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a promise of lightning

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Looking back, it’s not a surprise that the first time they meet is in a bar. Dean’s finished his second successful solo hunt and he wants a drink. There’s a bar fight.

Neither of those are surprising things.

Dean’s one of the last two people standing.

That’s not really a surprise either. He doesn’t run from a fight and he doesn’t lose.

“Marines training but not actually a Marine,” the other guy standing says thoughtfully, and Dean looks at him and frowns.

“My dad was Marines,” he says slowly. “How did you?”

“It’s a very distinctive style,” the other guy says. He doesn’t even look like he’s broken a sweat. “I’m Eliott.” He picks up some long vanished guy’s drink and finishes it.

“I’m Dean,” Dean says, and Eliott nods at him and makes an expression with his face that could probably pass for a smile.

“You’ve got chops, but no control. Bye,” he says casually, and turns to amble out the back. In the distance there are police sirens, getting ever closer. Dean heads out the front door. It’s always a good idea to stay away from the cops.

+

The second time they meet is perhaps a little less understandable. For one, it’s in the middle of the night in a corporate building, somewhere neither of them seems particularly comfortable.

For two, yeah, it’s the middle of the night and they’re both wearing black and Eliott appears to have just beaten the hell out of a few security guards.

“Oh hey,” Dean says intelligently.

“Can we just agree to go our separate thieving ways and pretend we didn’t see each other?” Eliott says.

“I’m not thieving,” Dean says, and Eliott raises pointed eyebrows at him in general, taking in the shotgun along with the state of sneakiness and preparation. “No, seriously,” Dean says. “This has salt filled rounds in it.”

“Shouldn’t carry a gun unless you don’t mind killing people,” Eliot grunts.

Dean shoots the ghost behind Eliott in the face, and Eliott turns around and watches it scream into nothingness.

“I kill ghosts, not people,” Dean says. “It’s a point of professional pride.”

“Did that kill it or just temporarily stop it?” Eliot asks.

“Temporarily stop it, but my hunch got confirmed,” Dean says. “I’m going to go dig its bones up and burn them now.”

“I have to retrieve something from here,” Eliot says. “It’s kind of important.”

“What kind of important?”

“People’s lives may depend on it in a couple of days important.”

“Okay, I’ll watch your back until you get it.”

“Good,” Eliot says. “And then after the bones burning thing you can buy me a drink, give me some explanations, and buy me a couple more drinks.”

“That sounds pretty reasonable,” Dean allows.

Later, after a couple of bar fights and a small fire (a really small one okay) and a lot more alcohol than is good for either of them, they wind up back at Dean’s hotel room, Eliot fingering the data drive he’d stolen.

“My team is probably waiting for me,” he says, but makes no move to leave.

“You did say people’s lives may depend on it,” Dean says.

“I also said in a couple of days,” Eliot points out.

“In that case it might as well wait,” Dean says, and when he leans over to kiss Eliot he’s not sure if it’s the alcohol or Eliot’s calm, patient attention to Dean’s explanations of the supernatural or how much of a complete turn on him knocking people out with the minimum of effort was.

It doesn’t matter, really. Eliot kisses back. More than that, he pulls Dean onto the bed and rolls him onto his back, pulling their shirts off at the first opportunity.

Afterwards, exhausted, they fall asleep tangled together, Eliot tracing Dean’s scars absent mindedly.

In the morning Eliot’s gone. Dean tries to tell himself that he’d expected it, but he still snatches at the piece of paper left on the table.

My team helps people rich guys screw over. Gotta finish the job.

There’s a phone number below it. Dean’s not sure whether it’s an explanation or an apology, but either way it feels good.

+

It’s three months before he uses the phone number, though, not until he runs across the ghost of a girl who’s trying to get revenge on the corporation that murdered her. He could just salt her bones, yeah, but even if he did he’d still have to remember her parents, that peculiar measure of loss that comes from the death of a child.

“It’s Dean,” he says to Eliot’s crisp hello. “I’ve got something for you and your team. Don’t have the resources on my own.”

“We’re at loose ends, we can be there soon,” Eliot says.

Dean stays out of the job and avoids Eliot’s team, but he stakes them out enough to figure out which room Eliot is in and slides a key to his own room underneath the door one night when he learns from the news that the girl’s been revenged.

Eliot shows up at midnight that night, carrying a twelve pack.

“I brought the alcohol this time,” he says, and Dean steps aside to let him in.

+

In the year that follows they call each other regularly as they make their way across America, meeting up when their paths cross. They don’t talk about what this is, or feelings, or any of that stuff. They talk about their work, credit card scams, different types of alcohol, and Eliot teaches Dean how not to die, sparring in cheap motel rooms and temporarily empty houses. It’s a lot like sex, Dean thinks. Or at least, it’s a lot like sex with Eliot, everything always a struggle with him. With both of them, if he’s being fair. It’s not something he makes a habit of.

