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Watch the Weather Change

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It keeps raining and no one knows when it's going to stop. It will, it won't. Sometimes it changes its mind, as if it's crying in harsh jerks, the wind sobbing around the houses.

The thunder is loud, a clap of sound that causes the buildings to shake, disaster-strong.

Lightning cracks and no one points out that the lightning should be first, the thunder second. No one counts the seconds between thunder and lightning or lightning and thunder because sometimes they're simultaneous, overlapping so fast that light and sound mix into one bewildering sense.

The smell of broken electrified air is almost as strong as the rain itself, the dust as it drowns into mud.

Lightning again; she hopes it harmlessly hit the ground. Hopes that someone didn't just drop dead.

It seems to be happening too often.

All she can do is watch it rain.

The wind chimes twist and ring softly as it thunders again.

**

Heat lightning in the distance. Dean watches the skies, stretched out on the hood of the car. They followed the storm across state lines, like fugitives. If Dean had decided earlier to chase it, he could’ve caught it, windows down, music fighting the wind for dominance.

The storm isn’t waiting for them. A cold breeze brushes over Dean, the tip of a tail as the storm moves on and he shivers.

“Want me to drive?” Sam asks, coming up to Dean’s side, hip against the car.

When he turns to look at his brother, Dean has to squint, the sun burning away the last clouds, Sam caught in shadow. He wants to say no because he can keep driving, he’s not that tired, the road and his car love him, they always take care of him. But Sam’s eyeing him like he’s dead and doesn’t know it, so he shrugs, leather against glass.

He can’t let Sam get any sort of satisfaction out of this though, says, “I dunno, I think she’s too much woman for you.”

“Hey, you’re always saying I’m a girl. You’ll fall asleep and snore, so we’ll have a nice heart-to-heart and bitch about how you don’t understand us,” Sam smirks.

Dean plucks a package of Twinkies out of the stash Sam’s carrying and throws it at his head. “Remember, she’s your master, you are the vehicle, not the other way around,” he says as Sam scrambles not to drop everything.

He rolls off the hood and Sam follows him which makes Dean suspicious.

“Very Zen of you, Dean,” Sam says, standing, waiting as Dean gets into the passenger side of the car, and it’s really unnerving until Sam leans around the open door and dumps the food onto Dean’s lap, still yapping, “Really, very Zen; is it all the processed sugar that gives you these moments of enlightenment?”

He really shouldn’t have given the food to Dean.

Sam squawks in surprise as he sits on a bag of chips.

“Onward, Jenkins, take us thataway,” Dean directs, waving at the windshield, the sky, the storm, his fingertips white with Twinkie cream.

A hand upside his head, then Sam’s backing them out and it doesn’t feel like home again until they’re on the highway, pushing ninety.

The car sways and it isn’t Dean’s fault if after large quantities of sugar and music, Sam’s more comfortable than the window.

Sam drives and Dean sleeps and doesn’t dream.

**

It’s dark when Dean wakes and he expects to see lightning on the horizon. He thought he heard thunder and with the storm their compass north earlier throughout the day, he’s disappointed to find that there’s nothing, just the sun sinking behind them, dying in sparks behind the trees, expanse of blue and purple ahead.

“Dude, get off me, my arm’s asleep,” Sam says, shrugging Dean aside.

Instead, Dean falls over and headbutts Sam’s shoulder before really looking around. Squat building, peeling paint, fluorescent lights and a neon sign. Another motel.

“Room?” he asks and Sam shakes his head.

“Not yet, you were too busy crawling on top of me.”

“Trust me, I have no idea, you are one lumpy pillow.”

Sam huffs and Dean thinks that only Sam would be offended by that. It makes him grin and just as Sam starts to smile back, Dean pushes a hand into his face. “Stop trying to scare me, freak,” he says, then he’s out of the car before he hears Sam’s reply.

The room is red and black and white, like a house of cards, and they both snort as they step inside.

“I think if I had enough money, I’d build my own hotel and there wouldn’t be any of this crappy shit,” Dean says, abandoning his bag by the bed that looks less questionable.

He can feel Sam’s raised eyebrow without turning around and toes off his boots, flopping onto the mattress.

Sam says, “You’d give up hunting and run a hotel. You’d stay in one place for an extended period of time which means more than three days and you’d stare at carpet swatches.” Finding the remote, he flicks on the television with a noise of amusement.

Putting his arms behind his head, Dean sneers at the ceiling, “No, you could pick out the carpets and wallpapers and sconces and which frilly-smelling soap goes in the bathrooms.”

“You fantasize about this often?” Sam switches fast through commercials. “Goody, I get to be there in your twisted hotel fantasies.”

“Bitch, you could run around in a suit, worrying about whether your tie matches and argue with people. It’s like being a lawyer. You’d love it.”

His brother just gives a short laugh, then stands, dropping the remote on Dean’s bed, out of reach, Dean notices.

“Shower,” he says and Dean replies, “Food?”

“Whatever,” Sam shifts one shoulder and his face is starting to look pinched.

“Go shower, but I don’t think any frilly-smelling soap could help you.”

Sam flips him off, but the gesture is half-hearted and Dean isn’t sure if the conversation derailed when he wasn’t paying attention, too lost in a world that didn’t have plastic fish lamps and unfortunate floral patterns.

Then he realizes he said lawyer and mentioned doing something other than hunting. That’s two on the Sam list and he thinks with a sick rolling feeling that he was just joking, but he should’ve known better because Sam’s been so touchy.

Dean’s got eight months. He’s got time to make jokes. But he thinks he doesn’t have time to make Sam understand.

**

Wafting smell of pizza and it covers the fruity odor of Sam’s shampoo and the soap that isn’t frilly-smelling, but makes Dean sneeze anyway. The boxes are almost empty, carelessly tilting cardboard. Dean’s content, pizza and beer fetched on a brief spur of energy; now he’s going to lie here and watch Ghostbusters and ignore Sam hunched over his laptop.

Sam’s affection for his laptop has grown in leaps and bounds; the amount of time he spends with it, Dean thinks it should be putting out for him or something, Sam should be walking around with a satisfied afterglow.

But no action, just Sam’s hand pushing at his hair, then a weary rush of breath and Sam leaning back in his chair to stretch. Whenever he does that, Dean always wonders where those limbs came from, long lean windmill, sprouting from the little kid who always stared up at him with such intensity.

He still has that stare, so much intensity burning into Dean that he has to keep his own eyes on the road, on the pool table, on the girl next to him, on the book of matches, on the snapping sharp teeth appearing out of the trees. On the television because he can feel that stare, turning on him, over him, like the rumble of the Impala’s engine.

“I think I found something,” Sam says and Dean’s already heard this argument, but Sam cuts him off. “A hunt, I think I found us a hunt.”

Relief that flickers as fast as the television. “Let’s hear it, Poindexter.”

Sam’s expression telegraphs you’re so funny and Dean smirks back stick with me, kid.

But the next few days bring clear skies, an empty stretch of road and a string of mistakes. The zombies are sleepwalkers on medication, the werewolves are foraging coyotes leaving behind trash and scavenged animals, and the poltergeist turns out to be a combination of mice and a sullen teenager that only makes sense after Dean’s had a few drinks.

Sam takes to sitting with his shoulders hunched, head in his hands, muttering under his breath and Dean takes to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in apparently the wrong tone of voice constantly.

“At least you’re a consistent asshole,” Sam says.

“At least you know how to walk so that when I leave you on the side of the road, you might have some chance of survival,” Dean says, “though the only bad part is that when I keep your laptop, you won’t have a calculator, so you can’t figure out how tiny that percentage is. “

They settle into a pissed-off silence and Dean’s angry up to the tips of his hair, wondering when his insults stumbled into a weird territory. Even the music doesn’t cut the quiet; it’s just noise that Dean ensures is loud enough to keep Sam as pissed as he is.

Getting drunk at this particular juncture probably isn’t the best thing to do and later, Dean will make fun of Sam for not being smart enough to realize this fact like Dean has. But that’s later because right now, he’s going to drink every drop he can and let it all go, maybe with this bouncy brunette who’s got her hand on his chest and her lips near his ear and she’s saying something that sounds like what he wants to hear.

Then Sam’s there, drunk, still pissed off and doesn’t that kid ever unwind and he’s saying something about “time” and “what the fuck do you think you’re doing” and “I swear, Dean, I don’t know how you can”, but Dean doesn’t hear the rest because he can’t figure out how Sam can talk so much with all that alcohol in him.

That ends with Sam dragging him out to the car where they fight under a starless sky, the keys jangling in Dean’s pocket and Sam’s hands on his neck, shaking him though it might just be Sam who’s shaking and someone saying, “I can’t do this, you selfish bastard, I can’t do this.” It might be Sam, it might be Dean, but no one’s really sure.

Before he passes out in the backseat of the Impala, Dean thinks that if the next hunt is bullshit, he’s not sure how much angrier they can get, how much more it will take before they bend and break, how much more Sam can take before he breaks.

How their anger doesn’t even seem to match up anymore because Sam’s seems so much deeper.

**

Sam doesn’t talk for four days. So Dean talks instead, mostly to himself even if he does sound demented. He talks to the car; other drivers as they cut him off; eventually, the silent little bitch Sam; and once, Bobby in a desperate attempt to find something to do.

He doesn’t know how to tell Sam that his stubbornness reminds Dean of their father but this silent treatment is really shitty and he doesn’t deserve it. It’s not like he picked hunts meant to intentionally drive them up the wall.

The sun is beating down on the car, heat and light in heavy uneven splashes, the road in sticky curves of black that never stop and Dean can’t take it anymore, lapses into his own silence.

Sam, the traitor, is asleep, head against the glass, mouth open a little and Dean switches off the music. The landscape looks temporary and they’re slicing through it like scissors without sound and maybe that’s how it should be. He glances in the rearview mirror and nothing’s changed except some dust across the road and maybe that’s how it should be.

When they stop for the night, so tired and quiet, Dean staring out at the hideous red sign, Sam forgets and starts talking again. The magic words must be “shower” and “Chinese food” which seems pretty random but Dean goes with it because his brother is talking again and he’s relieved. So relieved, he takes the first shower and lets Sam pay for the food and leaves his dirty clothes and tiny puddles of water everywhere.

They watch bad horror movies, a marathon that seems never-ending and Sam spills rice on one of the beds, causing Dean to wonder again, out loud, how Sam ever gained any sort of coordination and Sam shuts him up by pinning him to the floor, face in the carpet, knee in his back as he steals Dean’s comforter.

Dean has plans, revenge in mind, but Sam just climbs into bed, drags his laptop with him and his face goes blank in his reading mode. The air is clean and clear; Dean doesn’t want to disturb it, so he puts his revenge off for later, for when Sam least expects it, ninja, and waits until Sam decides to talk some more.

Sleep is close, petting his hair, when Sam thumbs down the volume on the television and Dean steals the remote from the nightstand, ready to turn it back up from the safety of his own bed, but Sam says, “According to this article, there’s a town where it keeps raining.”

“Seattle?”

A pen hits Dean in the chest. “No, jerk, it’s not supposed to get this much rain. And it only seems to rain there, not in any of the surrounding areas.”

“Rain? You thinking a spell? Break a drought?”

Sam’s bed creaks as he shifts. “Maybe, but there’s more.”

“Is it raining marshmallows or something?” As a matter of fact, Dean thinks that might be tasty. He doesn’t see the danger there: you’d just have a big bonfire and--

“There have been some unusual deaths,” Sam interrupts Dean’s s’more-filled strategies. Wrinkled forehead, scrunched nose and yeah, Sam’s got his crazy death radar going.

“Unusual? Mutilations?”

“Lightning strikes.”

“People struck by lightning? In the rain? Imagine that, Sammy!”

Sam glares at Dean. “No, you idiot, there’s been six deaths in three weeks. You know the saying lightning doesn’t strike twice?”

“Because it doesn’t, yeah, I get what you’re selling now. They’re sure it’s lightning?”

“Well, it’s electrocution and it’s always right where the victim is standing, so yeah, they’re pretty sure. Witnesses see the lightning come down and then…Force of Nature. No way to call the cops on this one.”

“Great, they can stay out of our way then.”

Sam closes the laptop, yawning and gets up to set the computer on the table. He tries to steal the remote as he heads back to his bed, but Dean is quick on the draw; he’s ashamed for Sam that all of Sam’s training hasn’t yielded anything better than that.

Then he figures out something, says, “So more than a spell because the lightning –“

Settled under his blankets across the way, Sam nods, “Yeah, it’s controlled. A spell doesn’t just call for lightning to kill people. Someone has to be doing it.”

They both stop and when Dean glances over, Sam’s watching him, but he doesn’t say anything, smiles a little before burrowing into his pillow and he looks like he’s five, shock of brown hair and the sleepy curl of his mouth.

Dean falls asleep, not listening to the television, but Sam’s breathing, his shifting under the sheets for a more comfortable position in the other bed.

**

It’s a long drive to the rain-soaked town, but Dean doesn’t mind, he prefers to be on the road, letting the Impala stretch her legs, purring with happiness, showing off her sleek body in the sunlight.

And it’s still sunlight when they arrive several hours later. No storms in sight. Nothing on the horizon. Nothing coming out of the blue anywhere. Dean pictures the school play that one time when Sam was about nine, cardboard with cotton glued on to make clouds, other jagged cut pieces painted yellow with glitter to make lightning, the whole shebang dropping from the ceiling on wires to simulate the sudden storm.

He doesn’t remember what the play was about, busy passing notes to Greta Venhaus, two years older than him and hotter than the summer days he was looking forward to, having seen her with a popsicle in her mouth, her lips smeared purple and he bet she tasted hot and cold at the same time.

Sam’s hand on his shoulder pulls him from his thoughts and Dean grins at his brother, eyebrow cocked.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Sam says, rolling his eyes, “no rain.”

They look up at the same time, but the sky arches blue and white overhead, scrubbed clean and dry with the spit-polish of the sun for good measure.

Dean can tell Sam’s curious about this though, has scented something, so it won’t hurt to crash here in town for the night at least, maybe get in some pool and make some money.

The motel isn’t too bad and the kid behind the counter doesn’t watch them with the usual speculative gaze, does point them to the diner down the street, two blocks down, cross the street, big red and white sign, can’t miss it, ask for Alma.

The diner is precisely two blocks down, across the street with a big red and white sign declaring it to be an honest-to-God grandma’s-recipe home-cooking establishment and there’s a bell over the door as they walk in.

Blonde hair, brown eyes and she must be about seventeen, greeting them with a happy tired smile, tucking a towel into her apron. Sam tells her they’re at the motel, the kid at the desk told them to ask for Alma and the smile breaks into laughter.

“I’m Alma,” she says, offering her hand. “Don’t worry, Jubal’s right, I’ll take care of you.”

She leads them to a booth, glancing at them as if she doesn’t think Sam will fit and Dean decides he could like her, too bad she isn’t older. Menus on a single sheet of paper each, then she sweeps away to fetch coffee.

The diner’s cheery, metal and vinyl and checkered tablecloths they end up playing tug of war with at their own table, arms sliding, Sam trying to get Dean’s elbows out from underneath him, Dean trying to dump the salt and pepper in Sam’s lap.

Alma comes back with the mugs and with a crooked bite of her lip hiding a smile, straightens the cloth before setting down the coffees. They hmm and haw for a bit before Alma says, “I’ll bring you something good, trust me.” With a snap of the menus, she’s gone again.

“So whaddya think, Sammy?” Dean asks, blowing on his coffee before taking a sip.

Sam doesn’t even look at him, “She’s too young for you.”

“Damn, if that’s the way you think, you always on the look-out? No one’s safe!”

“It’s how you think.”

“She’s too young for you too.”

Finally, he gets Sam’s gaze for that and Dean’s proud of himself because Sam’s already irritated. “Dude, I dunno, it’s not raining, whaddya want me to say?”

“Aw, c’mon, man, I trust you, it’s a real hunt,” Dean begins and Sam sets his cup down, hard.

“Yeah, it’s a real hunt though you seem to forget we’re—“

He stops so abruptly, his body jerking back that Dean almost falls over too.

“Forget what, what did I forget, what’re we doing,” he asks, warming his hands with the mug and he bets himself if he’s casual, sounds merely forgetful, Sam will tell him.

But Dean loses because Sam turns to the window, jaw tight and ignores Dean, leaving him to fiddle with his fork and knife, cutting uselessly at his napkin until Alma arrives, laden with plates.

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cole slaw, side salads with ranch dressing, tomatoes, onions, they are in hog heaven and Alma smiles at them, a little brighter this time. She gives a bow with a little flourish and says, “Enjoy, gentlemen. I told y’all I knew what I was doing. And if y’all want cornbread, there’s some fresh outta the oven. Let me know.”

Dean’s about to die and Sam’s expression says he’s almost ready to lick the table, so they miss her laughter as she walks to the kitchen.

They don’t need a reason to talk now and Dean’s somewhat grateful; getting Sam to talk when he absolutely beyond any sort of reason or logic doesn’t want to talk is like herding cats over eggshells and Dean would just rather not.

A little while later, he can see Sam’s coveting his corn and Dean shifts his fork around to a defensive position when the sky cracks.

Writhing black and purple, clouds roll in as gust of wind howls past the windows of the diner and they hear the sign snap and swing. There’s a noise, like flapping, a huge flock of birds, but there’s only the clouds and the dust rising on the streets. Another whip-shot as thunder sounds, then a flash of lightning that leaves them blinking at each other in the booth.

Sam’s lips move silently and Dean’s counting with him, a habit from times in the car, in a house, in an apartment, distracting themselves with the storm instead of wondering about the locks on the door and where their father was. Thunder again, ten seconds, roughly two miles away, then there’s lightning and confusion crosses Sam’s face.

“Thunder first, the lightning must be—“ The rest of what he says is drowned out by a boom of thunder, bomb of sound detonating and the lights flicker in rhythmic unison as a stack of plates smash to the floor, sliding, in ones and twos.

Middle of the afternoon and it’s like night outside. Another flashbulb of lightning outlines Alma peering out the window and they’re both on their feet by the time the rain is pelting down, shiny and hard as pebbles.

There’s only a few other people in the diner, but everyone’s gathered around the tables and the cook comes from the kitchen, smelling of grease and butter. He wipes his hands on a towel, muttering under his breath and Dean hears, “I wish this would fucking stop, I’m so fucking tired of it—“ then thunder smothers his words. Sam’s shoulders are a tight line and Dean knows he heard it too.

Alma stays by the window, blinds raised, hands on the window as if she’s searching the storm. She turns to say something and lightning strikes right in the intersection, yellow-white-blue reaching down and it’s blinding, imprinted on Dean’s sight as he blinks fast.

Next to him, Sam rubs at his eyes, face scrunched.

The power’s out, the world black and deadened except for the afterimage everywhere Dean looks.

Keeping his voice low and hidden under the rain, he says, “Guess we’re staying.”

Hand on his forehead, Sam nods. “We sure know how to pick ‘em.”

**

They sit at the diner to wait out the storm, finishing their lunch and drinking coffee going cold, under Alma’s watchful eye and her words, “Might as well hang out here, we’re not kicking anyone to the curb.” She gives them a wave, a pot of coffee and flutters off to the kitchen, her voice and the cook’s mingled together better than muzak as they clean and whistle.

“She seems…” Sam waves a hand in the air like he’s swirling his thoughts and Dean smirks.

“Different. Older? Wishful thinking there, eh, Sammy?”

Once, Dean decided he wanted to see how many times he could get Sam to glare at him in a day without even really trying. Ignoring extreme circumstances like trips to the hospital and uncomfortable moments involving death’s spotlight, the best he’s gotten is about nine. Though when Sam was a teenager, Dean could get double digits, but the counter ticked back to zero when Sam left and he had to start all over. He could be close today, but it’s been a slow day; he needs to hurry it up.

This glare makes two, maybe three. He’s way off, out of practice or something. He glowers back, sharply annoyed, and Sam’s glare deepens. Yeah, Dean’s never been able to perfect that unless he’s really pissed, so fucking angry he knows he’s dangerous, a weapon just waiting to be released and then he doesn’t really care.

Hunched on their elbows, it becomes a staring contest over the table. Dean refuses to let the lightning outside distract him, fire at the edges of his vision, and focuses on the hazel in front of him until he’s starting to get dizzy, holding his breath because all he can see are his brother’s eyes.

