn’t like Dean needed one more thing to make him feel like the odd one in this crowd, but there it was: as far as he was concerned, the weather wasn’t glorious. Not that he cared about the freaking weather, but it was too hot and too bright, dazing him to the point where he actually felt sympathy for one of the things he hunted. If this was how vamps felt all the time during the day, no wonder they wanted to gnash their teeth and sink them into something. His heart was starting to pound, his armpits were itching, and he reeked of that damn sunblock.
For a split moment the doubt whooshed through him again, unbidden. Miraculously, he’d kept it at bay throughout his drive here. He had expected it to sing along with every song blasting through the speakers, cunningly substituting the lyrics with its own rhymes of guilt and insecurity. Yet he had been fine. Not because he was certain he’d made the right choice to take off. He just hadn’t thought about it. He’d felt Baby’s engine’s pulse picking up and listened to it, kept it steady. He’d felt the wind cooling him off and the music filling him up—known-by-heart, free-spirited classic rock. His destination had taken away the emptiness of the passenger seat and made Dean press on just a little more, mind switched off, heart speeding up.
But now he was here and he was slow, so slow. His feet were carrying him forward quick and bold on the outside, yet Dean had that dreadful feeling he remembered well from nightmares: barely moving an inch despite straining to a breaking point. The doubt managed to catch up with him here. It whispered reasonably: Dean. Dean. If everything feels so off, if you feel so damn off, maybe you shouldn’t be here after all.
Six weeks. Six weeks of calm before the storm. Not that he had been literally calm during those six weeks. Bobby had a lot to say about that for sure! At least Dean was productive. He must have set a new personal best record for the number of successful hunts he’d gotten under his belt. Bobby’s salvage yard had moved the furthest away from its name since Dean had first set eyes on it, if the number of vehicles that Dean had fixed or patched up a bit in those six weeks was anything to go by. All the while he hadn’t been exactly calm on the inside, either. But at least he hadn’t done anything real stupid, anything that had the charge to catapult itself straight to the number one position of the biggest fuck-up in Dean’s life.
Fuck, he was feeling uncomfortable. He was gasping with thirst and maybe he should have taken off his jacket. Well, sue him. He’d considered it for a split second but it had felt as if he was about to take off his skin and leave it in the car. Maybe he shouldn’t have smiled at maybe-Mariah and at least saved himself the assault of the white stuff being smeared over his “adorable nose”.
‘You're so cute when you get all offended.’
‘You are. You're adorable.’
He’d started getting high-strung again when the road sign had told him he was just a hundred miles away. (Not that he needed it—the Impala and Dean had this mysterious deal going on where she kind of hummed the mileage straight into his bones, to the last yard sometimes.) Dean had already been sizzling when he drove into town, although that was with nervous energy. The moment he’d parked the car and his feet touched the college campus ground, it was as if electricity ran up his legs, coursing through his body, drying up his fucking mouth, Jesus fuck, get a grip, you’re only going to see your little brother—
Dean’s heart lurched and froze for a long moment, just as he did on his spot, eyes widening at the sight in front of him. Stretched out on the steps outside the church, eyes closed and face tipped up to the sun as if it was the god of light, Sam was like a human statue waiting to be seen.