So they spar, and sleep, and compare scars and battle stories (Eliot wins that most of the time), and talk about nothing important, and somehow it just sort of works, the way the pieces of an engine slot into place. It’s something easy and effortless. It kind of weirds Dean out, really. He knows it’s not love. Nothing’s ever that easy with love. He just doesn’t know what else to call it.

Then a hunt goes wrong. Dean barely makes it back to his motel room, and he’s still bleeding over everything when the phone rings. He sticks it on speaker phone and starts stitching up his shoulder.

“Something in the newspaper looked like one of yours,” Eliot says. “You in California?”

“Yeah,” Dean says through gritted teeth. “San Francisco.” There’s a pause.

“You sound like shit,” Eliot says.

“Thanks,” Dean says, and swears as the needle jabs too deep. “Son of a bitch had a thing for knives.”

“I’m on my way,” Eliot says. “But I’m still an hour away, Dean, is there anyone closer?” Dean thinks of Stanford, forty five minutes away, and doors without salt buried under them.

“Not anymore,” he says, and bites off the thread before he peels away the wadded up ball of former shirt from his stomach. “Fuck, it won’t stop bleeding.”

“Forty minutes,” Eliot says, his car starting up in the background. “I’ve got a good car. Keep pressure on it. You should get to a hospital.”

“Can’t,” Dean says. “My ID’s all total crap.”

“I don’t give a damn about your ID, be a fucking John Doe, just get some help,” Eliot snarls.

“I’ll be fine,” Dean says, and starts to bandage himself. “It’s just some blood loss.”

“Okay, then,” Eliot says. “Okay. Keep talking to me. Tell me about the hunt. Come on, Dean.”

So Dean does. He tells him about the hunt, and then he describes the motel room in detail, and then he tells him the hunt before this, and the one before that, and then suddenly Eliot is pounding on the door and Dean manages to drag himself to it and open it.

“You look like shit,” Eliot says, but there’s relief in his voice as he slams the door shut and helps Dean back to the bed. “Lie down.”

“What are you, my mother?” Dean grumbles, but he lets Eliot push him gently onto the bed and check his bandages. “You’re scowling like it’s your job,” he adds, and Eliot gently pries the bandage on his stomach up.

“You’ve lost way too much blood,” he says. “No wonder you’ve got the heater turned up all the way, god, you must be freezing.”

“Feel fine now,” Dean says. “’m good.”

“Oh shut up,” Eliot says, and pulls out his own first aid kit, starting to clean the wound. Dean winces and tries to move away, but Eliot holds him down and keeps cleaning it out, gentle as he can be but moving fast. Once he’s got it bandaged up he makes Dean take painkillers and wash them down with half a bottle of water before he goes to work on the rest.

Dean falls asleep halfway through. He thinks he’s not supposed to, given Eliot’s frantic shaking and angry orders to wake back up, but he just can’t be bothered.

+

“Easy,” Eliot says when Dean wakes up. “We almost lost you. Just lie back.” We. Like it's that easy.

“Did I ever tell you I’ve got a brother?” Dean says, muzzy with pain and painkillers and the leftover remnants of adrenaline and fear and almost dying.

“No,” Eliot says, and his hands are surprisingly gentle when he checks Dean’s wounds. “No, you haven’t.”

“That’s because he left,” Dean says. “A long time ago now, left and went to college. Couldn’t do the hunting life thing.” It hasn’t really been that long. It just feels like it.

“That sucks,” Eliot says, but there’s relief on his face as he looks up from the bandages. “You’re looking a lot better now.”

“I’m glad he got out,” Dean says. “I’m glad. He’s too fucking young to die.”

“So are you, Dean,” Eliot says, and Dean sighs and tries to shrug, failing miserably.

“I need a shower,” he says. “There’s blood fucking everywhere.”

“Okay,” Eliot says. “We’re going to have to move motels anyways.”

Eliot stays with him for almost two weeks, even after Dean’s moving fine on his own, and Dean wonders if some line has been passed, if something new is going on.

But eventually Eliot’s team calls and he goes, and everything moves back to normal, to almost the same it was.

+

John goes missing two years and three months after Dean meets Eliot for the first time.

At first he means to call Eliot again, let him know he’s had to switch phones again, give him the new number.

Then there are demons, and his brother, and somewhere along the way he loses Eliot’s number. If he doesn’t try too hard to find it again, if he wonders sometimes at night if Eliot would be pissed at him for this method of protection, that’s his own business. The point is Eliot’s safely out of it.

The point is he isn’t.