One of the things Dean hates most in the world is when he can’t tell what Sam’s thinking and this is that moment, when he suddenly feels unanchored, rope cut, everything gone and lost and he clenches his fists, fighting it. But something flickers across Sam’s gaze and just like that, he’s brought back, snapped into being and his mouth opens.

A shadow passes over their table, dark even in the dregs of the storm and they both look away to see the clouds disappearing into the distance, the streets steaming as the sun rushes back into the sky.

“You may be my brother, but sometimes, I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with you,” Sam says, murmuring into his coffee and Dean scoffs.

“Crossed wires?" he says. "Genetics, but then again, that’d be your problem too.”

“I must’ve gotten all the good genes.”

“You wish, fucker.”

“Language in front of the lady,” Sam retorts, spinning a spoon in his fingers and Dean shoots, “Lady, oh, you mean yourself?” then Alma’s at his elbow, asking, “Well, gentlemen, anything else I can get for y’all?”

Insulting Sam means Dean didn’t hear her approach and now Sam’s hiding his laughter under his spoon fidgeting, bastard, but Dean smiles, catching her gaze and her smile in return.

“Actually, I wanted to ask, that a freak storm? Does it happen often?”

She sighs like she’s been holding it back and nods slowly. “We’ve had a few lately. It’s been a bit busy—summer doesn’t want to let go, I imagine.” Hand on her hip, she gives a little laugh, tired, hesitant. “We can always do with the rain. It’s better than a drought.” Shrugging, Alma gathers their plates and Dean can practically hear Sam’s gears spin and click.

“It’s mostly farmland around here, right?” he asks and Alma laughs for real this time, carefully spreading her arms, silverware clinking.

“Any place this flat is farmland though we do have some ranchers too,” she replies, squinting at them. “I didn’t take you two for city boys.”

A big grin on Sam and a chuckle from Dean and Sam’s saying, “Not city boys, just impressed with the—“

“Thriving small town excitement, I know.” She’s got dimples when she half-smiles and Sam’s dimples match hers and inexplicably, Dean feels like he’s intruding just by being there, his stomach squeezing in his gut.

Sam tilts his head, says, “I was gonna say the view.”

Alma laughs again, stacking the plates and Sam’s scrambling, “The landscape, how everything’s so open and—“

“It’s ok, I understand, I’ve seen it every day of my life,” she says over her shoulder. Dean kicks Sam under the table, ready to mouth something at him, smooth, way to go, dumbass, but she turns around, looking at them both.

“For the record, I’m nineteen. And I’ll be back with the check.”

Then she’s gone.

Sam kicks Dean in the shin and sends another glare Dean manages to equal this time. “Well, at least you’ve made a friend, Mr. Popular, maybe now you’ll chill the fuck out,” he mumbles, fishing for his wallet.

“Dean, you are such a huge—“

And he’s waiting to find out what exactly he is; knowing Sam, it’ll include genus and species, but there’s nothing except Sam’s stupid awkward grin when he glances up.

Because Alma’s there, eyebrow raised. Dropping the check on their table, she waves again before stealing the coffee pot, calling out, “I hope y’all come back soon, city boys.”

Dean’s pushing Sam out the door, the bell tinkling as he tries not to trip over Sam and his embarrassed lack of coordination. The air doesn’t smell so much of rain, but of something interrupted, charges waiting to be dispersed, broken molecules.

“It doesn’t feel right,” Sam says quietly and for the first time that day, Dean has to agree.

A breeze sweeps by and scatters rainwater and the feeling is gone.

**

The day turns restless or maybe it’s just Dean, his blood running too fast and his limbs moving without the rest of him. They hold off on any interviews, arguing over their cover story, what’s best in this kind of instance. The FBI wouldn’t care unless it was some sort of awesome weapon, like what Dean builds in the air with his hands, but Sam vetoes that pretty damn quick, his FBI scowl firmly in place.

The power comes back after about an hour.

There’s not much else, so they head back to the motel where Sam torments Dean, by showering and dripping water everywhere, his hair and eyes dark and also by casually standing there, shirt in his hands, saying, “You know, thunderstorms can bring hail.”

“Holy fuck!” Dean doesn’t think he’s shrieking, but the way Sam’s snickering, it was probably louder than it should’ve been and the pitch could’ve been lower, but screw that, the Impala’s body is in mortal danger and he’s going to take care of this before Sam can say another word.

Sam’s enlisted on weapon duty before he can argue for which Dean congratulates himself and they’re both carting in bags, attempting to be inconspicuous before Dean can let himself breathe. When he leaves, Sam is communing with his laptop, so he makes a few kissy noises, ducks the pair of socks Sam chucks at him and is off to find shelter. He hates to do it, hates to put her where he can’t see her and instantly know she’s ok, that his world is still held together with Detroit steel, but motherfuck, hail, he hadn’t thought of hail.

It doesn’t take long; he finds a garage run by a paunchy mechanic, muscle giving way to age, Marine like his dad, semper fi, tattoos on the guy’s arms, black under his fingernails and spare space behind the garage. Dean pays for a week, hoping it won’t take that long and gets a padlock and key in return, the mechanic sizing him up, “So long as you ain’t stashin’ no dead bodies.” The Impala gleams, black heart shining, and Dean pats her before locking her away.

This turn of events is unexpected and only serves to ruin Dean’s mood, but the mechanic gives him directions to a bar in town, a pat on the shoulder and a handshake that isn’t giving way to age.

The bar sounds excellent; Dean feels like mourning and he’s got the walk back to the motel to come up with a good speech for Sam, how put upon he is and how shitty this hunt is and why are they here again? A little rain? Really?

But he can already picture Sam’s face and hear his voice, Dead people, Dean, remember, death and destruction? Then Dean’s arguing with the Sam in his head, the Sam who flickers between the man slouching in the passenger seat next to him with his amused-disgruntled expression, the fifteen-year-old who was so sullen and sensitive and angry, the little Sam who was so serious and clung to Dean with his hands and his stare as if Dean was everything in the world he needed to explore.

The kid from behind the counter, Jake Jack Jacob, no, a different vowel, Je-Ji-Jo-Ju-Judah, nah, Jubal, that’s right, he’s in the parking lot smoking when Dean walks by. Dean spares him a glance and the kid flicks his cigarette down, mashing it with his sneaker, baseball cap low, and scowls at Dean as if he’s ready to fight or something. These small towns, Dean’s used to that reaction. They’ll probably have to talk to him later anyway, but right now, Dean’s too busy arguing with Sam-in-his-head to think twice.

By the time he’s shoving the motel door shut behind him, Dean’s won, lost, won, lost and finally irrevocably frustrated Sam can get so under his skin even when he’s not there to really argue with because Sam is already under Dean’s skin, has been there for as long as Dean can remember except for the span of time that’s like a long thick scar that aches if he touches it.

And when he comes in, Sam just looks at Dean, hair over his forehead, as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing to Dean, his little brother who takes up so much of him Dean never breathes right unless Sam’s around.

“Feel better?” Sam asks and sometimes Dean thinks Sam can see right through him because he continues, “She’s safe, Dean, she’ll be ok.”

“Hey, gotta take care of her. She’s the only one who truly loves me,” Dean says, slipping out of his jacket and turns to see Sam shaking his head.

“Yeah, must be tough to be so lonely and unloved.”

“Especially since I’m so damn good-looking.”

“Mmm, tragedy, breaks my heart,” Sam says, gaze already dropping back down to his laptop.

Dean sits and kicks his feet onto Sam’s bed, unbalancing him, laptop sliding and he smirks as Sam hustles to catch it.

“I know you’d cry buckets in your ice cream if your laptop ever broke up with you. With hair like yours, I’m surprised you’re not already crying all the time.”

“My laptop adores me and has saved your ass,” Sam points out, points at Dean, eyes in slits.

“Yeah, you’re lonely and unloved, we’ll hafta do something about that.”

His brother leans back, taking his laptop with him like a shield and Dean wonders what he said this time to make him look so defensive, but all Sam says is, “You found a bar.”

“Damn skippy I did.”

“Great.”

So maybe it isn’t just Dean, everything restless and somehow cracked because Sam keeps shifting his legs on the bed, knees bouncing and alcohol sounds like it’s the only thing able to slow them down.

It’s probably a bad idea.

**

The bar is what Dean thought it would be: small but sprawling, worn and used, a couple of pool tables and a lot of smoke. But they’re both having trouble, not drinking as much, not enough to obliterate anything or even make a flimsy attempt.

They aren’t talking, just people-watching though Dean finds himself watching Sam half the time he doesn’t spend gazing at the other bar patrons. Sam can still surprise him, does it almost daily, as if they didn’t grow up together, sharing and bargaining, pushing and pulling through their lives until this very minute.

There’s something in Sam lately he’s holding back and Dean’s scratched the surface twice today; maybe eventually he’ll scratch enough away and win the lottery.

Sam takes a sip of beer, nudges empty bottles out of the way and settles his elbow on the table, head propped on his hand. He takes another sip and says, “Dean.”

But Dean’s got his bottle to his lips, doesn’t respond and Sam says again, “Dean hey Dean.”

“What, Sammy.”

“Why are we unloved and lonely?” The question is so plaintive Dean mentally groans, but when he looks at Sam, his brother’s grinning.

“I already told you, I’m not, never am, never have been,” Dean says, moving to knock Sam’s arm out from under him, but Sam blocks him and steals Dean’s beer.

“‘Cuz of your damn car?”

Sam’s holding Dean’s beer hostage, ransom demand in his words and Dean doesn’t think the price is too steep, but he does think Sam should know better.

“Yeah, ‘cuz of my damn car. Prettiest thing I ever laid eyes on.”

“Today or ever ever?”

Dean almost laughs because what kind of question is that, fuck.

“Well, there was this one girl this one time who could—“

“Asshole, forget I asked,” Sam interrupts, eyes going to the ceiling as he shoves Dean’s beer back at him and it foams up the neck, over the side. The liquid’s cold against Dean’s fingers and he wipes his hands on Sam’s jeans, muttering, “Bitch, your turn to do laundry.”

The people shift and there’s Alma, laughing, her blonde hair loose down her back. She spots them and lifts a hand in greeting, but stays on her bar stool, her friends circled around her.

“I suppose you’ll wanna go say hello,” Sam says into his bottle, words muffled by the alcohol and Dean hates to admit it, but he’s surprised, again.

“Dude, you’re the one she was showing her dimples to. Probably show you a lot more. Don’t hafta worry about me, it’s not like we’re driving, go ahead, baby, and have yourself a good time.” Indicating Alma with his bottle, Dean laughs. “I’ll go seduce your laptop.”

A half-glare and Dean’s counting it as close enough, horseshoes and hand grenades, he’s got another glare to notch on his belt, but as he looks at Sam, the air pulls tight, then there’s an audible snap.

Sam’s eyes go wide and he’s almost out the door before Dean can throw down some cash and catch him.

The night is still, way too still and Sam tilts his head back, staring at the skies. The sun’s gone down, not long before, light trailing into purple and the stars are bright, getting brighter.

A whisper, a rush of noise and Dean recognizes it, like a flock of startled birds, all taking wing at the same time; he’d heard it earlier at the diner, loud and frantic.

“Dean.”

Hearing his name, he glances at Sam, then up to see the stars being eaten away by clouds out of nowhere, colored by an uneasy shudder of thunder and lightning darting out, forked tongues that taste at the sky.

The street’s like a dark tunnel, the wind reckless down it towards them and Sam takes off running into the face of the storm. Dean’s left to chase, yelling his brother’s name into the wind until light fractures the world and a streetlight explodes, glass and sparks showering onto the asphalt, concrete and Sam before the lamp topples over in a screech of dying metal.

Dean’s blinded on his feet, his heart pounding in his ears, loud as the thunder shattering his balance and he tips sideways, hitting brick hard enough to rattle him. He gasps, turning to find Sam, but there’s something cold, solid glass, a window. His hands streak over it as he fumbles forward. Another flare of light, but he’s got his eyes closed.

“Dean, Dean, I’m here.” The words are pressed into his forehead, a hand on his ribs, fingers splayed and now he can breathe.

“Sammy, you fucking moron—“ he starts, but Sam says, “Shut up.”

Dean sighs and repeats himself, “You fucking moron.”

“I said shut up.”

Sam’s guiding him and it sounds like they’re discarding glass as they walk, but then there’s a new noise, layering under the thunder and their cracked footsteps.

“Oh shit, the rain,” Sam says, slipping an arm around Dean’s shoulders, “can you—“

“I can see some now. Run for it.”

He can see, sort of, shapes rising out of the black-gray, enough to dodge, so he’s ready to follow Sam. He’s startled when long fingers wrap around his wrist and Sam says, “Three.”

The rain hits them as they reach the motel parking lot. It’s like river stones, cold and bruising, heavy. Sam gets the door open, jostles Dean inside and slams the door on the raging storm. The lock clicks and the hum of electricity in the building slows, the lamps fading and then it all dies.

They just stand there for a minute in the dark, catching their breath, listening to each other breathe over the cacophony outside, the flashes of lightning which bring the windows, the room to juddering hyperreal life. A siren winds into a temper tantrum, howling in uneven ellipses, a screaming orbit.

“Please tell me we have some candles,” Dean says, throwing his hands out, but Sam isn’t there, squelching away in his shoes.

“Yeah, we got some.” Rustling of fabric, Sam cursing and Dean sways, his balance still a little shaken, lost in adrenaline, alcohol, the blackout. His mind replays it: Sam racing headlong at the light and sound machine of the storm, then the lightning bolt trickling down to hit the streetlamp, then Sam is buried in fire and the world is breaking.

“You idiot, I thought the light was going to crush you or. Or. Or you were going to get struck, what the fuck were you doing?”

It’s in his head, but he hears himself say it, all but yelling and a candle lights as the windows flicker with the storm’s own roman candles.

His brother swims out of the dark yellow, silhouetted, and though Dean can only see half his face, he’s wearing that expression, just listen to me, as his mouth moves, “I wanted to see the origin. There had to be someone at the beginning, maybe the leading edge and I wanted—“

Red on his skin, almost black in the fluttering circle of the candle and Dean’s angry, so fast and so overwhelming.

“You’re cut, bitch, is there glass in your clothes, you stupid—“ and he’s grabbed Sam, shaking him, half-believing Sam will just come apart in bloody shards, but he can’t stop, still shaking Sam before he’s pushed back, Sam holding his wrists.

“It’s ok, Dean, it’s ok, stop, I’m ok, really.”

Dean pulls himself away and trips until he finds his bed, feeling too drunk and too sober in an exhausting mixture.

**

The next morning when Dean wakes, Sam’s standing at the window, peeking through the curtains.

“That kid from the front desk is out there smoking,” Sam says without turning around.

“A pyro if I ever saw one,” Dean grits out, struggling to sit up, but his clothes have gone stiff.

Sam wanders by, scratching at his arm. “Yeah, takes one to know one.”

“I think your insults require a little caffeine.”

“So you thinking witches? A coven? I suppose it could just be one witch working alone.”

Dean’s starting early this morning, but Sam doesn’t rise to the bait, leaving Dean to sit on his bed with his joints and his pride feeling miserable.

“Never mind you and your insults, I need caffeine before I can start discussing witches.”

“Then move your ass.”

Oh, Dean can work with that. “Just my ass? What about the rest of me?”

“If you don’t get your whole sorry self in the shower, I will put you in there myself.” Sam’s glowering in general, searching through their bags.

He opts to ignore the glowering. Shower, caffeine, food, then maybe witches. In that order. Though he’d rather skip the witches.

The water’s hot enough to make him flush red and his blood to run scorching and fast, his skin sensitive to his own touch until he’s gasping against the tiles. He actually has clean clothes and Sam’s laptop is closed, his eyes following Dean around the room and Dean thinks it might turn out to be a good day.

They don’t discuss it, simply head back over to the diner and Sam’s rolling his eyes as they bump shoulders down the sidewalk, so Dean says, “What, you wanna see her again, don’t you, you sly dog.”

“Dean, I can’t believe you’re real.”

“It’s ok to admit it, Sammy, you can be all romantic and—“

Sam almost hits him with the door as he opens it, so Dean trips him and yeah, this could be a pretty good day.

Alma throws them a smile when they walk in; they pick a table and she stops by with fresh coffee and no menus.

“Good to see you two this morning,” she says, “y’all know you can trust me, I’ll bring you the best breakfast you’ve ever had.”

She eyes them for a moment, then folds a towel and deposits it and the coffee pot on the table. “I think y’all need this.” She heads to the kitchen, calling out an order as she goes.

“See, you got the dimples, she’s totally up for it. You take her out to eat or whatever and I’ll go crack this hunt. Go on, go buy her a corsage or something.”

“Why do you keep pushing this, Dean?”

There’s the look again, the one telling Dean he just crossed a line somewhere, something scratched in the dust that’s quickly lost as his feet scuff at it. And Sam stares at him, hands open on the table like he could grab the answers from Dean, his gaze flinty and it’s the slow-burning anger Sam’s always had, all focused on Dean. If the wind blows just right, he’ll be reduced to ash.

He shrugs, twisting his cup. He’d rather talk about the possibility of witches, their hands in blood and water to bring about storms, their mouths speaking lightning and tornados; he’d rather talk about what they’re supposed to be doing right now, tracking squall lines and rainfall, people who’ve seen the heavens reach down and murder someone.

Their coffee is steaming and Sam is still watching him, every line of his brother’s body strained and black with his anger, underscored with weariness, but Dean can only shrug again.

Sam doesn’t talk to anyone anymore outside of Dean and maybe Bobby. It’s constant research, anything, everything, always spinning darker and darker into an endless well as Sam reads about Hell and souls and contracts binding beyond death. He’s trying and Dean doesn’t want him to, wants him to stop and enjoy the coffee in front of him and the way their knees crowd against each other and the feeling of being on the road in the car together as if they don’t have a past and have every possible future.

Sam’s alive. He can smile at a pretty girl. That’s why Dean went to the crossroads.

Those hazel eyes slice into him like his favorite knife and Sam’s gearing up, Dean can practically see the words forming, but Alma sets a plate down, clatter loud in Dean’s ears.

“Here. Now I expect these to be clean when I come back,” she says, beaming. “Eat up.”

They both give her fake smiles and Sam nods, “Thanks, we’ll do our best.”

“I bet you will,” she says, winks. Dean’s going to press his luck and the issue, knocking Sam’s leg, but Sam traps Dean with his knees.

The bell over the door rings and she whisks away to help the new customer, greeting them by name as if they made her day.

Dean hasn’t heard his own name said like that in a long time, in Sam’s voice. He misses it.

Sam squeezes his leg, hard, and Dean bites his tongue in pain.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Dean, but just. Stop it. I don’t—“

His legs relax, releasing Dean and free, he jerks away, pushing his chair back a bit. Sam shoots him a dark look as the chair squeals, then stabs his fork into his eggs, yolks spreading and staining.

They eat in silence, Sam glancing out the window, Dean glancing at Sam. He’s not really hungry anymore, but the food’s fantastic, so he eats anyway. Lately, he needs all his energy because Dean feels like he’s losing a battle he didn’t know he was fighting. Sam holds all the maps, controls all the artillery and Dean stumbles around, shell-shocked, wanting his brother to come back and be his brother, wanting him so much he’s losing his senses.

The sky is so blue it almost hurts, clear and wide, and people go on about their day, but they look over their shoulders, above them and they move with fast jittering steps.

Dean understands they’re waiting for lightning at any moment, floods and against-all-odds death in a stampede of clouds and thunder. The town is breaking.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spots Sam attempting to be stealthy, inching towards his bacon, so Dean throws it at him.

Lips twisted, Sam says, “I don’t want it now, you touched it.”

“Such a whiny little bitch. Just eat it.”

“Are we gonna fight about this too?”

All of Dean’s breath surges out of him in a sigh and he fishes for his saccharine-laced tone. “No, Sam, I want you to have it. Take it, sparky. It’ll help you grow big and strong, then maybe some day, you can kick ass like me.”

“I didn’t start the food fight,” Sam mutters around the bacon, crispy and crunching.

“You would’ve lost anyway.”

“No, you’d surrender early.”

“How do you figure, Napoleon?”

A grin on Sam, his know-it-all grin that irritates the shit out of Dean sometimes. “Because I have a secret weapon.”

“We’re not going to sit in a nice family-friendly diner and discuss your secret wish to run around naked,” Dean says firmly, distracting himself with toast.

When he looks up, Sam’s caught momentarily speechless. Dean adds a point to his side, but then, his brother’s eyes gleam and now he’s worried.

“So that’s how you—“

And then there’s Alma in her blue uniform, hands on her hips. An idea is forming, from Dean’s serious scientific study, maybe Alma has some sort of supernatural ability to interrupt everything and he’d really hate to have to accidentally dump salt or holy water on her. She seems nice. And she likes Sam.

He should pour salt or holy water on her on principle alone.

“How rude of me! I didn’t ask how long y’all are staying. Passing through? Business or pleasure?” Alma chatters, laughing, practically sparking. It must be Sam’s attention, the actual smile he gives her this time. Dean feels forgotten, so he jumps in.

“Stormchasers. Heard through the grapevine there might be some unusual weather patterns here, so we thought we’d check it out. Business never works out unless there’s a little pleasure too.” His grin invites her attention and laughter.

So they hadn’t officially decided on their cover story yet, but that’s no reason for Sam to look at him like that, jaw twitching, his whole face struggling to keep a smile instead of the why the fuck haven’t I killed you yet expression it wants to have.

Triumphant, he stands, slipping around Alma to head to the restroom.

He tries not to think (again, like usual, like always) of how he’s pushing Sam to the cliff he’d originally wanted to pull him away from, have him fall into life as Sam so wanted it to be, as it should be, not life as it always has been, as it is now (as it will be).

He steers clear of the mirror as he washes his hands.

Dean takes his time, sauntering and Sam looks so happy as he chats with Alma, discussing storm fronts and cloud formations and why green in the clouds means hail.

Sam in seventh grade and Dean warily flipping through textbooks, glue, cotton, markers, to help his little brother build a model, low pressures and high pressures, cloud types and how tornados form. Sam at seven, pressed against Dean’s side in the car, arms around each other as good as seatbelts and Dean would pester their father to go after the storms in their path. Dean wanted to chase them and Sam wanted whatever Dean wanted. Sam at three, bouncing in the middle of a motel bed, giggling at the flashes of lightning and the huge goofy faces Dean made as thunder tore across the sky.

Stupid fucking hunt.

Sam stands, still smiling down at Alma who pats him on the arm.

“Well, y’all should go visit my Gran. She’s an amateur meteorologist herself. Lived here all her life and knows the area’s weather history like the back of her own hand,” she says, brown eyes sparkling, “let me give you directions.”

Flipping over her notepad, Alma scribbles street names in rounded script and jots lines. Dean goes to pay while Sam double-checks the turn left and another turn left and turn right and look for the gas station on the corner.

From where Dean is across the diner, it’s as if Sam’s alone, a nice boy making friends with the pretty waitress at the local eatery before heading out to his job, office, home, the rest of his quiet life.

And Dean can see why Sam would want normalcy so damn much.

The bell dings and they hit the sidewalk, following Alma’s directions.

This time, it’s Sam pushing to get Dean to talk to him, but he has nothing left to say.

**

The house is set off by itself, at the end of the lane, almost at the edge of town. The neighborhood trickles into dead end roads, bordering open fields and the sky.

Alma’s gran is in her rocking chair on the porch, resting so she faces north and the wide plains.

“You smell of salt. That's good,” the old woman says and when she tilts her head, they realize she’s blind. White sightless eyes; she says, “A good omen. Salt dries the air.”

“Too much rain?” Sam guesses and she nods in time with the rocker, like swaying.

“Rain is a blessing, but those can quickly become curses,” she intones. “Flip of a coin.”

The wind is out of the southwest. The woman leans into it as if it's telling her something. But all they hear are the wind chimes, wood and copper, mournful. The chimes twist in the breeze and three feathers dangle at the bottom, tangled, sleek black with tips of white and yellow.

Dean’s never seen feathers like those, the black shifting as if it’s living, the white and yellow glowing in the sunlight as the chimes drift. He’s reaching out to touch them when the woman makes a noise like a sob.

“Sometimes all you can do is wait and listen to the rain,” she says, almost to herself. Dean raises his eyebrows and Sam shakes his head.

“My name is Sam and this is my brother Dean,” he says, waving Dean over next to him.

So she doesn’t think Sam’s crazy, Dean shifts his weight to better show his presence, says, “Your granddaughter Alma sent us, said you could tell us about the weather in the area.”

Her long silver hair is dragged along her shoulders by the wind, curls like river rapids, and she sits for a moment, blinking.

“Alma sent you? Well, she’s a good girl,” the woman finally says in tune with the faint noise of the chimes. “I’m Tallulah Hale. You want to know about the weather patterns of this region?”

“Yes, Mrs. Hale, if it’s not an inconvenience.”

“Call me Tallulah.” She rocks in her chair, her face tilted to their heights, as if she can see them from where their voices appear. “Amateur weathermen?”

Giving his polite laugh, Sam scowls at Dean as he says, “Stormchasers.”

Dean grins, shrugging, and Sam’s scowl darkens.

“Yes, stormchasers. We get some of you passing through town from time to time. ‘Spose you’ve heard about the storms lately,” she says, rocking, hands clasped in her lap.

The chimes twist again, low and sad, the feathers brushing together with a whisper.

“Yes, ma’am,” Dean says, as Sam glances quizzically past his shoulder at the chimes. “If we could borrow a few minutes of your time—“

“That would be wonderful, young man, but I can’t today. I have a prior engagement.”

A throaty roar and they look to the sky, but Tallulah turns towards the street. A car growls around the corner, too fast, and speeds through the neighborhood to the house, sliding next to the curb with a muffled screech, tires rubbing the concrete.

The door is flung open and the kid, Jubal, gets out, slamming it behind him, the car rocking a little and Dean winces. Sullen and flat-eyed, Jubal slouches down the sidewalk to the porch. His blonde hair is mussed, baseball cap missing, and he draws a pack of cigarettes from his low-slung jeans, tapping one out in his hand.

“Hey Gran, you need anything?” he asks, stance defensive as he assesses Sam and Dean. He’s not afraid of them, not of Sam who tends to make people fidgety even when he’s not looming, standing like he can stop the earth’s rotation.

Sam returns his gaze, unfazed by the blunt observation and Dean smirks in challenge, what a punk kid.

“There’s lemonade in the fridge, can you pour a couple of glasses?” Tallulah replies, pointing indoors, “where’s your cousin?”

He lights his cigarette and it moves with his lips as he says, “She’s on her way,” then he goes in, letting the screen door slam behind him.

She smiles like she knows what they’re thinking, “He’s still outgrowing his teenager phase. A late bloomer.”

“Sam was too,” Dean says, clapping his brother on the shoulder. She laughs, low like the chimes, and Sam takes the opportunity to step on Dean’s foot. In revenge, Dean digs his fingers into Sam’s muscles, pinching.

Pushing off the rocker, she slowly stands and they go to help her, but she waves them off. “Jubal’ll come out of it, though I don’t think it’ll change his driving. Boy drives like there’s a demon after him.”

It’s just a turn of phrase, but Dean feels the truth of it, feels the sting of it when, voice on edge, Sam replies, “Dean drives like that too.”

Dean goes to look at the feathers again so he can ignore the upset color of Sam’s eyes and he half-listens as Sam and Tallulah agree to meet tomorrow. The black is almost reflective, glimmering and there’s a tiny prickle as the white-yellow grazes his fingertips. In the background, Sam’s asking for directions to the library, Tallulah commanding him, straight as an arrow and Dean lets the feathers shock him again, as if it’s static electricity and a hand to metal.

Through new streets to the library and the skies stay clear, not even a hint of rain or clouds or anything dark and fateful on the horizon, just the breeze at their backs, like driving with the windows down, like Sam’s breath on his neck after the streetlight burst, Dean Dean I’m here..

He shivers and Sam touches his wrist, absent-minded; Dean remembers Sam saying Three and he’s trying not to think about it, how Sam ran off, how he almost lost Sam again (fucking again), how he can breathe and breathe and breathe.

“We’re here,” Sam says, tugging on Dean’s sleeve, “Hey, c’mon, just for a little while, won’t take long, I swear.”

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Dean says, ducking out of Sam’s reach, then Sam’s laughing, forever one of the best sounds Dean’s ever heard and it’s always impossible for him not to smile, but he’s going to keep teasing it out until the day he dies. Which stops him cold, but Sam’s still laughing.

“Dude, you just called yourself a girl. I knew you could admit to it. Gold star, man, gold star.” His laughter precedes him into the library and he’s shushed by a passing librarian, which lightens Dean’s spirits a little.

He trails Sam between the stacks, whispering, “So yes or no on the witch, Sammy? Which one—hey, which witch which witch which witch—“

“Dean, this isn’t conducive to research.”

“Why the hell do you always have to sound like a professor? And a snobby one at that. I didn’t teach you to be snobby.”

A glare, but Dean hasn’t been keeping track today and he mourns the loss of his possible awesome win. Only when they’re settled at a table, surrounded by piles of books, does it feel like the day is going back to normal, so Dean tests it by kicking Sam and flicking at the books.

“It’d help if you told me what we’re looking for, genius,” he hisses and Sam shrugs.

“I don’t think it’s a witch,” Sam whispers back, all urgent like, “did you see those feathers? They looked familiar.”

“Is this another Stanford thing? Did you take up bird-watching to add to the mind-numbing boredom since you didn’t have things to shoot and me to talk to?”

It’s quickly becoming his lucky day, faster and faster, like a spinning penny because Sam glares again and he needs to check his watch, it’s got to be a record somewhere.

Sam disappoints him, dryly says, “Those weren’t regular bird feathers.”

“I knew it, they came from a flying reptile. Like how the tyrannosaurus rex evolved into chickens. Bastards used to terrorize the Cretaceous Period, crazy killing machines, now we eat them. Boggles the mind.”

His brother’s going to burn holes into Dean’s head with his eyes and Dean would be the luckiest son of a bitch to come out of Vegas, easily betting Sam wants to drop him through a black hole in the floor.

“Dean, seriously, I. You. Here, just look through this.”

Birds in Ancient Folklore slides across the table, almost falling into his lap, a heavy doorstopper of a book about to make him a eunuch.

At least Sam’s not sighing over his books, doesn’t have his hands covering his eyes and the desperate set to his mouth. At least he’s reading about birds that take over the sky and not demons that take over everything else.

**

If anything, Dean’s going to know a lot about birds, the ones in folklore that screamed and wheeled over cowering ancient peoples, their legends passed on by word of mouth and widened eyes and hushed voices.

Right away, he (and Sam too, gotta give the kid credit) knew it wasn’t a phoenix which saddened Dean a bit because c’mon, a phoenix, fire. Although buildings in town have caught fire, it’s always due to the lightning, directly or indirectly. Still, Dean would’ve loved to see a phoenix.

They’re surrounded by sheets and sheets of photocopies and Sam’s almost folded in half, bowing to his laptop and Dean can’t take it anymore, all the stark black-and-white text, the pictures trail after him everywhere. He’s seen enough feathers and wings to last him a lifetime (longer than this one) and there’s only half-ideas, shadowy impressions that dart far out of reach, minnows in a very deep lake.

“Sammy, stop.” Dean waves a hand in front of the monitor and Sam blinks as if he’s coming awake. “Stop, let’s. Let’s go out. Fresh air. Good for you.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, just tosses Sam’s jacket in Sam’s general direction, slipping into his own, the leather chilly. Sam stands and stretches, his shirts riding up, faint puckered scar on his back and Dean really needs a drink as Sam goes to his tiptoes. He wants the alcohol, wants it to blur the fact he keeps thinking about putting his mouth all along Sam’s lines, along the scar near his spine and every other one he’s ever gotten, smudge the reminders of death and pain with something else, something warm and whole and unbroken.

Arm around Sam’s shoulders, Dean gets him into a loose headlock and drags him out of the room, Sam saying, “Dean, man, do you have any idea—“

“Nope, no idea, no theories, no hypotheses,” he says without space for argument, running his hand through Sam’s hair before letting him go. “None of that. Just us, dumbass, just us.”

“I’m the dumbass?”

“Well, you look like a dumbass.”

Sam huffs a short laugh, smiling sideways at Dean. “Takes one to know one.”

And Dean groans, “Dude, you already used that, what, this morning? C’mon, be inventive.”

“What do you want from me, Dean, I’ve been doing all the work, motherfucker, not like you can contribute anything in the brains department. Probably too busy picturing chickens mating with dinosaurs.”

He glances at Dean, the slanting mischievous look Dean waits for, his brother ready to crack him.

“Or you’ve been imagining Bobby in lingerie,” Sam says with a vicious curl to his lips, voice dripping dark and suggestive.

Shit, Sam, I’m shocked—“

“I know, you can’t help it. Fire engine red, with black lace, maybe some bows?”

The day is tipping over into night, a child’s toy dotted with lights and the air is slow, easy, free. They walk to the bar, nudging each other off the curb and around the streetlights, the insults between them coiling together with laughter tighter and tighter until they’re knotted, strung so Dean can’t comprehend anything else, Sam’s eyes on him and blazing.

Through the door and they pitch right into the middle of a group of people, hands protecting glasses full of beer and Alma’s laughter breaking over their heads.

“City boys, y’all visiting again?” She’s flushed with fun and the warmth of the bar. Dean can really appreciate her prettiness, glances to see if Sam is, smiling those dimples at her. But Sam’s helping people with spilled drinks, soggy napkins in his hands, as Alma sashays her way to them.

She claps her hands and the group twists to see her, then she’s introducing Sam and Dean around like it’s a school dance, everyone speculative of them for a handful of seconds before deciding they’re good people.

Like a rotating band, he meets John, George, Paul, Peter, Michelle, Jimmy, Robert, Grace, Janice, Joan, Phil, and shakes even more hands; the names all slur and mix in alcohol, cocktails of all flavors.

Dean grins so they don’t mistake him and Sam for anyone dangerous and jumps right in because this could be very, very fun. In the haze of lights, he spots Jubal at the bar, smoking, casting glances behind him every once in a while.

It’s as if the town split open, spilling its contents into the bar, everyone gathered there to celebrate a night without storms though Dean thinks vaguely they’re counting a little early, the night is far from over. Maybe without the storms, without the rain, they can’t see anything further, nothing past this point, this moment in time because right now, there’s nothing better.

He’s attempting to get to Sam, check that he’s relaxing, losing himself in the party atmosphere, but his buzzed progress is halted by a couple of the girls whose names he keeps switching around in his mind.

Sam’s with Alma and another guy, their heads bent together at a table, the guy talking with wide gestures and Alma’s hand resting on Sam’s arm. It impresses Dean, has since Sam was little, how effortlessly Sam slips into other people’s lives, how he can make friends if he wants to with just a smile and his laugh, hair in his eyes. Sometimes, he seems so impossibly young.

Smiling into his drink, Dean feels weightless and the girls press against him, soft and inviting. So fucking tempting, their gaze raking over him, like their nails trailing down his chest and he lets himself be towed by his pockets towards a corner.

They skirt around the table with Sam, Alma and the guy, but then Alma yells at them, a liquor-lively greeting, so the girls let go of him to giggle and throw their arms around Alma, careful of the beer bottles in their hands. They leave lipstick kisses on her cheeks and Sam’s leant back, watching them, eyebrows quirked, amused. The other guy is still talking though no one’s paying attention and the three girls head off after the neon glow of the bathroom signs at the back of the bar, waving at Sam and Dean, whispering and giggling.

A low chuckle near his ear; Sam’s laughing, “Guess they didn’t want to play with you after all. Dean Winchester, pretty boy, striking out. Shame it happens all the damn time.”

And he doesn’t need to take that shit from his little brother, so Dean shoves Sam outside where he can yell at him probably, maybe punch him for his stupidity and insolence, force him into some kind of dumb prank or dare.

But they’re grinning at each other, reckless and fearless, invincible like they’ve been since they were kids, untouchable and unstoppable in an explosive hydrogen bomb kind of way. They grin and Sam steps up close to Dean, all height and so much fucking heat Dean’s running hot and cold between Sam and the night air. His little brother, staring at him as if Dean’s the thing that makes life simple, like the turn of a key or the last piece of a puzzle or the clean sweep of wind and speed.

Sam laughs, slow and Dean can feel it carefree and skittering on his skin.

Hands in his pockets, leaning in like it’s a secret, Sam says, “You, you really can't.” His smile slides a little into confusion, “You can't tell, can you?”

There’s a wall behind Dean and he sags against it, suddenly unsure under the star-pierced sky, pinned by Sam’s eyes and Sam’s question.

“What, Sammy?” he asks without looking away, rubbing his knuckles on the bricks.

A heavy sigh and Sam’s head drops as he murmurs, “No fucking clue.”

The stars are spinning now and Dean’s struggling to fix it, wanting to say whatever it is Sam needs to hear, but Sam brushes by him to the door of the bar and orders, “Just stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Dean scrapes against the wall, sick with the fact that that went horribly wrong because somewhere along the way he missed all the signs and omens that tell him how to interpret his brother.

He shuts everything out, lets his rising frustration slither away with the cool air. If he doesn’t, he’ll do something stupid and life-changing, a magic bullet that splinters it all into a million fickle pieces, leaving Dean behind with nothing.

The night is still, so quiet and thick Dean is ready to misplace himself in it, pretty sure he could reach out and touch it, but Sam’s back, fingers on Dean’s neck, tugging on him.

“C’mon, useful idiot, let’s go. Past your bedtime.”

“You’re younger than me, dummy. I can stay up as late as I want.”

Sam guides him down the street, hand curled against Dean’s skin and he gets an arm around Sam, pulling them hip to hip with a jerk. They tuck against each other, but it seems like so much has been said Dean can’t figure out what he wants to say now, all his edges burning with irritation.

They’re silent back to the motel and Sam props himself beside their room, then lets Dean heave him indoors.

Glancing pointlessly around, shucking jacket, boots, socks, it takes a little while before Dean realizes he’s waiting for Sam to pick up where he left off, research, more research and more mountains and molehills of research. But Sam instead gets ready for bed, crawling under his nest of blankets, the television sputtering in a distorted jumble of images and sound.

Right as he falls asleep, Dean realizes there wasn’t a storm to scatter the skies; it didn’t storm even though it fucking feels like it did.

**

The thing that wakes Dean is the smell of coffee and he’s so damn grateful, proud of his little brother, the kid did good this morning. What he sees first is Sam over on his bed with his laptop and when Sam realizes he’s awake, his expression instantly turns defiant.

“That better be something about birds. You know, folklore birds. With weird electrified feathers. Or porn, at the very least, that better be porn,” he says, sitting up. A swift sharp feeling of vertigo and right away, Dean knows it’s not any of that, not if Sam’s biting gaze has anything to do with it.

But then Sam’s face clears and he’s scrambling out of his blankets. “Wait, what did you say? Electrified feathers?”

Dean squints, working to locate his coffee, it has to be there somewhere, he can smell it, but Sam is hanging on the edge of his bed, wanting an answer. Sam’s never been at a loss for questions, but Dean’s always had to search for the answers because Sam digs deep and once, for a long fractured time, Sam found his own answers without Dean.

But it was so long ago, down the road so far lost in the rearview mirror Dean’s forgetting it, not looking back because he has Sam in front of him now, waiting for whatever Dean’s going to say.

He clears his throat, motioning for his coffee now dammit, seeing if he can stretch it until he gets a sip of caffeine. Sam’s fidgeting, but he’s patient and Dean’s the one who has a clue this time (no fucking clue).

“Yeah, the feathers at Tallulah’s house, they were…” He’s stuck for a word. “Tingly?”

It’s as if Dean ground a muddy boot into Sam’s favorite teddy bear the way Sam says, “Tingly.”

Irritated sneer and Dean fights the blankets, balancing his cup, “Yeah, tingly, the tips, it was like static electricity or something. Like that winter when you first discovered scuffing your socks on the carpet and ran around shocking me and Dad. I swear, your hair used to float when you were all charged up and—“

Sam cuts through with an agitated hand. “I think I know what that is.”

“Science? Congratulations, Sherlock, I’m gonna drink some more delicious refreshing coffee, then I’m gonna shower, you know, because some of us have lives outside of birds. Even giant electrified ones.”

But Sam ignores him, “Hand me those—no, the other pile, yeah, that one.” Then he’s happily flipping through pages, opening a pen with his teeth, scribbling in the margins in his handwriting Dean can only read because he grew up with Sam. So Dean heads off after the allure of hot water, trying not to think of how Sam stared at him last night under the smashed-glass sky as his blood races with the heat and wasted want.

When he emerges, toweling at his hair, he asks, “Hey man, should we go back to the diner or look for somewhere new?”

The room is curiously still. No Sam.

It’s disconcerting, all the emptiness; his brother is a freakish gargantuan rivaling Godzilla and Dean knows just how much space Sam takes, but it always throws Dean, always, any time, every time Sam’s out of sight, like a vacuum turning Dean inside out so that there’s nothing but space, the sheer lack and he trips, fumbling to catch himself.

Almost lost on Sam’s disheveled bed is an untidy square of white covered with sprawling untidy black lines.

Sam loves to leave notes, explanations, random pieces of information (blah blah I need this for the hunt, Dean, don’t throw it away blah blah), Latin phrases. Some days, Dean’s surprised he doesn’t find any in the pockets of his jeans, of his jackets, stuffed in with their weapons.

Libraries are Sam’s weakness, kryptonite for the floppy-haired geek, all he needs are the glasses. Dean dresses and gives the room a once over, snatching the pages Sam was reading last, then he’s on the sidewalk, aiming for the library, his coffee still sort of warmish.

Outstretched wings, a savage curved beak, round circles for eyes that seem to track Dean from within the etching, the top page is a huge bird figure on a totem pole with a human face in its chest, a wide smear of a grin with a tongue.

Another page, another drawing, the huge wingspan, feathers hanging in jagged cuts, the predatory curve to the beak and claws, the human face in the chest though this one appears to be in pain.

Geometric, all angles and points, except for the eyes and the bird-of-prey beak, the wings made of stark lines, extend and drop, indicating feathers, indicating…

The print is tiny, but he finally spots a word.

Thunderbird.

He looks at the wings again and now all he can see is rain, wind, lightning. Almost spilling his coffee, Dean stops in the middle of the sidewalk. Closing his eyes, he tilts his head back.

Under a pristine sun-bleached sky, he remembers the feel of the feathers on his fingertips and knows what he’s touched.

There’s a bench outside the library and Dean sits to wait for his brother, a little breathless and disbelieving.

**

Sam is watching him with a raised eyebrow.

“Tingly doesn’t quite cut it when you’ve felt up Nature, right, Sammy?”

“Sometimes I don’t know how you function,” Sam says, crossing his arms, attempting to appear accommodating.

“Caffeine. Sex. Guns? They make life worth living?” Dean grins with the secure happiness that comes from knowing he’s absolutely right.

Shuffling papers, pen cap in his mouth, Sam scrawls something, shapeshifter? separate species?, and talks around the plastic, “You forgot something.”

Just when his day was getting better, Dean’s plunged into annoyance. “Shapeshifter, what the hell, no no no no, I hate those fuckers and wait, what? Your mind games don’t work on me, Jedi, I didn’t forget anything.”

“Yeah, you did. I’m surprised at you, you know, your mind like a steel trap.” Sam likes to think his sarcasm is an art form. “Old age getting to you already, Dean?”

If he somehow kicks Sam as he shifts to get comfortable in the vinyl booth, it most certainly is not his fault because Sam can’t seem to keep track of his own limbs.

Dean huffs, “Fine, what did I forget? The most important meal of the day?”

He prods a plate out of the way of his elbows, stealing the last of Sam’s fries. Back at the diner, they’re strewn in a booth, too late for breakfast, a little early for lunch, but they can eat anytime, especially when they’re pushing papers back and forth, close to the heart of a hunt.

Alma’s not there and they talk a little easier, Dean convinced she likes to eavesdrop, Sam somewhat relieved which Dean figures is only because he thinks Dean won’t tease him about her if she’s not there, dumbass Sam.

There’s layers to his brother, to every thought that passes behind Sam’s eyes and Dean notices the new one, the new old one, the one he’s keeps seeing, tells himself it’s only recent, but it might’ve been months, maybe years now because it’s so familiar, it’s Sam and it scares him how much he doesn’t know what that means, like the twist-turn-drop of a roller coaster when you aren’t looking, at the mercy of outrageous forces you barely understand.

Sam just smiles though, says, “Wicked speed, black paint, lots of chrome, looks to die for…”

Dean would purposely spill his coffee if it wasn’t a waste of a good piping hot beverage and besides, he’d have to help clean and Sam would be pissy for the rest of the day if he stained his jeans.

“I didn’t forget the Impala, asshole, she’s already on the list, that’s a given.”

“Uh-huh.” Two almost non-syllables and yet Sam’s dipped them in his own brand of sarcasm again. Whatever, he can use them to flavor his coffee.

“So we’ve gotta talk to Tallulah ‘cuz I mean, those chimes are nice, but I can’t imagine what she paid for them with the feathers and all,” Dean says, feeling as if he’s smoothing over a future argument. “And maybe this time you can get all tingly too, Sam, like a big boy.”

“Bite me, Dean.”

“Love to, babe.”

In a flurry of hands, Sam gathers the papers, saying in a rush, “All right, let’s head over there, she said to stop by whenever.”

It’s Dean’s turn to raise eyebrows, “Sure thing, freakshow, let’s hurry right over, you afraid you gonna miss your cartoons or something?”

Dark strands in his eyes, Sam ducks his head, not fast enough to hide his smile and Dean cuffs him as they dislodge themselves from the booth.

Under the tinkling of the bell, there’s a smell of water in the air and they both immediately look to the skies. It occurs to Dean this will become a habit, the two of them always with an eye on the weather, on the horizon in ways they aren’t used to. Instead of cop cars and exit strategies, instead of the black gaze of demons and the flying cutlery preferred by poltergeists, they’ll be on the lookout for clouds and all the odds say they won’t be struck by lightning.

Dean knows his death might be fast and it might catch him unawares, the knife between the ribs, the jaws around the jugular, the crunch of the spine, but he never expected to keep his eyes on the skies, the fury of the storm just as dangerous as anything they’ve ever fought.

And Sam. None of that will happen to Sam. Should never have the first time (the last time). It will turn out to be the last thing Dean does, because he will make sure Sam is safe and the cost doesn’t matter, he’s already paid it and still would if he had to, over and over and over. The ending is always the same.

Sam points between buildings as they head for a clear view, ignoring the passersby Dean smiles politely at as if Sam isn’t some sort of weird enormous weather pervert though Dean was the one who thought of the stormchasers thing and anyway, that isn’t part of the argument because Sam will always be weird and enormous and overeager about something bizarre; Dean’s tried to fix that and it’s never worked.

Clouds, slow and converging, a tumbling white and gray; these are different from the storms which appear out of nowhere. The breeze is light and cool, nothing broken in it, nothing like the feeling of disruption, something that starts and ends with pandemonium, the singed heavy dead smell of ozone.

Fussy Sam wants to drop their research at the motel, so they swing by and Dean takes the opportunity to slide a knife into his boot. Tallulah Hale may be a harmless old woman (Sam rolls his eyes, A senior citizen, Dean, c’mon, seriously), but they’ve run into other old women who aren’t so harmless. He has the scars on his shoulders to prove it and Sam has a faint one on his leg so Sam really ought to know better.

“You want an umbrella too, Samantha? Looks like rain.”

“Oh, ha ha, Dean, you’re the one who’s afraid of a little old lady.”

“Cautious, it’s called being cautious, but then again, that’s not in your vocabulary, you’re the one who ran into the storm the other night and almost got brained by a piece of the public works.”

“But I didn’t,” Sam reminds him with a poke to the chest.

Dean shakes him off, threatening to bend Sam’s finger he’s captured, “Helluva rebuttal there, counselor.”

They’re arguing their way down the sidewalk, but they can’t hear each other as Jubal’s car passes them, growling an engine note that makes Dean miss the Impala with breakneck fierceness.

Shoulder bumping Dean’s, Sam says, “You think he’s following us?”

“Paranoia already? I told you to stay away from all those conspiracy theory websites,” Dean says and Sam opens his mouth to retort, but he barrels on, “Nope, that does it, I’m reducing your internet time, I’m the oldest, I can do it.”

Sam shrugs, expression skeptical. “I’m really kinda serious. When I went out to get coffee yesterday, it’s like he was waiting. Just stared at me with his stupid hat on.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know how to hit on you?” Dean’s proud of himself for that one especially when Sam laughs as if he’s disgruntled about being amused.

“I’ve never known my overwhelming attractiveness to make people uncomfortable.”

And there’s his Sam, sheepish grin underpinning the confident tone and Dean bites back his own grin, gets his foot out to trip Sam, but his brother steps over him, “You can do better than that, I know you can, fucking jerk, what a stupendously lousy attempt.”

The clouds are rolling closer, wagon wheels spurred by an easy growing wind and the scent of rain is stronger as they reach Tallulah’s house. Long gray hair loose around her shoulders, she’s in her rocking chair again, ears perked in the direction of the wind.

When they step near, her lips are moving, but they can’t hear anything, Sam glancing at Dean with a silent question and Dean shrugging back no idea, Sammy.

Dean lets Sam speak first, always instant friends with the elderly, sometimes because Dean doesn’t have the patience, sometimes because there’s something inherently free in Sam they’re drawn to, like they can see the curly-haired five-year-old who loved Lucky Charms.

“Mrs. Hale?’ Sam says, bending near and she laughs, “I thought I told you to call me Tallulah. Sam, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am, and—“

“Dean, yes, I remember, how are you two today? Ready for the rain?” Tallulah raises a hand and her white eyes to the sky, a flat line of gray, crayon scribble with split places still showing blue. “It’ll be welcome after all this”—her fingers curl—“after all this bedlam lately. I don’t think there’ll be any sirens today.”

Another glance at each other because she sounds so sure, so very certain and Sam frowns a little. “C’mon inside, boys, it’ll probably start raining soon and it’s hard to talk in the rain,” she says, standing, shuffling to the door.

Indoors, they take her orders as Tallulah settles herself in a chair in the living room. Pitcher of iced tea in the fridge, glasses in the cabinet over the sink, ice in the freezer, sugar in the miniscule sugar bowl on the counter by the ceramic raven figurine Sam runs a finger over, the wings open, the feathers forever frozen fluttering in a high wind, the beak slightly open. Don’t forget the coasters, circles of leather with a design Dean can’t make out even when he runs a hand over them.

They survey the small house as much as they can without seeming obvious, regardless that Tallulah acts like she knows where they are at all times as they putter around before joining her. She tells them about the weather for the region with a shade of affection in her voice. Cold water-mild winters except for those that take it upon themselves to bring snow. White glittering in the rows of winter wheat in the fields, graceful drifts against the houses so people are content to just sit indoors, sipping hot chocolate and watching out the window at the world gone furthest from the sun though it still shines weakly, trying to make the blue skies warm. The summers are hot dry brushfire days suspended for a few hours when a gone-astray thunderstorm stumbles upon them and stays to play though it sometimes ends in tears and rain. Most of the time, the storms appear on one horizon, drive through without stopping except to rev the engine and flash the headlights, then speed on to the other horizon.

“But lately—lately, it’s nothing like that,” she says. “Never in all my years,” her fingers clutching her iced tea as Dean goes to inspect something and Sam follows him, her face inevitably turning towards them as they move.

The house is cozy and it isn’t full of the usual knickknacks jumping out to be knocked over by Sam’s clumsy elbows and Dean’s careless wrists. The thing stealing Dean’s attention is the set of shelves in the corner.

Resting quietly are so many objects Dean doesn’t even try to count. They look like demented artifacts, something pried from the earth without its consent, crooked and twisted and knobbed. Some have bubbles in places as if grabbing oxygen and holding on for dear life. Shiny black, mineral white, a few are long strips of what could be dusty coral, the depths of the ocean floor, spines extending out in a search for something. Sam has to duck a little, finer tubes suspended from the ceiling like spinning yarn from the heavens, coarse and ready to be made into something fine.

Tallulah waits as they look over the contents of the shelves and the ice clinks in their glasses, slowly melting in the silence.

Dean thinks of the feathers on the wind chime, the tremors from the tips against his skin. And suddenly he knows what they are. “Lightning glass,” he says, gleeful. “Lighting glass, Sam.”

“How do you know that?” Sam should know disbelief doesn’t look good on him and some day Dean’s going to tell him, maybe when he’s mocking Dean’s mindblanks over some obscure piece of American history.

“‘Cuz I’m a voodoo child,” Dean replies, smirking happily as Sam rolls his eyes and Tallulah laughs, says, “Come sit back down, boy, and talk to me.” Nodding, Dean shoots Sam a glance oh yeah, I am the man and Sam scowls, but Dean knows he’s just doing it because otherwise he’d have to grin and acknowledge Dean one-upping him.

He’s passed some sort of test and he goes for bonus points, delves for the term as he fetches his tea, the true term, looked it up once after he’d slept with a geology graduate student between hunts while Sam was gone, apparently wasting his education because he obviously didn’t learn anything.

“Fulgurite,” Dean pronounces, the word zapping him and Sam must feel the jolt because he makes a little noise of shock, but Tallulah tips her head, fine gray steel curls sliding along her cheeks as she smiles in their direction.

“Precisely, young man, very good for a stormchaser. Got your head in the clouds, I know, but the lightning is there too, the lightning comes down. Not everyone pays attention to what happens after it strikes. I used to collect them for years, but since my eyes quit on me, Alma does all my foraging for me. I have actual pieces of lightning in my house, gentlemen, Nature captured and caged in sand. Blink and it’s there, blink and it’s gone, but I have its children sitting on my shelf, harnessed and harmless.”

That’s Sam’s cue, Dean can hear the click in Sam’s brain as if he’s wired there himself. His voice warm, tinged with the kind of caramel needed for a smooth transition, Sam says, “We noticed the feathers on your wind chimes too, Tallulah. Ever hear of thunderbirds?”

With an impatient hand, the older woman pushes her hair back and gently leans forward to set her tea down, Dean sliding the coaster, aiming for her glass as it lands. “You two are simply full of surprises, I need to have young men like you around more often. It’s hard to get good entertainment in a small town like this," she remarks in a single breath. "You aren’t just a pair of bumbling stormchasers, those adrenaline junkies with antennas attached to their vehicles and their foolish blustery sense of their own courage. In fact, you know something.”

They sit on the couch, about hip to hip and at her words, their knees press together because Dean can tell it and so can Sam that she’s willing to talk to them, their hunt that much closer to being a victory they can taste, whooping with success as they crank the music and the speed on down the road.

“Like how rare those feathers are,” Sam says.

“Like how they seem to be electrified,” Dean says.

A low faint sound in the sky, a free roll of thunder announcing its presence and Tallulah seems to be thinking something over, humming under her breath.

She scoots back in her chair, getting comfortable, her eyes resting on a point near the ceiling, her hands opening in a way that reminds Dean of his mother; he remembers with an abrupt shiver: her hands picking him up, her hands opening once he was in her lap as if to say let me show you as she began to tell him a story, princes and castles and dragons and the princess to be saved.

Sam’s palm on his shoulder; Dean’s brought back to his brother questioning and worried without saying a word and all he can do is give an uncertain half-movement, Sam’s touch falling away like water.

“This is what my grandmother taught me. This is what I taught Alma and Jubal and my other wayward grandchildren.” Tallulah’s lips curl in a fond ghost of a smile.

“The thunderbird was here before any of us were, when there was just the breathing land, the roaming animals and wild-growing plants, the lifegiver sun in the sky. A giant bird, noble and ruthless, its power can never be measured like how weather is always unpredictable, no matter what technology they strap to its back. Its wingspan is the sky, as far as the eye can see. When it beats its wings, each pull collects clouds, each stroke is thunder and it generates the wind, like the tiniest sparrow in the leaves of a tree.”

Dean is holding his breath and doesn’t know why and Sam leans warm against him.

“The lightning in the clouds, you stormchasers know it as sheet lightning, it’s the great bird’s eyes blinking, the same way we do, sightless or not. But the lightning bolts, the actual lightning that strikes the earth, those are snakes that travel with the thunderbird, crawling down, their tails in the sky, their tongues on the ground to bite and taste. Some say the snakes are always with the thunderbird, companions of the sky. But others say the snakes are victims of the thunderbird’s claws, snatched from their natural habitats. Once the thunderbird has them, they’re transformed into the lightning, treacherous and poisonous.”

She inclines her head to the shelves of lightning glass, “My very own snakebites.”

Sam smiles at Dean and he has to smile back, can’t resist the contented little brother grin.

“It does control rainfall, bringing us its mercy and giving us life, but of course, too much rain and it brings nothing but pain and destruction. The thunderbird is the storm: powerful, smart and crafty. But if you’ve ever watched a storm take over the skies, you know it can start out as a line of plain ol’ clouds and in a few minutes, it’ll become a huge wall of thunderheads, raging and ready to smash anything in its path.

“Some stories have the thunderbird as the slayer of monsters threatening mankind, a wrathful protector. Some stories have it carrying messages between spirits with unrivaled speed. But the one my grandmother always told me is how the thunderbird is a spirit of Nature, bringing us the changing weather, the relief from the sun, the blessing of rain. We should be thankful for the thunderbird: the majesty of its thunder and lightning, how it blankets us with its wings and defends us with the teeth of its beak and the sharpness of its claws.”

Tallulah goes quiet and they hear a pattering on the roof, the slow untroubled drip of rain. Dean listens, so different from the rain of the past few days and next to him, Sam shifts with his hands under his chin and Dean can almost predict what Sam’s about to say.

But she preempts him, winding a curl around a finger, as if she’s being coy and Dean laughs to himself as she says, “The feathers have been in my family for a long time. I don’t know where they came from originally though someone must’ve traded for them. A piece of the thunderbird? Very high price if you ask me.”

Sam raises an eyebrow, his gaze steady on her face and if it weren’t for the milky discs over her eyes, Dean would swear they are examining each other, a contest of wills hidden behind politeness and laced with a flirtation that comes between competitors. Dean knows this what Sam must’ve been like at school, all loose-limbed confidence, laid-back and himself without his father or older brother around, ready to start on the path of the life he’d craved for so long. He remembers because he saw it once, Sam on the sidewalk, bag bumping his side and his friends laughing and roughhousing with him while Dean stayed back in the shadow of a stone arch, missing Sam with an ache that split his ribs and compressed his lungs.

“There’s also stories of thunderbirds, shapeshifters who take human form when they’re not”—Sam waves a hand and Tallulah’s smile grows as she tilts her head—“performing their spiritual duties. Able to cast off their thunderbird shapes like cloaks.”

“Much easier to get feathers,” Tallulah muses and Sam laughs, his unfettered candid laugh as she joins in.

Damn Sam, his polite fucking charm, singing the fucking birds out of the fucking trees, because Dean does know his metaphors, but Dean wants to point out Sam’s singing is off-key and sometimes offensively bad, so he’s not sure how it quite works unless it’s his goofy smile, the slanted puppy eyes, the hair over his forehead, the aw-shucks shuffle of his feet—in any case, sometimes it annoys Dean as much as it makes him proud and it works on the blind too, intrinsic charm in Sam, left to bounce off his smarts.

The front door opens, the noise of rain briefly louder, then it slams shut, and there’s heavy clunking footsteps before Jubal sticks his head in, hair askew, his face angry.

“Hey Gran, you got a minute,” he says, in no way a question because he doesn’t expect a no in reply.

“Jubal, I didn’t think you were coming by today.” Tallulah’s tone is firm. “I already have guests.”

Brown eyes throw daggers at them and Dean has a sudden thought of how hazardous this kid is, too young to realize how reckless he can be, pushing it to limits he can’t handle and might spill over into violence, a violence Dean and Sam are used to in one world and no one else is prepared for in the normal world.

A firestarter who doesn’t care, a punk who won’t hesitate to push if cornered, every kid thrown in jail for every stupid misdemeanor that turns out to be a felony.

Sometimes Dean forgets their brand of violence isn’t the only one out there. Sam stands and Dean moves after his brother as Tallulah turns her body towards her grandson.

“Not now, kiddo, don’t be rude.”

But Jubal’s emanating pure hostility, so Dean steps in front of Sam, a hand on Sam’s belly. “It’s all right, Tallulah, we should probably be on our way, we can continue this later,” he says, keeping his gaze on Jubal. “We know family comes first.”

And Sam’s breath catches, his stomach jumping under Dean’s touch.

“Oh well, all right, tomorrow then? Our talk was just getting interesting.” She smiles, blushing a little and Dean can see the lady in her, the young girl she was once upon a time.

“Absolutely,” he says, helping her out of her chair, giving her fingers a squeeze and she chuckles low.

“Say hi to Alma for us. We didn’t see her at the diner,” Sam says, putting a hand on her arm in good-bye. “Hope she doesn’t have a nasty hangover.”

"Alma? Was she at the bar again? That old coot Greg, he owns the place, used to be a sweetheart of mine. He lets her in there, even though she’s underage and I tell him all the time the sheriff’s gonna shut him down, but he says Alma can handle herself.” Tallulah leans towards them, a palm hiding her mouth, whispering, “Alma thinks he’s still sweet on me.”

“I can see why,” Dean replies, honey-sunshine if he does say so himself and she swats at him as they head for the door.

“Stop trying to charm me, young man, you’re pressing your luck!”

Jubal crowds them out onto the porch into the light drizzle, chilly and trickling. Then, with a glance of pure venom, he shuts the door and Sam elbows Dean, I told you so.

“Dude, it’s just a hunch and ‘sides, you’re still a paranoid weirdo.”

On the steps down to the sidewalk, he gets a crooked smirk from his brother as Sam ridicules, “And you’re hitting on old ladies.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have to if you were prettier,” Dean retorts, which is not what he meant to say, but his brain likes to play tricks on him, thinks it’s real funny.

It should be this time because Sam’s standing in the rain, mouth open like he can’t find his whole vocabulary, so Dean keeps walking, being the astoundingly amazing big brother he is and magnanimously giving Sam the chance to catch up, mentally and physically.

The rain isn’t bad, no need to hurry though Dean’s hair is starting to go damp and he’ll be a bit cold later, but after a few steps, Sam’s next to him, Great Wall of China huge and putting out heat like he’s on fire.

But Sam isn’t saying anything, just walking with Dean as if there’s nothing else they need to be doing, as if this is the only thing in their lives worth doing, in the rain in some small town with gray clouds and vague grumbly thunder above them.

It’s all winding around them, a thin delicate thread Dean feels starts with him and ends with Sam or starts with Sam and ends with himself or is looped between them in a complicated tangle without a start or an end.

He sticks his hands in his pockets, fingers curling against his thighs and says, “So you think it’s the thunderbirds, plural, the shapeshifters? That’s what you think is going on here?”

A sideways look, Sam’s bangs going flat and dark with water into his eyes, “Yeah, maybe, I mean it would make more sense. They aren’t shapeshifters like we know—“

“Bastards, motherfu—“

“But I do think that’s part of it. I mean, the weather’s affected somehow and it’s being controlled. We haven’t seen any sign of witches. The people in this town don’t need witchcraft except maybe against droughts, but that isn’t the issue. According to the librarian—“

“I knew you did more at the library than just read, Sammy, that’s my boy—“

“Dean, I swear, I will hurt you.”

Fighting words and Dean bounces on the balls of his feet. “C’mon, show me what you got, c’mon, let’s go a few rounds.” He puts his fists up in a playful stance and then Sam’s moving so fast, Dean doesn’t have the chance to whine.

Sam holds his wrists in one hand, shoved against Dean’s chest and his arm slides to trap them there as his other long forearm goes around Dean’s neck, his spider legs between Dean’s to trip him, pushing them both into a nearby alley, against an anonymous building. It’s starting to get painful, this martial arts half-hug Sam’s got him in, body bearing down on Dean’s as they stare at each other and Sam whispers, “I forgot you’re fucking oblivious.”

Voices float towards them, so Sam levers himself away, releasing Dean, and simply walks back to the street. It’s lucky for Sam, lucky dumb asshole, Dean’s woozy, puzzled and annoyed, Sam leaving him to stupidly try and catch his breath, defenseless and coming apart, rain dripping down his collar.

Sam talks again as if nothing happened. “The librarian said there haven’t been any droughts lately and there aren’t any predicted.”

Dean snorts, straightening his jacket and Sam runs a hand through his hair, still talking fast as if he’s nervous, “So yeah, thunderbirds, the shapeshifting species, if that’s what they’re called. Imagine if one went insane, all that power, controlling the weather.”

“Yeah, a weapon, you know, like I said when we first got here, Mr. FBI. Tony Stark and all that. Except not, more on our level of twisted shit and no nuclear fallout required...” To his ears, he sounds kind of like he’s rambling, head still swimming with the adrenaline spike of Sam going kung fu and his eyes demanding something from Dean, so Dean shuts up.

Down the sidewalk, umbrellas bob their way, the chattering underneath the colored domes light and happy. They sidestep the people crammed with the umbrellas until someone chirps, “Hey, it’s Alma’s stormchasers!”

An uncomfortable spasm crosses Sam’s face and Dean isn’t exactly feeling charitable either, but they plaster on smiles as the umbrellas tip back to show, uh, Phil and Grace, George and…Janice, yeah, they remember meeting them the other night at the bar, sure, it was good times, glad to see the weather’s behaving today, even if it is raining.

“You coming to the bar tonight?” Janice purrs, leering at Dean and it’s the purple nail polish; he’s reminded of those nails tugging on his shirt in a vapor of alcohol and neon.

He takes a miniscule step back, almost running into his brother. “Um, I dunno about tonight. Sam?”

“We’ve got a few things to do tonight,” Sam says, all fake politeness, very serious. “We have to check on some machinery, printouts, weather forecasts. Tracking storms is a lot of work.”

So very lame, Dean thinks at him, widening his eyes and Sam’s hazel disappears into slits, Let’s see you do better, asshole.

“It’s never good to work too hard. Gotta take a break some time,” Phil announces as if he’s giving them a pearl of wisdom for free.

“Yeah, so maybe we’ll be there,” Dean says, “weather waits for no man.”

“All right, we’ll save you a beer!” Grace burbles and George gives them a thumbs-up before they’re off, umbrellas fighting for space.

“I think you mean time and tide wait for no man, you Rhodes scholar, you.”

“I was being creative, Sam, adapting. I sounded noble and smart as opposed to your we have to check on some machinery. Printouts, really?”

Sam’s attempt at not laughing isn’t going so well, his lips curved and twitching. “Well, at least you sounded smart. I guess that’s something in your favor. Maybe one of these days, Dean, you’ll meet the Great and Powerful Oz and he’ll give you a brain!”

They’re in the middle of nowhere, some town with its name in tiny print on a map, a little black dot on a thin black line and Sam’s grinning at him, his hair drenched with rain, water along his neck, young and insulting and happy, alive and there with Dean.

And he almost can’t handle it.

Licking his lips, his gaze sliding away, Sam says, “You don’t wanna go take your chances with Catwoman there? Purple’s apparently her color.”

“Yeah, no, I think I’m good for now.”

“She was ready to sink her claws into you. Again.”

Dean whistles, says, “Ain’t alcohol fabulous?” and he hears Sam mutter, “Scratching post.”

“I’m probably safer with you, sasquatch.”

They’re almost to the motel and Dean knows what’s going to happen, he knows it like he can feel his heartbeat. In his mind’s eye, he can see it: Sam surrounded by papers again (always), his laptop making a little island, his sanctuary. So Dean takes a leap.

“Sam, don’t do any research tonight.”

“What?” Sam looks a little wary and Dean doesn’t blame him.

“I know you’re gonna. You’ve been doing the reading about the contract, I know, but can we put it off for tonight, just. Just get some pizza, take-out. Maybe some beers. See what’s on TV?”

“You know I’m not gonna let you—“

His body feels suddenly so heavy, his bones dragging him like anchors, so very tired as if he’s already dying. “I know, Sammy, but c’mon, you can’t keep doing this. You’ve got to. Stop.”

Sam’s shaking his head, water flicking onto Dean and they’re at the door, the number crooked, the paint chipping off the wood. It’s just the motel room door, but it feels like a precipice, an optical illusion cliff and they’re running at it without even looking.

“No, I can’t, you know I can’t, Dean. We might finish this hunt, but there’ll always be this ‘cuz I’m not. You can’t see that I.”

His brother seems so defeated, his voice wavering between scared and angry and it’s never anything Dean wants to hear again, ever again.

It all sort of falls out of him in a torrent he kind of hates, saying, “Yeah, I know, you think I’m blind and selfish, but you’re here, you’re with me, and it’s raining and you have no idea, none, you don’t know what it was like.”

“But after, I will, I’ll know and you’re so fucking, I don’t know how you can’t see—“

And Sam leans into him, head tilted down with the look in his eyes, the one Dean chases like it’s the last good thing he’ll find because it’s Sam and his brother’s attention on him is everything he’s wanted since Sam was born, until it all changed, Sam upending his world when he was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen and Dean’s never recovered from the freefall.

A rush goes through him on a crest of thunder; Sam here within his reach, watching Dean with a confused miserable expression, and when Dean puts a hand on his chest, Sam’s heartbeat quickens beneath his palm and this is why he went to the crossroads.

He kisses Sam.

Something lights up in Sam as if Dean’s flicked a switch and electricity is flowing unchecked and fast on tap. Kamikaze kisses, Sam’s mouth on his is blowing everything else away, dispersing it all like so much debris, dust and nothing else matters, nothing but this.

Jerking on the door, they fall into the room and Sam has the presence of mind to kick the door closed, the rain eager to follow them in.

Then it’s hands on clothes, hands on skin and Dean saying into the hollow at the base of Sam’s throat, “What am I so fucking clueless about?” He sucks a bruise there to wipe away the words and Sam’s body vibrates as he laughs and says, “This, you fucking idiot, this.” And he bites at Dean’s jaw to punctuate the darkness of his tone, the pull of his fingers, repeating on every breath, “This this this.”

They fall onto a bed, but miss, skidding off the side and then they’re laughing too hard to do anything right, Dean about to break Sam’s zipper, Sam’s hair brushing over him as he yanks on Dean’s jeans, and they’re on the verge of being teenagers again, too much too soon too early, so turned on and helpless with laughter and want they’re about to shock each other, static electricity, attracting and sparking between them.

In a voice smoky black and full of filth, Sam details what he wants to do to Dean and Dean’s laughing, begging, tasting these layers of Sam, saying, “All of it, Sammy, c’mon, do it all, I dare you.”

Dean was right; that look of Sam’s has to have been years in the making, must’ve been years the way Sam holds onto Dean, the way his tongue is so wet and red against Dean’s stomach, the way he shakes and grounds himself in Dean’s hands. He knows it’s been a long time coming, every twist and bend in the road leading him here, every time he puts his foot on the gas and Sam grins at the surge of speed, every bullet and drop of blood and violent break has been for this, for them, what Dean has been waiting for and wanting and—

Sam is tearing it all down, rearranging Dean like he never imagined, so real and warm and better than he ever pictured, because it’s pieces, shattering and shifting, earthquakes and those resolute forces of nature, inviolable and so fucking true, Dean is biting his lip until he tastes blood and Sam licks it away, keeping him there, helping him fall straight through to the other side.

All of Dean’s senses are taken over by Sam: his palms smoothing along Sam’s thighs; the scent of their arousal blending and mixing; the salty clean taste of Sam’s collarbone, down his side, over his ribs; each gasp like a heartbeat he feels in his blood; the sight of Sam, dazed and happy, smiling, hazel gaze dark and claiming, stretched out as he offers himself to Dean.

And Sam is still talking, promises and possible threats, Dean getting impatient, “Put your money where your mouth is,” and Sam flips them, slams Dean into the bed, “How about here, so fucking greedy,” and his teeth nip near sensitive heavy skin.

They laugh at surprised noises and moans and their limbs tangle-crossed in their haste to reach each other. Against skin and open mouths, they trade bites and kisses, whispering. How it’s never been anything but this. How it’s never been anyone but them. How it’s never been enough and never can be, never will be. In this bed, with the sheets crumpled and pushed underneath them, there is no past, there is no future. Every kiss and slide of skin means the world is that much farther away. It’s them together, tied so they’ll unravel otherwise.

Sweat-slick and greedy, the racing of their blood, it’s relentless; Sam’s eyes are bright and he watches Dean, hand moving on him, and it’s the look Sam gives him, so hungry and craving, he flies apart, arching messily, saying, “Sammy please.” Then as Sam shudders against him, Dean laughs, low and dark, and Sam says, “Dean, do you understand now?” His throat hitches on every aftershock, “Do you do you do you?”

“This, Sammy, this. Us.”

**

It’s still raining, muffled and quiet out and it sounds like their breathing. Soft thunder and the lights flicker in indecision, but stay on.

Taking advantage of Dean’s languid enlightenment, Sam sprawls on top of him which is really unfair and Dean struggles to get an arm around him.

Finally, Dean. Fuck. Took you long enough to—“

“Shut up, Sam, and put your tongue right here, bitch.”

“Just fucking try and make me.” Sam smirks in open challenge.

So Dean obliges Sam, since he asked so nicely, but he isn’t sure whose fault it is when they topple to the floor, trapped in the sheets. He blames Sam; it’s easier that way especially since Dean can make him feel guilty for it, coercion his favorite flavor, but Sam’s too busy burrowing against Dean, his nose pressed to Dean’s nape, mumbling, “Thought I was so transparent, you’d see right through me like you always...”

It tickles, Sam talking against his sweaty neck and Dean reaches back to scratch, finds Sam instead and decides that’s better, fingers in Sam’s hair.

He’s falling asleep, the only reason his mouth moves without his permission, “You should’ve known.”

“You never say what you mean,” Sam contributes, sleep-slurred, “unless you’re talking about porn.”

Dean scoffs and puts up a brief struggle, but Sam just half-turns him, palms wide and possessive now, and quashes any further arguments by coiling around Dean which Dean figures he can’t complain about, tucked in warm with the one person worth having cursed dirt on the knees of his jeans.

It’s still raining, a faint hush-hush, when Dean slips into sleep.

**

A growly roll of thunder hauls Dean out of the comfortable blackness and he’s immediately starving. Carefully, he attempts to ease out of Sam’s grasp, carefully because it has nothing to do with letting Sam sleep and more with not losing a limb in the complicated process Dean isn’t quite awake for.

An annoyed puff of air flutters Sam’s bangs as he says, “Settle down, people are trying to sleep.”

“You’re a sasquatch, not people,” Dean replies, almost free, clutching at the edge of the bed. It’s a little chilly, away from Sam and he’s reminded the motel room smells stale, like old smoke and chemical cleaner. Now his brain is wondering why this was a good idea; he was warm where he was and Sam smells like home and Sam and every part of this life Dean wants to keep, but then his stomach gurgles and he remembers.

“Food,” he says, as if the one word explains it all, solves everything. The solution is always burgers and fries, maybe onion rings, and pie.

Blinking through his hair, Sam asks, “At a time like this?” His voice has a whiny lining to it and Dean rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, you big baby, ‘sides what did we learn in school? Food gives you energy and energy—“

“Helps you fuck your brother into the mattress?”

Sam’s chuckling like he has certain filthy things in mind and his smile is making Dean desperate to encourage his evil genius ideas, but food, so Dean pulls out of Sam’s hands, toppling against the side of the bed. “Well, that’s one way to put it, Sammy—“

“Tempting, so very, very tempting. I don’t know how you”—Sam pauses, fidgeting and when Dean glances at him, he looks a little like he’s drifting, lost—“resisted for so long.”

And just like that, the conversation’s slipped off the rails, charging headlong on all cylinders somewhere Dean didn’t expect. He gives a small sigh, searching around for his boxers and he can feel Sam’s gaze on him, following every movement. He isn’t sure what to say; Sam sounds like he wants a history, a timeline of the moments Dean’s hidden away, the seconds and minutes and hours Dean’s never forgotten: glimpses of Sam’s shoulders, the brackets of his hips, Sam’s laugh with his head thrown back, the way he holds a weapon, how he’s lulled to sleep in the Impala, any time Dean’s made Sam smile.

He doesn’t know how to tell Sam all that though; there’s so much of it and he’s sure he’d lose his voice before he could get through it. Dean shrugs on a shirt, says, “Trust me, Sam, I—“

Then Sam’s on his feet, there in a few strides, his fingers stroking Dean’s throat. “Never mind, you don’t have to—it doesn’t matter,” he murmurs against Dean’s mouth, and anything else he was going to say dissolves into kisses.

Dean’s never one to pass up ruining a moment, so his stomach interrupts and Sam gives him a warning look before wandering off to fall onto a bed, sheets strewn haphazardly, not really covering him. Dean finds a pair of jeans, then realizes they’re Sam’s after he’s already started to put them on, muttering as he chucks them on a chair, “Stupid sasquatch, interspecies mating.”

“Mating?” Sam asks around his pillow.

There’s something loose inside of Dean, rattling around his ribs, like he’s still in all the pieces Sam separated earlier and waiting for his brother to put him back together. He knows what it is, hot metal that hits and ignites, flint for fire, setting off bombs, the explosions flaring hyperbright so that he’s dizzy with everything Sam means to him.

Hazel glints at him out of the ramshackle pile of limbs and blankets on the bed and Dean smirks, quirks an eyebrow to say, “What else would you call it?”

Then he’s out the door and crossing the parking lot before Sam can knock Dean’s world sideways with his grin.

No more rain, just suggestions of thunder and the streets have the flat shine of left-behind water. The air’s starting to go a little muggy and Dean feels slow, lazy, taking his time, thinking how easily he can turn Sam’s earlier comment about checking machinery into a filthy phrase, especially if he uses his hands.

A fast food joint ahead and Dean’s not picky, knows Sam isn’t either, so he whistles a little as he goes, aiming for the garishly-lit building. The wind tosses water on him as he passes under a tree, then there’s a painful grip on his arm, close to snapping the bone as it drags him into the alleyway.

This is pure unadulterated shit.

Dean is fucking pissed and he fights back, hard and dirty, throwing punches, his attacker dancing in and out of the shadows. A quick open moment in the fight, he pulls his gun from his jeans and, with the muzzle scraping fabric, trains it on the son of a bitch who thought he could attack Dean Winchester.

“What the fuck do you even think—“

All he sees is a hood before he’s headbutted, then all he sees are silver shards and his arm is being yanked behind him before he’s slammed face first into bricks. Dean feels something in his body slip and hears it crack. He tastes blood. Kicking out, he’s greedily pleased to hear a howl, but as he’s turning, there’s a boot to his left knee, then to his right and he falls with a grunt of pain.

Heavy weight pressed in the middle of his back, pushing harder and harder in a single sharp throbbing focal point on his spine. Whoever this bastard is, he’s strong, not like most humans, pushing Dean around like a bully on a playground. The thought comes to him dimly that Sam was right, an out-of-his-mind fucker with too much power who wants to play weather god.

Dean’s pinned to the asphalt, face mashed into the water-oil-tire-dust smell, and he thinks he’s swallowing blood. Fingers run down his side and he wriggles, feet searching for purchase, but the bastard just rolls a knee into Dean’s kidneys. The hand feels around, taking Dean’s gun and a knife from Dean’s boot.

Then it bends forward, putting more of its weight on Dean and says in his ear, “You’re no fucking weatherman. You need a gun and a knife to protect you from the weather? I know why you’re really here.”

“Oh yeah? Why don’t you tell me, asshole, but make it fast ‘cuz I’m—“

“You think you’re here to kill me. But you won’t. You can’t.”

“Think again, fucker,” Dean says, raspy because he’s being crushed, blood in his throat, it’s hard to breathe…

“No, no, no. You’re gonna see what it’s really like.”

His wrist is jerked around, arm stretched out and a foot comes down on it, restraining him in place. His knife, his own knife, scratches against his skin, ready to bleed the veins there.

Then a laugh and a whisper. “You’re gonna love this.”

“Dean!”

The knife disappears, his gun clattering to the ground. Weight off his back and he hears Sam cursing, the sounds of fighting, the unmistakable noise of Sam being thrown a few times against a wall, groaning.

“You’ll do,” the figure says as it crouches by Sam.

He needs to breathe, he has get to his brother; Dean finds his gun and rolls over, trying to pick out in the mingled shadows which one is the insane fuck and which one is Sam. A small flash of light and Dean aims for that. The gunshot is loud in the alley, echoing to the skies and thunder mimics in response as the attacker runs to the street, footsteps studding the dark.

Unsteady, Dean gets to his feet and staggers over to Sam, who’s slumped and breathing hard. “C’mon, Sammy, c’mon,” he says, reaching for Sam, but his shoulder is screaming and out of commission, feeling spike-crooked and wrong. His knees ache like they’ve been put on backwards, but Dean gets Sam up, his good arm around him. They collapse against the wall together, but it’s a victory, nothing less than because they’re Winchesters, still standing.

It’s as if Sam suddenly comes to, fierce and gigantic, furious in the unequivocally threatening manner Sam owns, and he’s herding Dean back to the motel, giving off waves of unchecked aggression as if it’s the very air he breathes. Though Dean’s spoiling for a true fight too, cowardly little bastard ran off, he’s in pain, his steps stuttering, Sam’s hands extreme on the bruises he can feel rising.

The door shivers in its frame when Sam kicks it shut, flipping all the locks and peering out the window. Dean shambles to the middle of the room, careful not to bump into anything before he says, “Sam, hey Sam, a little help?”

His brother has his hands out like he doesn’t know what to do and Dean chooses to ignore the fact that they’re shaking.

“Dean, holy shit.”

“I’m gorgeous, I know.”

“What happened to you?”

“What happened to you? Are you hurt? And what the hell were you doing there?” Sam’s eyes glitter, anger still close to the surface and Dean hastily says, “I mean, I’m glad you were there, but really—“

Gentle fingers prod at Dean’s shoulder and he hisses, wincing.

“Dislocated, hold on,” Sam says, “I was following you, thought I’d do the same thing, you know, push you into an alley.” He yanks and Dean’s shoulder slides back into the socket, pain pushing gray at the edges of Dean’s vision. “Was gonna have my way with you, but…”

“Yeah, looks like I already made a friend. You jealous?” Now Dean can sit, now he can try to rest, but everything aches and Sam is glancing at him as if Dean’s about to pass out and ruin all his fun.

A bruise on Sam’s cheekbone, his jaw, nasty scrape on his forehead, another mottling collection of bruises on his arms, probably his back and legs too and—“Sammy, what is that?”

“Dude, stop moving around and let me get—“

“No, first, you’re gonna tell me what the hell happened there. Did that fucker cut you? Did he?”

Fuck the gray lines in his sight, the world’s going as red as the blood dripping from Sam’s wrist. Adrenaline is pushing Dean’s anger deeper, “He said I was gonna find out what it’s like, so what did he do to you?”

“It’s not deep, man, c’mon, you might have a broken nose, shit, and you’re pretty tore up, let me just...” Placating tone and Sam’s hiding behind it and Dean feels like shooting something right between the eyes.

“What did he do.”

Hunched over, pawing through their bags for the first aid kit, Sam says, “He cut me, then he cut himself.”

“And what? Made you blood brothers?”

Sam’s body jerks and he keeps his back to Dean. “Something like that. Put the cut against mine. Mixed the blood, said I couldn’t kill him after that. That I’d see what it’s all about.”

“Motherfucker! C’mon, Sam, hospital. Now.”

“Dean, stop freaking the fuck out. Just. There’s not much we can do right now, ok?”

Fevered crazy schemes involving blood transfusions and holding doctors at gunpoint dart through Dean’s mind, but Sam’s standing there, Dean’s little brother, head down, hair in his eyes, fumbling with something in his hands and he’s trembling, whole body quaking. And Dean’s about to lose it, ready to burn the town to the ground, light the sky and watch as it all turns to ash, heat-twisted metal and stretched grotesque remnants of plastic. This little town, the little dot on the thin black line on the map, it will be nothing, not even the dot, not worth the population sign.

The next few minutes blur; Sam checks Dean’s injuries, poking and prodding, as Dean hums and teases, “My very own sexy nurse.” Long fingers squeeze his healthy shoulder and Sam gives him a tense smile. He patches Dean up, then fetches a bandage for his wrist, head bent and Dean can see he’s still stunned. At times like this, Dean feels so stupid and useless, unable to get Sam to smile.

“C’mere, Sammy, c’mere.” Dean can’t quite raise himself from his spot on the bed, so Sam scuttles over, sits next to him. He curls around Sam and rubs circles into whatever part of Sam he can touch until Sam surrenders, flopping on his back, arm pulling Dean close.

“We’ll figure it out, we’ll fix it.” Sam’s chest under his ear and Dean doesn’t realize he’s repeating himself in time to Sam’s heartbeat.

“I know, Dean.”

He feels a kiss in his hair, Sam’s thumb tracing his cheekbone and then nothing.

**

The windows rattle as the wind shrieks by, movie witches on broomsticks, and Dean wakes with a jerk.

It’s pitch black outside and with a pained roll, he looks at the clock. 2:36. In the morning. Fantastic.

And he’s alone on the bed.

Sam’s on his feet, bowed over, one hand on the table propping him. He’s shirtless, sweat glistening on his skin and light seems to flit over his back and shoulders.

Lightning throws everything into sharp relief, all shadows gone for a brief second, then they flood in as the thunder splits everything down the middle.

“Sam?” Dean pushes himself to sit, aching as if he’s been broken in half and glued together. “Sam?”

“It’s all wrong, Dean, something’s wrong.”

He’s off the bed and next to Sam as fast as he can move, way too slow in Dean’s opinion, as if he’s a zombie with pieces of him fitting crookedly.

Eyes scrunched shut, Sam grimaces and he twists his head as if there’s a bone stuck somewhere, in his neck, his vertebrae, his ribs.

“Talk to me, Sammy, what’s going on.” Reaching out, he flattens his palm on the ladder of Sam’s spine and his skin is so hot, feverish.

“Get back. Back away. Dean, now,” Sam says and he sounds like their dad; the deep steady tone brooks no refusal, command and orders, no questions asked.

But Dean’s never been good about being around Sam without asking questions and screw everything if his little brother’s in pain. “C’mon, just tell me—“

Then Sam takes off for the door, snapping the chain lock, throwing the bolt and he’s out in the parking lot, heart of the storm, rain pelting down in mad uncaring fashion.

Darkness and Dean realizes it’s a blackout, no light anywhere and too late, he bounces off the grill of a car. There’s a charge in the air, growing heavier and tighter, like rope coiling around and around and around, searching out loops to make into knots.

And he finds Sam, soaked to the bone, hands on his knees as if he’s run a marathon, trying to breathe through the rain and wind.

Simultaneous lightning and thunder crazing across the flat black glass of the sky and as Dean watches, something materializes on Sam’s shoulders, hovering. A single bolt of lightning, jagged blue-white, strikes a building, flames and sparks bloom, dying fast in a juddering hiss and with a loud snap, the ghostly silhouette on Sam unfolds.

Wings.

The lightning is combustion, each strike setting off another and another and another, the sky at war and in each detonation, Dean can see more and more in the dark.

“Sam, you ok? Tell me you’re ok. Just. Hey Sam, look at me.”

“Dean.” Sam’s eyes are glazed, too bright in his face.

The wings angle forward in a wavering attempt to enfold him and Sam. Black feathers with tips of yellow-white and Sam’s swaying on his feet.

“I gotcha, c’mon, I gotcha,” Dean says, as if Sam was still three and didn’t want to climb into the tub or fall asleep without Dean around.

The storm is reaching its peak and Dean can hear tree limbs cracking, the wind throwing things and somewhere, a window shatters.

He needs to take care of Sam, get him indoors, but Sam just stands there, like he’s listening to something Dean can’t hear, like he’s anticipating a change in the weather.

The rain pours down Sam, rivulets over his skin and wings, his hair dark and the feathers drip as the wings go out to their full span.

“If it keeps on raining,” he says, face turned to the skies, his mouth slick with water.

Dean stares at his brother, tall in the storm, the black wings outstretched, the tips flaring with every lightning strike and all he can idiotically think is, Zeppelin, thank fuck, still Sam, still my little brother.

Sam grabs his shirt, twisting at the damp cotton as he pulls Dean close, a hand sliding to clutch at his hip and he looks desperate to say something.

Thunder and the sound causes the wings to arch, Sam stretching as his shoulders roll and now Dean's the one trying to hold on, both of them slippery in the wind and rain.

It's hard to breathe, the air crackling as lightning streaks so close it's an odd pink color, somehow deepening the black of Sam's wings, then there's a noisy tinny tint to the raindrops.

Hail, careless in the gloom, and Dean finally gets Sam running for the open door of the room. Under the metal overhang, Sam shudders, water thrown from the feathers fast like the hail. Dean puts a hand on his back between his shoulders, hoping to ground them both, and the wings fold forward, blanketing Sam before vanishing with another loud snap, just like they appeared.

They drag each other into the room, slamming the door shut, staring, Dean's whole world narrowed to Sam's hazel eyes, wide in shock and cold.

Sam shudders again, giving a little moan as he kneels unsteadily on the carpet.

Running vertical from Sam's shoulders to the small of his back are two black lines, twining and thick, like the intricate tattoos on their chests and Dean smoothes his fingers over them, Sam shivering with his head bowed.

There's nothing underneath the lines, just Sam, all Sam, muscles twitching. Sam reaches blindly behind him and Dean leans into his hand, covering Sam's body with his own.

In the distance, a set of sirens start their mournful wail, twisted and thrown out of their circling sound orbits by the storm.

**

Under him, Sam shivers harder and Dean talks, a quiet stream of words as he helps Sam off the carpet and out of his clothes. Random things, whatever comes to mind, Dean says it; he retreads old and well-worn rants about music, cars, girls who wear too much makeup, ghouls, why zombies in movies would want to eat brains, the innate creepiness of Mickey Mouse and what’s wrong with people who like winter, I mean, seriously, Sam, who wants to drive in ten inches of snow and scrape ice while they freeze their balls off?

He gets Sam into the bathroom, flicking the shower on, hot hot hot, then after testing the water with his fingers, shoves Sam into the tub. Sam just huddles in the spray wretchedly as Dean pries himself out of his own soaked clinging layers and climbs in with his brother.

The electricity sputters a few times, but Dean pays no attention to it; he talks more, rubbing the warmth into Sam, palms soapy as he cleans them both, trusting Sam will come back to him in a minute or ten. Massaging, he kneads Sam’s back and the black lines don’t rinse off with soap and water, much like he feared.

“You can wash your own hair, buddy, ‘spose you wanna laugh about how I can’t reach or something,” he says and Sam finally (damn, finally) smiles a little, one corner of his mouth curving to point at a dimple.

“Hey, welcome back,” Dean wiggles fingers in Sam’s face, ready to make a crack about shipping Sam off to join the X-Men when Sam grabs him. His joke is ruined, but Dean forgets to care as Sam runs a slow hand down Dean’s face, his nose, lips, chin, jaw, down his throat, chest, belly until he’s palming Dean. He pushes Dean back into the tiles and kisses him, teeth and tongue set so against his mouth.

Sex in the shower is one of those simple pleasures Dean thinks everyone should enjoy, but this is a million times better with Sam. He manhandles Dean into the water, avoiding bruises as best he can, impatient to give, impatient to take and Sam keeps saying his name and Dean keeps replying yes, a call-and-answer between them.

The water runs cold just as Dean’s trying to remember which way is up as Sam trails his tongue along Dean’s hip. They fight with the towels, some game that doesn’t have rules, but Dean always changed the rules on Sam whenever he felt like it though now it feels like Sam’s the one who’s broken all the rules and invented new ones.

The room is plunged into darkness and Sam trips over a boot, Dean landing heavily on top of him. It takes him a minute, Sam emitting these strange noises before he figures out Sam’s talking, saying, “Dean, bastard, bed, get offa me, bed.”

All of Dean’s injuries hit him at once and he groans, loud and pitiful and whiningly pathetic, but Sam, the asshole, is cruelly indifferent, snickering. So Dean has to feel around for Sam’s ankles as he searches for the nearest bed and then track him across the carpet. At long last, a mattress, scratchy sheets and Sam lounging on his stomach, limbs everywhere.

“Probably think you’re special now, don’tcha?” Dean asks, flinging an arm across Sam. “Maybe they print books for this, like those puberty ones, Now That You’ve Got Wings…

Beside him, Sam stiffens. “Dean, I could be dangerous.”

“Dude, after all the training Dad and I’ve given you, you’re already dangerous.”

In the dark, he hears Sam shift around, then there’s a huge boom of thunder. “You know what I mean. Like whatever’s going on out there.”

Lightning reveals Sam, his face pinched and Dean won’t accept that expression. “No, we don’t know what’s going on yet, ok? We won’t let anything happen. I won’t let it happen, whatever it is. I think we’ve had this conversation before, Sammy.”

They’re back in the blackness, windows buzzing with the wind. And Sam’s determined to freak out, “This is different, this is—“

“It’s not worse.” Dean slaps at Sam. “It’s not. There’s nothing we can’t handle. You know that.”

An arm sneaks around Dean’s waist, hauling him over and Sam’s breath skitters along his throat in a shaky sigh.

**

Hot hands hold his heart, they’re holding his chest together as pain trickles through his body, like tiny threads woven in and out of him. Fingers on his mouth and Dean sleepily opens for them and when he pushes his tongue out, a wet skid across skin, there’s a gasp.

“Dean.”

Sam straddles him, staring, focused as if Dean’s been brought back from being lost at sea. And Dean feels urgency rise in him, the push whenever one of them is sick or hurt or bleeding.

“Sammy, what—“ He blinks and Sam’s shadow has grown as his brother runs a hand through Dean’s hair. His wings curve out over them, the black like the fighting night sky, the white and yellow shining as Sam leans close to Dean.

“Look what I did,” he confesses, as if he’s drawn Dean a crayon picture with lumpy shapes or discovered the meaning of life or robbed a bank.

“That’s great, Sam, but can you do magic tricks?” he asks, smirks, stroking Sam’s thighs.

Huffing, Sam sits back and says disinterestedly, “Well, there is this one thing I can do with my mouth.”

“Is that so. Just one?”

“Show and tell?”

Dean laughs and the wings flutter. He nods at them, “How did you do it?”

Sam attempts to shrug, but the movement almost unbalances him, and Dean can’t help it, the shocked expression on Sam’s face is priceless. He cracks up and Sam huffs again, crawls off Dean. Crossing his legs, he picks at wayward strings on the comforter, and now Dean has to dodge the wings, feathers swiping at him.

“Dude, put them away,” he says, blocking a sideways flurry and several feather tips brush his wrist.

A jolt sends his blood speeding, a tremor that vibrates all through him; it’s like hard fingers pressing on all his wounds and he chokes, “Sam, put them away!”

Hazel eyes widen and Sam curls in on himself, like he does when he concentrates. The wings droop, a blanket of black, then they’re gone with the accompanying loud noise.

Two black lines and Sam sighs, his head in his hands.

“They hurt you, didn’t they?” His voice is muffled and Dean catches the other meaning I hurt you.

“Don’t flatter yourself, always thinking you can take me down,” he says, “keep dreaming.”

“Yeah yeah.”

“We should put in a call to Bobby. And yeah, better head over to Tallulah’s; maybe we can get some answers if you show her your trick,” Dean says, getting Sam in a loose headlock.

“Well, I was kinda saving it, but I guess I could do my mouth one if—“

“Oh dude, no.” Dean can’t stop his lips from curling and Sam laughs as he clambers off the bed. “No, get dressed, a naked man with wings is just what this town needs.”

“Maybe it is.” Sam snatches a pair of boxers from his duffel and Dean would swear in a court of law he was about to stick out his tongue too. “‘Sides, you’re the one who looks like he met the business end of a baseball bat.”

It’s as Dean’s putting on his jacket that he gets a good look around. “Sammy, your wings destroyed the room.”

The table’s knocked over, the chairs all pushed askew, a lamp’s broken, the other lying on its side with the lampshade torn and crooked and if Dean squints, there’s faint burn marks on the ceiling, on the walls, scrapes and scratches on the wallpaper, ghost prisoner hash marks.

“Not my fault,” Sam grumbles, sticking his hands in his pockets.

“Yeah it is.”

They wrestle their way out the door, Dean worried Sam’s still shaken, afraid of what that fucker’s brought upon him and Sam watches Dean as if he’s about to turn tail and run, a hand on Dean’s wrist as if he can bind them together through plain touch. He wants to ask Sam if he thinks Dean would abandon him, too scared of his brother to stay, but it’s far-flung anxiety, he’s not leaving Sam and if Sam doesn’t know… A few steps, Sam’s fingers on his wrist again and this time, Dean captures him, wrapping his hand around small bones and the heartbeat fast and heated. Mid-stride, Sam scoots closer and their shadows align.

The day is white, pale and thin, but nothing so far appears too ominous. There are leaves and small twigs everywhere, a few branches fallen on the sidewalk. One of the windows at the diner has tape across it and two guys in overalls work to hang a square of tarp. Some of the cars have pings in their metal and Dean points, nudges Sam, took care of my baby.

Smug never looks good on Sam. “Yeah and who warned you?”

“The Weather Channel?” Dean asks, then he’s giddy, laughing, “oh man, if it turns out to you can control the weather, that’s so what I’m calling you.”

He’s laughing so hard, it’s not really quite so funny, but it feels better than crying, so Dean lets it go. And Sam’s fighting it too, not about to give Dean the satisfaction, stubborn kid.

“Dean, no, you wouldn’t—Dean. Dean!” A sharp yank and Sam’s got him sideways, almost falling, tripped over his own feet. “You jackass, you almost ran into a mailbox.”

“Oh shut up, weathergirl.”

“You shut up.”

Dean waves bring it on, “C’mon, bitch.”

“Naked man with wings, I’ll do it, right here on the sidewalk, scare all the farmers,” Sam hisses, hands on his hips.

And Dean’s actually shocked, scandalized and hotly curious at the same time. “Like you would.”

But Sam’s already tugging on his jacket sleeves, one hand unbuttoning his shirt and Dean has to stop him, bats Sam’s hands away, “What the hell is wrong with you? You keep that up and I’ll call you birdboy or something.”

“You and your crappy nicknames.” Sam glares and Dean has to admit he missed those glares; it’s been too long since the last one, about a day at most.

“You love me and my crappy nicknames,” Dean challenges.

The sidewalk rounds the corner and Sam says, overly bright, “And look, we’re here.”

It’s always good to practice, so Dean takes this opportunity to practice his frown and maybe a scowl. Sam just raises his eyebrows like Dean’s lost his mind and Dean is about to deck him, but remembers Sam’s in a fragile state right now.

They haven’t even rung the doorbell when the door flies open and Alma’s standing there, flustered. Dressed all in black, the shade sets off the blonde of her hair, her eyes seem darker and there are spots of color high in her cheeks.

“Hey city boys, I—oh my lord, what happened to you?” Her mouth drops open, eyes big. “You look like you ran into a wall. A few times.”

The porch creaks as Sam shifts his weight and Dean takes breath. “Um, well—“

“Drunken dispute,” Sam says.

“Bar fight,” Dean says and he smiles, going for rakishly handsome, devil-may-care. “It happens.”

“A lot,” Sam chips in, as if it will make things better. Dean would love to kick him right now, get him in a headlock and shut him up, but that would probably not help the situation. Alma looks skeptical and all he can do is hope that she wasn’t at the bar last night.

So he rocks on his heels, easy bravado and says, “You must’ve missed all the fun.”

“Yeah, well, that’s too bad.” Alma shakes her head, hair swinging forward. “Look, I’m sorry we can’t make this a social call, but Gran and I are headed somewhere,” she blurts and behind her in the house, Tallulah yells, “Who is it, Alma?”

“Y’all come in, but make it snappy.” Motioning, Alma shoos them inside. “Gran, it’s them stormchasers.”

Tallulah is in her kitchen, puttering around, one hand on the counter as she fiddles in a drawer. “Just looking for a spoon, gentlemen, what can I do for you?”

“We need to talk,” Sam says. “We, uh—“ He glances at Dean and Dean nods, shrugs. “We need your help.”

“No worries, boys, but can you come back later? I hate to keep putting you off, but Alma and I are headed to a funeral.”

“Funeral?” It bounces out of Dean before he can stop it and Sam keeps his gaze on the floor.

“Yessir. Ruthie, one of the ladies who runs the fabric store, she was struck by lightning a few days ago. These storms lately, it’s not safe to be out in foul weather.”

Sam disappearing in a shower of sparks and glass. A few days ago. It’s the same storm and there’s the irrational rise, the push-pull in Dean’s veins, fear and fury and the thrum of his brother’s name.

“We’re very sorry to hear it. A terrible tragedy,” Sam says, voice soft. “Please give our condolences.”

Alma nods and Tallulah clicks her tongue. “Yes, it’s a great shame. Lovely, lovely woman. She will be missed, awfully.” Tallulah sighs. “Alma dear, can you fetch my coat?”

Shooting them a small smile, Alma leaves, tucking her hair back and on her cheek is the shine of a bruise, purple and green, and lower, dark areas on her neck she’s tried to hide with makeup. From Sam’s expression, he’s seen them too, his jaw clenched and Dean’s fingers curl.

But then Tallulah says, fast and low, “Now what do you two hooligans need?”

Later, when he thinks about it, Dean probably won’t hold back, giving Sam a good punch to the mouth, but right now, he’s dumbstruck as Sam reaches into his pocket and takes out a feather. Gently, he presses it into Tallulah’s hand and she goes stock-still.

“Where did you get this? Is this from my wind chimes?” she asks, the words tumbling out like an avalanche.

“It’s mine,” Sam says and Dean doesn’t know what to do with that. At least Sam could’ve told him that was the plan. At the very least. Brothers warning each other. Solidarity and all that. Dean feels vulnerable, which he fucking hates.

Tallulah grabs Sam’s sleeve, jerking him down and waves a hand in Dean’s general direction. He steps close, catching her other hand and finds himself in an iron grip, the feather tangled in their fingers. Quick light touches, as if she’s patting them, she inches along to their faces, tracing their jaws, cheekbones, foreheads and Dean doesn’t flinch as her fingertips meet his bruises.

“Yes, brothers, but…but you aren’t true thunderbird descendents, you don’t have the bloodline,” she whispers.

“He has wings, well, not right now, but he did, does,” Dean says, as her hand with the feather trembles, tickling his ear. “ We were attacked last night.”

Tallulah’s expression goes dark. “Was blood spilt?”

He nods in her grasp. “Someone was gonna force their blood on me, but Sam interrupted.”

“So he cut me instead,” Sam says, eyes closed.

“I don’t—thunderbirds are born, not made,” she says, but Alma’s back in the kitchen, her heels ticking along, “Gran, you don’t have a black coat, you wanna borrow mine?”

“Oh, yes, thank you, sweetie.” She releases Sam and Dean, the feather disappearing into her sleeve. Her chin tilts, “Come back in two hours, all right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dean says and Sam nods, grave and silent.

“Stay out of trouble,” Tallulah commands, wagging a finger in their direction. “Now get.”

They get, with Tallulah’s voice behind them, talking about spoons and potato salad and the fridge in the church basement. And it feels like one of those days, life and death, a funeral on a pale white day and food for the grieving and hungry.

**

They’re quiet, walking close enough to almost step on each other. They’ve been to more than their fair share of cemeteries and morgues. Funerals are a different matter though. Dean can’t remember their mother’s. The first few days after Jess’s death are smeared together in Dean’s head because he had Sam, a raw insomniac vengeful Sam, so torn open and red he was almost stripped to the bone. Everything smelled of smoke and memories of another home burning and Dean worried Sam would tip over the edge completely, a ship off the end of the world, never to be seen again. He was scared the Sam he knew would become their dad, and he’d be losing his family all over again.

Certain things happen anyway. And their funerals aren’t like other funerals; there aren’t many people who prefer pyres.

Dean doesn’t think he’ll even get something resembling a funeral. Sam shouldn’t go through that again.

The leaves chatter in a strong gust and Sam makes a startled noise.

“What?”

“I, uh, I dunno,” Sam shrugs, gaze on the sidewalk.

“Uh-huh, sure.” Dean purses his lips, giving Sam a chance to tell the truth, but he’s severely disappointed because Sam just points down the street and says, “We kinda missed breakfast again. Burgers?”

He wants to mimic Sam, food at a time like this, but there’s potato salad and black-clad mourners in a church somewhere, burgers and his brother has been cursed in some way they don’t understand, so the only thing Dean can do is say ok.

Paper bags in hand, back to the motel, and the air is nervous, too much energy, as if it’s the wrong kind, strung out and separating and seeking somehow to ground itself.

“Dean, I need—um, I.” The breeze ruffles through Sam’s hair and his eyes take on an odd sheen, hazel pushed dark.

“Yeah, Sam, use your words. I know you’ve got them in there somewhere.” Unlocking the door, Dean knocks his knuckles on Sam’s skull. “Anybody home?”

Abruptly irritated, Sam smacks Dean’s hand away and sets about getting the table and chairs upright, darting as if he’s had too much coffee or adrenaline or wasted chances to shoot something. It’s downright exasperating as they eat, Sam’s knees bouncing and he keeps wiping his hands on his jeans, back and forth back and forth in harsh friction whispers.

The weak sunlight starts to disappear; more clouds and Dean’s of the opinion that if he ever sees another fucking cloud after this, it’ll be too fucking soon because holy hell, Sam’s pacing and it’s making Dean cross-eyed and jittery and all he wants to do is find their photocopied pages from the library.

“Sam, sit your ass down.”

Raking fingers through his hair, Sam ignores Dean and his fidgeting magically turns his hair more stupid. He fiddles with the bandage on his arm until it’s frayed, hanging in a mess of gauze and tape and Dean’s about to put him in time-out or beat him bloody.

“Dean, look.”

The smell of antiseptic assails him as Sam shoves his arm under Dean’s nose and he would mind normally, a lot, but the cut above Sam’s wrist is gone. Peeling off the ruins of the bandage, Dean runs his fingers over the spot, smooth even skin and he feels defeated when Sam shivers. All of his bruises are gone too.

“First wings, now this? I’m not sure—“

Thunder, sharp, and Sam moans, jerks in Dean’s grasp. “You need to—it’s coming.”

And now Dean’s bewildered, left behind in the dust, “What the hell?”

Thunder again, stabbing stutters of lightning; Sam’s eyes close as he breaks out in a sweat and he bares his teeth.

“Fuck, you can feel the storm?” Dean asks and Sam scrambles to lie down next to Dean, body stretched out, almost blanketing him. He pushes his face into Dean’s neck and licks a heavy wet stripe to his jaw, saying, “Distract me.”

“Lousy pick-up line, Sam, but—“

Teeth on his skin and Dean goes boneless as Sam growls. “Distract me. The storm is pulling and—“

“Naked man with wings, yeah, I remember...” He can’t talk when Sam does that, his hand so low, wrist twisting and clothes should be burnt, they are a crime against humanity.

Sam takes his shirt off, yanking at Dean’s, still talking, “No, it’s worse than that, Dean, I—“

“Less talking, sailor, more with the being distracted. C’mon, don’t I get to see you naked? Wings very much optional.”

Then Sam’s got him by the wrists, pinning him to the bed which is hotter and better than Dean would’ve thought in any fantasy he’s ever had. Especially when he wriggles and Sam squeezes harder.

Especially when Sam says, “I don’t share.”

An electrical storm, claps of thunder overlapping so fast, end-of-the-world sky without rain, with almost constant lightning spilling in cracked surges.

But they’re too wrapped around in each other, Sam breathing brokenly and Dean using his mouth to explain himself, what Sam does to him, what this is doing to him. Sam says please and Dean says I want and this is the final boundary between them, gone as Sam sinks into him.

Foreheads together, they fight the call of the storm, escaping in each other and Dean holds on as tight as he can, bruises from his fingers on Sam’s skin.

After, Dean bites at Sam’s lips and when he opens his eyes, he sees the blazing black of Sam’s wings.

**

Outside, there’s a metal whine to the wind, the tail end edges of the storm not letting the havoc die down.

“Dude, your wings are glowing,” Dean says, propped against the headboard, legs flopped out as Sam sits a cautious distance away on the other bed. “I can’t believe I just said that.”

An absent-minded nod from Sam before he says, “We gotta call Bobby.”

“And I can’t believe you just said that while you’re naked.”

“I mean it,” Sam replies, angry and unhappy as thunder purrs softly in the distance and Dean can practically see it seep down Sam’s limbs.

“All right, calm down, sparky.”

“Don’t call me that, Dean.”

Standing, Dean puts his hands out, placation and goes to Sam. His wings crease back, high and closed, as Dean steals a quick kiss.

“Divide and conquer, ok? You call Bobby, I’ll run to the library,” he says, and Sam looks confused. “Storm’s still messing with you, isn’t it?”

Sam stares at his hands.

“Yeah, I thought so. It’s clearing up out there, but you stay here. Call Bobby, talk him through everything that’s happened.” A weird look from Sam, all eyebrows and a sideways smirk and Dean replays what he said. “I mean, everything else, you are such a giant pervert.”

A pair of boxers hits him in the chest, Sam snickering, “You love it.”

Damn, where are the rest of his clothes, Sam keeps just tossing them wherever and now he needs them and out of the blue, Sam’s mumbling something under his breath, all sulky like.

“What?”

“I don’t trust myself alone.”

Dean sighs, knowing the I don’t want you to go alone is hidden under Sam’s tone. “You just wanna keep using your distract me excuse.” A quick laugh escapes Sam and Dean takes it as a sign of safety. “I won’t be gone long ‘cuz we gotta go catch Tallulah.”

“Jerk, use the laptop,” Sam throws back, his gaze going flinty. A stray bit of lightning and the wings shudder, Sam rolling his shoulders and dammit, Dean’s lost this argument.

“Fine, fine.”

But Dean cajoles Sam into putting on some clothes before he even glances at the phone, “Have some decency, man, I don’t care if he can’t see you, it’s just bizarre.”

He listens with half an ear, filling in blanks as Sam talks, busy typing and scrolling and computers are great, because hey, porn, but really, he doesn’t see Sam’s attraction, unless shiny things are what turn Sam’s crank. Maybe shiny handcuffs or—

“I think we’ve stumped Bobby,” Sam announces as he hangs up.

“Impossible.”

“Possible. He knows the legends, but didn’t think thunderbirds were completely real,” he says, his wings folding down over his arms from where he’s hunched.

Finger to his lips shhh, Dean stage-whispers, “I think they can hear you, Sam.”

“A thunderbird has never been sighted before, but you also thought vampires were practically imaginary and look how that turned out.”

Again, Sam thinking he can get away with saying something sarcastic and being a smartass, Dean needs to teach him a lesson, flying tackle, and Sam’s smile tells Dean he’s on the same wavelength, just try it, asshole, but those motherfucking wings are in the way.

It’s stupid, a dumb illogical scratch on his brain, but Dean is almost always pissed off most people and monsters and other random go after Sam. He’s big, a large walking target and his presence seems to challenge everyone and everything around him. Take him on, take him down and you’re king of the world or some shit. It’s always Sam, everyone gunning for Sammy and Dean lives in a constant state of wrathful terror, itchy trigger finger, ready to put a bullet into whatever’s coming. He doesn’t worry about his safety, never has needed to, because it’s always Sam, all about Sam and Sam will be safe no matter what Dean has to destroy to do it.

This time it’s Dean’s fault. A beat-down in an alleyway? He’s a fucking professional and—well, it would’ve been better if it had been Dean, blood-stained and cursed because it wouldn’t have mattered so much. If it was Dean, it would be easier since there’s only one way it would end (a single kiss with a demon is all it took).

Sam would be safe. The curse could run its course for however long until the hellhounds intercepted Dean. All tied up with a fucking bow.

“Dean?”

He goes to the window, glancing out as the clouds disappear behind buildings and trees and he swears he can hear a faint snapping sound, like the first night.

“Hey Dean.”

“Yeah, Sam.”

“C’mere.” His brother is on the edge of the bed, wings low, tips trailing the carpet with a vague sizzling sound.

“You’re burning holes in the carpet, Thor. Maybe the bed too.”

“I think I can get them—hey, you and your ass get over here.”

Dean bites the inside of his cheek to stop from smiling, to stop from saying what he wants. “You need help with something?” he asks instead, smirk firmly in place.

To his surprise, Sam blushes. “It helps if you—look, just. I can put the wings away if you—“

“Are you propositioning me again?”

Ok, he’s past surprise and shot-putted headlong into glee when Sam squirms embarrassed on the bed and says, “Touch me, motherfucker, it’s easier.”

“So demanding!” Dean exclaims, fanning himself with fake shock, but he gingerly climbs behind Sam and gets his first really good look at Sam’s wings.

They spring from Sam’s back, embedded in his skin and muscle, like a bird, of course, but they hover, phantom perception, as if they’ve always lived there, tucked in the shadows on the planes of Sam’s shoulders.

It’s as if he’s seen this before, watched his hand stroke down, a slow tease of Sam’s spine, different from the other night when he slapped a hand on Sam and it worked. He’s lightheaded, dazed he’s granted this and he feels like it’s going to be the same every time he gets to touch Sam, déjà vu, half-seconds set off fast as he drags a finger along Sam’s skin. They sigh together and the wings evaporate, snap, and the two dark lines left in their wake are perfect for Dean’s tongue—

“Dean. Dean.”

“Fuck, Sam, what,” he mumbles, Sam so warm against his mouth, the black like ink near his teeth.

The shoulder Dean’s exploring shifts, tectonic plate as far as Dean’s concerned, as Sam twists to look at him. “Aren’t we supposed to be going somewhere?”

“You are a major droopy-ass spoilsport. You know that, right? You owe me, bitch, and don’t think I won’t collect.”

“Oh sure thing, caveman, you want me to be docile?”

That’s a thinker, Sam fighting him for dominance, all strength and fire, bruises and bites and adrenaline or miles and miles of quiet Sam, there for Dean to taste and play with until Sam is begging, chanting Dean’s name over and over, his pupils dilated and his—

“Uh, Dean, it’s not nice to keep little old ladies waiting.” Sam’s dressed, arms crossed, a gleam in his eye.

Never mind, he’s gonna kick Sam’s ass, interrupting a man’s daydreams like that, it’s just plain rude and cruel and Dean doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

So Sam understands the gravity of the situation, Dean grumbles threats as he puts on his clothes, really creative threats because yeah, they’re in the middle of a bizarro-world hunt and have to go seek out a little old lady for help and maybe he needs to have this pitiless fun because Sam has solved the formula of Dean, cracked his chest and seen his heart, falling into this new change with an effortlessness that is terrifying, comets and meteors don’t fall this quickly or burn this brightly. All Sam’s fault, Dean in love, so hell yeah, he’s going to irritate Sam mercilessly.

And holy shit, where did that come from.

Ducking, he avoids Sam’s eyes as they hit the parking lot and maybe Sam doesn’t notice, if it’s a good day for Dean. Maybe nothing’s different. Maybe it’ll sit in the background, a hum underneath the music and weapons. Maybe he’ll get away with it, like all those times they’ve snuck into cemeteries throughout their lives.

Sunlight, no clouds in sight and it’s so very wrong how it happens, clouds out of nowhere, clouds going back to vapor, whole storm fronts which dissolve and tear themselves apart like paper in water. Beside him, Sam lets out a deep relieved breath and Dean grabs his neck, squeezes because Sam isn’t alone in this, even if he’s the epicenter of Dean’s earthquakes, shaking the rocks loose underneath his feet right this very second.

Fingers in the curling ends of Sam’s hair, an indulgent few seconds, then Dean drops his hand and they watch the skies, don’t watch each other as they walk to Tallulah’s.

No car out front when they arrive and Tallulah answers the door, the wind chimes ringing a little.

“Hurry in, hurry in, you’ve helped to ruin my day, I hope you realize,” she says, but it’s without maliciousness.

Sam’s hands come out of his pockets as if warding her off, “We’re really sorry and—“

“Can it, kiddo,” Tallulah shuts him down, “tell me what’s going on.”

“Maybe you can tell us what’s going on.” Dean doesn’t mean to sound disgruntled, but he can’t help it, his brother has wings and can feel thunderstorms, for fuck’s sake.

A lucky reach, she gets a hold of Dean and pushes him towards the couch and signals Sam to follow. “All right, gimme the story, I’ve got my iced tea and everything. Short of popcorn, I guess I’m ready.”

Then she folds her hands and with a sigh, drops them in her lap, her big white eyes fixed expectantly on an open point between them.

So Dean tells her about the person in the alley though he remembers she’s a nice woman and cleans up his language although mysterious figure is synonymous with motherfucking bastard asshole jerkoff in his head. Everything he said, everything he could see and Sam gives his side, finding Dean, fighting, then the knife and the blood.

And Dean’s thoughts swim because they’re usually more careful than this, or at least they try to be careful, they get themselves in some sticky situations and Bobby thinks they’re morons a lot of the time and screw it, this still shouldn’t have happened. Ever. At all.

They really are morons.

“So then what?” Tallulah asks and in a few paltry sentences, Dean and Sam step on each other’s sentences and attempt to explain the wings and how Sam started reacting to storms like he’s tuned in to the right radio station, sporadic signals bounding through space.

Tallulah sighs again, infinite exasperation as if she’s channeling Bobby and Sam prods Dean, bony elbows, and Dean prods him back.

“This is a pickle.” She puts her head in her hands for a minute and Dean is quickly losing oxygen.

Through her fingers, she says, “Let me start at the beginning and maybe we can work through this.”

Sam sets his shoulders as if preparing himself and there should be something Dean can do to reassure him, but he’s at a loss, feeling numb and dumbed down.

“We come out of what is called the Pacific Northwest, now all these geographic regions have names, such boring names. It’s not a coincidence it rains a lot there.”

Dean smirks and nods at Sam, I told you, Seattle.

Sam’s expression goes flat, shut up, Dean and is almost the equivalent of a glare, but not pissy enough for Dean’s refined tastes.

“I told you about the thunderbird, singular, the great bird who is our protector and the bringer of storms, etcetera. That was not to be taken lightly. My ancestors trace their blood from a thunderbird. There were a few thunderbirds, the large actual birds, lords of the skies. And one wanted to see what it was like to be human, to touch the ground and look up. So she did.

“This one thunderbird intermingled with the humans, mixing the bloodlines, families, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Some would remain human, totally human besides the blood in their veins and the only sign was their long lifespan and the way they could scent rain on the horizon. A rare few were born as thunderbirds, human but their spirits entangled with the sky. They do become thunderbirds, like you said, Sam, humans with a cloak woven of something completely different.

“It was a secret, only for the family to know, only for those who would marry into and continue the family tree. Other people did not understand and some in the family weren’t discreet. A tiny forested area and the people had enough fuel at hand to burn what they thought were witches.”

A touch on Dean’s arm and Sam’s eyes are on him, faint panic, and Dean tips his forehead against Sam’s shoulder, calm down calm down calm down.

“My ancestors left the mountains and trees and rivers, the huge ocean and walked until they got to the plains. A brother and sister, close, very close, like you two.”

And Dean can almost feel Sam’s heartbeat, the pulse of him next to Dean and he thinks, Not like us, we’re…But he doesn’t have anything (too much) to fill in the blank.

“The thunderbirds of the area were none too pleased when my ancestors arrived here, with the scent and appearance of humans, but they recognized the common blood and they worked together. Before you ask, we are not immortal, as you can see. We age, but at a"—she smiles crookedly—"leisurely pace. We die as humans, not as thunderbirds. Thunderbirds are part of Nature, pieces of it. We may die, but we are very tough to kill. Nature needs us as guardians and guiding spirits. There have been times where thunderbirds fought and died…droughts…depressions…”

Tallulah takes a breath. “I’m descended from the sister. Our cousins and cousins’ cousins are scattered around this area. The sister was a thunderbird; her brother was not, but he carried the heritage. It’s never predictable, just like the weather, who will be and who will not. The only way we have of knowing is the dreams. Our blood dreams of forever rolling green, trees that brace the sky and the cold spray of salt and water. The dreams come early, childhood and once a child has them, we know. Destiny is a harsh hateful word, but it’s there. We have our duties.”

Destiny is a word Dean doesn’t believe in and Dean’s unshakeable and usually correct opinion is that Sam throws it around too often, like a flamethrower turned too high.

“That’s what you meant when you said thunderbirds are born, not made,” Sam says and the moment feels delicate, thin frost on glass.

“You’re right, but…”

“Great,” Dean mutters, and Tallulah inclines her head at him.

“They’re not meant to be made. It’s happened before though, only once that I know of. Twins, brothers, one was a thunderbird and one wasn’t. One was always left on the ground to watch as his brother flew off with a power that was beyond imagination. You know where this is going.”

“Yeah, I think I do,” Sam says. He sounds like he did at thirteen, when Dean came home, bleeding from his throat, bleeding all over Sam, Dean, there’s too much blood, and Sam’s face had a rapid furious understanding of what Dean’s life was really like, as if he’d seen the future; so scared and angry, he didn’t talk to Dean for a week afterwards.

Sam has Dean’s hand, tracing his palm with a fingertip and Dean is mortified, guiltily glad Tallulah can’t see them and he tries to yank it back, but Sam is quick.

“They already shared the same blood, but there is a certain transformation for the thunderbird, changing them fundamentally. A wound for a wound and the brothers exchanged blood in a fake ritual. But the false thunderbird…it didn’t work properly.”

“Whaddya mean?” Dean asks, curious, connecting the dots because if Sam’s false and this is all fucked up, they need to reverse it and fast; this is something Dean doesn’t accept, like some strange sort of defeat or capitulation.

“Your brother has wings, yes? Like an angel.”

“Sam? An angel?” Dean laughs and Sam pinches him, hard. “Like a picture of an angel. Wings coming out the back, yeah.”

“I want to see,” she says and they glance at each other.

“Uh…well, we. You.”

Tallulah chortles. “C’mon, out in the backyard. Do you mind if I touch you, Sam?”

Dean fumbles for his phone, wanting to take a picture because he’s not sure he’s seen Sam go so red before. Sam shuffles his feet and stands too fast, bumping the tiny coffee table.

“Nah, I don’t mind,” he says, “let’s get this over with.”

“Don’t be insulted, he’s just shy,” Dean says, his smirk growing wider as she wraps a hand around his arm.

“I can handle shy,” Tallulah smiles, “the shy ones are always so cute.”

Dean laughs and Tallulah giggles as if they’re old friends and conspirators, Dean escorting her to the door, Sam stomping ahead of them with his hands in his pockets.

The backyard is huge with a high wooden fence and Sam is shambling about, messing with his jacket.

“C’mon, Sammy, it’s ok, no one will see you and if they do, we’ll just have you arrested for drunk and disorderly,” Dean coaxes.

Sam flips him off and Dean returns it, but Sam never does things by halves and flips him off again, both hands.

“Quit stalling, pansy.”

The hazel eyes go tiny as Sam hisses, “You’re not the one having to strip.”

Tallulah’s eyebrows go up and Dean pats the hand still on his arm. “He, uh, has to take his shirt off.”

“That’s logical,” she says, “I bet I’m missing a good show.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you slipped a dollar in his waistband.”

Tallulah’s whole body is behind her laugh, deep and hearty, and Sam’s face is dark, at least a week’s worth of glaring right there and Dean has won the jackpot, a real live billionaire.

“Sam, you dork, you’re too tall,” Dean tugs on his shoulder until he kneels and it’s swiftly absurd; broad daylight, some sweet little old lady’s back deck stained red with a barbeque grill off to one side and a table with an folded dusty umbrella, there’s about to be wings and Sam’s on his knees shirtless and whatever happened to the good old days of matchbook fast salt-and-burns and worrying about whether the next gas station has Funyuns and Lemonheads.

“We kinda forgot to mention the lines on his back too,” Dean says, and Sam hangs his head.

“Lines?”

“As if he’d gone down to the nearest tattoo parlor and let some biker ink him.”

Her forehead creases in thought. “Certainly interesting, where are they?”

Dean leads her to Sam, guiding her fingers and Sam braces his palms on his knees to stay still.

“You ready, Sam?”

With a small sigh, Sam nods.

He steps away, leaving Tallulah with her palms pressed on either side of Sam’s spine and he’s not holding his breath, not at all.

The air around them stops, then goes cold and it’s different, like flowing backwards, circling the opposite direction. The shadows on Sam quiver and pull together, pooling liquid fog and it’s what Dean remembers from the rain, the very center of the storm and Sam offering his body to the skies.

Then the world unfurls, light, sound, air, snap, and the burst of black feathers pushes out, energy scattering, like clacking glass marbles.

“Oh,” Tallulah says on a tiny exhale.

Dean can breathe again, but it’s taut and strained; Sammy’s on display and he has to let someone else touch him because Dean is worthless at saving his own brother.

It shouldn’t be this painful.

Cautiously, Tallulah feels around and Sam says, “Watch for the feathers, they—“

“Won’t hurt me, don’t worry about it,” she shushes him.

She trails over one wing, feathers dark against her small hands and after a few moments in silence, she clicks her tongue, “This is not how it works.” A hand out behind her for Dean and he guides her a little distance from Sam. She trembles and Dean finds his voice somewhere, “Ok, Sammy, you can get rid of them.”

Tallulah jumps with the snap and as Sam puts his shirt back on, Dean says, “The wings always do that, at least so far.”

“Do they go into his skin?”

“Nope, just poof! Gone.”

“It’s intriguing, really.”

“You guys, I’m still standing right here,” Sam says, buttoning, but his smile is there, watery.

Indoors and nothing much is said as they make their way into the living room, to where they sat when this all started.

“The blood ritual doesn’t transfer properly,” Tallulah says, stiffly. “Thunderbirds don’t look like that. They’re birds, well, storm birds, within the clouds, if that makes any sort of sense.”

Sam and Dean have seen all sorts of things throughout their lives, most things lucky people won’t even dream of, so this shouldn’t be anything new, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Dean has trouble imagining things around Sam, like when Sam found their dad’s journal, when he filled a werewolf with bullets for almost killing Dean, when he said he was going to college and putting Dean in the past, when he died.

“So what’s the problem?” Sam asks and Dean could type up a list, generate a few graphs, maybe some pie charts, but settles for looking at Sam as if he’s driven the Impala into a tree.

“Honey, there’s several. For one, you’re not right,” Tallulah says, then sighs. “The way you are, you’re…not natural. You shouldn’t exist this way. You’ll transform eventually, probably painfully and you won’t be able to control it like we can.”

Sam’s shoulders jerk and he pushes his hands into his hair, slow, trying to breathe.

“You are human first and foremost, but now the thunderbird is going to take over; it’ll drive you mad. It’s two halves of a coin that don’t fit together, too many broken places and they won’t match.”

“Is that what happened to the brothers?”

It’s Dean’s question because Sam’s gone pale and they’ll figure this out, Dean’s already calculating how quickly they can get to the car, on the road, safety, a crossroads, how much it will take to get his brother back again.

Gray curls bounce, girlish as Tallulah nods, “Yes. The false went crazy. The story goes that instead of hearing the call of the wind, answering with a storm or rain, he would generate them at will. He wasn’t stable; the smallest thing could touch him off and the results would be catastrophic.”

“Like the storms lately,” Dean supplies, hoping Sam will get his focus turned to the hunt so Dean can get on with other plans.

“Yes, like the storms. Dangerous. Destructive. Murderous. I don’t know who it is though, I can’t imagine…” Tallulah sits, her hair slipping off her shoulders and it’s as if she ages in a matter of seconds. “The wind won’t tell me.”

Raising his head, Sam bumps his knee against Dean’s. “So someone had to take blood from a thunderbird. Who else is there, besides you?”

They get a sad little smile and Tallulah says, “Of course you know I’m one. In town, there’s Alma and Janice, Jubal’s sister. There’s only a few others, two so far, but they’ve moved away to other states.”

“Wait, Janice?” Dean catches Sam’s eye and Sam does a little curling of his fingers, Catwoman, and Dean curls his lip, exasperated.

“Yes, she hasn’t come into her own yet. Alma’s my successor, she was early, a prodigy. I was hoping she’d head directly off to college, but she keeps delaying it, taking online courses and such.” Tallulah makes a face, frustrated. “She has duties, but she can still do it, I mean, it’s tough nowadays, very very lonely to do this because people can’t find out and there’s always the lack of connection to other people, not many friends and the constant disappearing, the demands of being at the beck-and-call of the wind. It can be depressing too, floods and tornados and fires, I know, but she can do it, she needs to go to school, she can do it, I know she can.”

She’s almost crying, so upset and Sam gets a tissue, hunkering by her chair and when she senses him there, she awkwardly pats him on the head, chuckling between sniffles.

“So the original blood had to come from Alma,” Dean says and Sam scowls at him, but Dean shrugs shut up, I’m helping, “But anyone could have taken it from her and then given it to Sam.”

“Why hasn’t Alma tried to do anything? I mean, has she?” Sam’s tone is getting smaller and smaller with every sentence, every question and Dean doesn’t like the sound of it, fear or desperation or the reckless control which means he’s considering something and usually doesn’t tell Dean.

“I don’t know,” Tallulah says, shaky, “I don’t know. I would do it, I could, but I’m older now, boys, and my eyes, too much lightning in my younger days, it always was my favorite. But Alma, she…she’s a good girl, she wouldn’t allow this to go on…”

Sam sits heavily on the floor and folds his legs under him. “Where’s Alma?”

Tearing the corners off the square of tissue, Tallulah says, “In the skies. She’ll be back around dawn.”

Dawn. Dean can handle dawn. The guilty were hanged at dawn and right now, he’s walking the steps to the gallows. “Tallulah, do you know how to reverse it?” he says and feels cold acceptance in his stomach when she shakes her head. “That’s ok, we can do some reading and we’ve got until dawn, so hey, no problem.” He’s attempting to be reassuring, but it’s off-kilter, as if everything wasn’t already wrecked.

The house is quiet and a clock ticks in the kitchen.

“What happened to the brothers?” Between the two of them, they aren’t sure which one of them asked it, just watching each other, Sam looking at Dean with a message in his gaze.

Tallulah closes her eyes.

“One killed the other.”

**

It was a harpy’s nest.

Dad off in another part of the woods somewhere, Sam and Dean trailing alongside the river. All night, Sam had given Dean a folklore lecture about the harpy, the Greek background, the difference between harpies and sirens in appearance though they were both depicted as women with wings, the etymology, a full dissertation while tromping through the woods in the dark under a half moon. The harpy set her sights on Dean because he’s the handsomest, as he later told Sam, but it was Sam who killed her.

That night, Sam got himself a sliced forearm, a shallow wound across his forehead, blood in his eyes and Dean almost kissed him in anger and relief and Sam's smile was so big, Vegas-sign huge and just as garishly radiant because he had saved Dean, “I wasn't gonna let it cut your pretty face, doofus.” Newly-minted sixteen, equal to Dean in height and everything about them aligned, those insane psychotic happenings of the universe, and Dean never felt so open and alive; he had his brother with him.

And that’s when Dean knew. It was terrifying, a sickening crash, dropping on him so fast he almost threw up, and he let Sam tease him about being squeamish as Sam brushed his bloody bangs out of his way, squinting red at Dean.

It was different then; he had his dad, he had Sam and every time Sam brought home an A from school, Dean would see ghosts and hear phantoms and know that some day, Sam would leave. It was there, just under the skin, Sam jittering and uneasy, a new Sam who would have a shiny ordinary life.

It was different then; Dean always expected to lose something. It was inevitable.

Now, it’s unavoidable and he has everything to lose.

**

“We’ve got some time to waste, so let’s waste it,” Dean announces, arms flung wide and Sam winces and grimaces as they stride across the parking lot.

“With what?”

“Booze? Pool? Random research like how Twinkies are made? Daytime TV? Making out?”

Sighing, Sam unlocks the door and shoves Dean inside, hand clamped around Dean’s arm. “First off, I’m staying here because”—and he talks louder as Dean’s about to protest—“I’d rather not get caught out in the rain, if you know what I mean.”

“Sam— “

“And yeah, research.”

“Look, tiger, I know research is your favorite flavor of donut, but it gets kinda fattening, all the sitting around, staring at your computer and—“

“Dean. Do you wanna hafta kill me?” Sam’s eyes freeze him in place, as if he’s playing Medusa and Dean does feel like he’s stone with a chisel set to chip at his heart.

Then he’s angry, his vision splitting. “You know you’re not asking me that unless you want me to kick your ass. Feeling masochistic, Sam?”

“Stop joking, Dean, I mean it. If I can be given this whatever, then it can be reversed. We just have to find it.” He’s breathing hard, as pissed off as Dean and they stare each other down, about to start fires and that might make Dean feel better.

Dean’s not backing down, he’s sitting down, flopping onto the bed which used to be his, maybe was his, doesn’t matter now. The ceiling isn’t telling him anything, stained and cracked and old.

“All right, all right. What do you want me to do?” It isn’t said to Sam, it’s just there and maybe it’ll cave in on him, he’ll find an answer in the rubble, dusty and crumpled.

“Gimme a minute,” Sam says, fidgeting around papers and his computer, not looking at Dean, jaw clenched.

Tucking his arms under his head, Dean waits, ankles crossed and he tries not to think, not counting how many hours they have until dawn, not hating the phrase darkest before the dawn; everywhere he looks, it’s dark and this one of those days when it’s darker than usual, darker than always.

He can’t see anything including how it’s going to end.

Pen scratching, then the bed dips and Sam drops next to him, his white-knuckled grip crumpling a piece of notebook paper. Dean goes to take it from him, but Sam pulls it out of reach and kisses Dean, tasting him, fingers selfish on Dean’s neck.

“Sam, what—“

“Here, go to the library, look this stuff up.” Sam’s eyes are dull as he lets Dean go.

“No, dammit, wait—“

Sam kisses him again, pinching and tickling Dean’s ribs and Dean grunts, jerking away from Sam but trying to keep the kiss going.

Still kissing, chasing Dean’s mouth, Sam pushes off the bed, and backs them against the door, fumbling around Dean for the knob. But Dean sets his feet and the kisses flare between them, desperate and red, a slow burn that feels like an end, no epilogues, a wasteland aftermath that takes no prisoners and allows no survivors. It’s not going to be like this, Dean’s sabotaging all other efforts; Sam is his and it’s all Dean needs to know.

The kiss breaks, Sam’s mouth sliding wetly along Dean’s cheek and he murmurs, “Why did you keep pushing me at Alma?”

Stars in his vision briefly as Dean’s head knocks back against the doorframe. Because Sam deserves a life. Because Sam doesn’t need to be alone. Because Sam will need to move on. Because Sam is the world and Dean isn’t the blackhearted villain out to destroy him; Sam needs to keep going.

Grasping the knob, Dean slips out from beneath Sam who is grabbing at Dean and he waves the list, sliced with Sam’s handwriting.

“Because I want you to be happy, Sammy.” And Dean’s once again betrayed by his mouth, instantly annoyed with himself.

Sam’s eyes widen, glinting wild hazel, and then Dean closes the door, breathing through all possibilities and options and probabilities.

He’s trudging the steps of the library when his phone buzzes.

you’re an asshole & an idiot

Could be true, maybe, but Dean just texts back—flattery will get you everywhere— before weaving through the stacks for the books Sam wrote down, as if Dean’s merely at the grocery store scouring the shelves for oregano.

Weighing himself down with books, Dean ignores everything else and plunks down at a nearby table.

The pages are older, unused, like most forms of folklore and Dean sneezes as quietly as he can. He’s reading, searching for whatever he can, reasons and ideas and facts, half-truths and truths and things obscured by the mists of time, as Sam would say or some shit.

find out anything?

How does Sam do that? He’s not telepathic, or so he swears though he gets a glimmer in his eye as if he could or he would or he’d pay to be.

i have morning sickness? Dean sends and attempts to focus on the sentences in front of him, something, anything, a scrap of words could be the key to this hunt, this curse, this maze they’ve found themselves in this time.

dean, you fucker

miss me?

If they can’t get around the walls of this one, blast a hole through, see the whole picture, Dean isn’t sure what they’re going to do.

why should i?

why not? i’m hot & u know it

The road winds out before him, the sentences shaping railroad tracks and interstates and the endless horizon with storm clouds ever present. It would be like when Sam was at college, Dean racing alone, sunrise, sunset, never paying attention to the time because with Sam gone, his clock and compass were broken and he couldn’t even navigate by the stars.

your ego is amazing

i know, i’m awesome

Sam, becoming more and more unstable, wings burning a path, untouchable, unattainable, creating storms and hurtling through the skies. Windows down, music loud and Dean would be tracking him, possible swaths of destruction, pushing the Impala as fast as she’ll go until Sam wore himself out, vestiges of rain and lightning. The witch’s brew storm and the black shine of metal like the accompanying familiar, going everywhere together.

this is all wrong

the porn you’re watching? quality, not quantity

This would be Dean’s life, running after Sam until the hellhounds were running after him. Then it would just be Sam, haunting the thermals.

Dean reads and reads and reads. He doesn’t think of when they’d be on a hunt, so many years ago, and he’d wonder, have vivid nightmares, the what-if dreams. What if Sam was scratched by something, what if Sam was taken by something, what if Sam was bitten by something. A vampire, a werewolf, how would they go underground, how would they pack and disappear, Dean ready at a moment’s notice to do whatever it takes.

It’s a riddle. They can solve it.

He reads.

**

At the edges of his hearing, thunder. His head hurts, his eyes ache and he’s only got one theory, one very blurred smoky theory. It might not be enough and it will require a bullet. Not exactly ideal.

Thunder again and the wind scratches outside.

dean come back

hungry?

Shoving the books away, Dean rests his chin in his hands, pouting. Maybe he’ll stop by the diner; all this quality work requires quality food and lots of it. Lots. Maybe a whole pie.

dean come back

yeah yeah baby

don’t call me baby

you secretly want me to, princess

Lightning like sparking electrical wires and Dean’s hurrying out of the library into the street where clouds are roiling, twisting and coiling fast, thunder, all of it brawling for dominance in the skies. Wind rushes over him in waves, like the tide, surge and retreat, and he jogs to the diner because now his phone is buzzing constantly.

dean come back dean come back dean come back

Fuck, Sam sounds urgent and it’s probably not the fun good sexy kind of urgent Dean wishes it was. Crinkling in his hands, carting plastic bags and food containers and he can’t smell rain in the air. This storm is different, fighting itself, all noise and light.

Kicking at the door with the toe of a boot, Dean hops from foot to foot, “Hurry up, Sam, c’mon, I bring spoils of war.”

When Sam throws open the door, all Dean can see at first is black and he has to wait for Sam to step back before he can get inside, tiny steps to skirt the wings. He sets the food down with a flourish, ignoring the pinch in his gut at seeing the wings and Sam retreating, hands out, stay away.

“No fast food this time, sasquatch, I got us some good stuff,” he says, pawing through the bags for napkins and forks.

“Dean.”

“What.”

“Dean, it’s a trick.”

“What?” The food smells delicious, but Sam’s voice is small and earnest, demanding all of Dean’s attention.

Brown hair damp and Sam must’ve showered, but no, with Sam’s wide eyes and how his fingers clench and unclench over and over, Dean can see he’s sweating.

“The storm? It’s bugging you?” Slow so he doesn’t startle Sam, Dean reaches out, capturing his wrists. His skin is slick and he’s too warm, much too warm, feverish and dazed.

Sam slides in his grasp, pushing at Dean, still attempting to ward him off. “What if we had it all wrong? We’ve been looking at it as a curse.”

“Yeah, Sammy, you’re cursed, the wings, the transformation, the storms? Tallulah said it ain’t gonna be pretty. But I’ve got an idea, maybe and—“

“No, no, no. Dean, listen to me," Sam says, pivoting his wrists out of Dean’s grip, reversing the hold and grabbing Dean, "Listen, listen, you heard her say it. Pieces of Nature.”

“Yeah, and?” The phrase drags images back to Dean, the car slicing through gravity, obsidian and chrome, as he pursues the storm spelling Sam’s name in the rain, desperate because if he’s left behind, he’ll be looking at the skies for every storm, every bit of Sam he can find, scattered to the impetuous mercies of the wind.

“They wouldn’t be able to take you.”

The wings stretch higher, out, looming. Lightning blazes past the window.

And Dean goes cold, lax as Sam’s fingers wrap tighter. “They. You mean—“

“You’d be necessary, doing Nature’s duty. They couldn’t take you, they probably wouldn’t even be able to touch you,” Sam says, giving him a little shake, a push-pull rocking Dean.

“No, no, you aren’t making me—“

“Don’t you see? We’d be like this, like I am now and you’d stay with me. You wouldn’t leave me and we’d be together.” A smile, affectionate and consuming, Sam gazing at Dean with a savage hopeful flame in his eyes.

The two of them, unpredictably free, reckless and indomitable, out of their minds at high altitudes, able to do what they wanted, go where they wanted and nothing could bring them back to earth and laws like gravity unless they willed it.

Uncontrollable and dangerous.

“I’m not leaving you, Sammy, I’m not. But not like this, it wouldn’t work like this. Look at this whole hunt. We might hurt innocent people, death and destruction, remember? It’d take us over. We wouldn’t be us.”

At his words, Sam lets go with a little noise of shocked hurt, backing away, but Dean gets a hand on his chest. His heartbeat is too fast, thudding hard and cracking.

Cheeks flushed, dark hair over his forehead, Sam shakes his head. “When I was fifteen, we were in that house somewhere in North Carolina, you know, the roof leaked and the door to the downstairs bathroom wouldn’t close and the kitchen floor sunk in the middle. Yeah? We were there for like three months or something and Dad was gone most of the time. Just you and me, you working down at the garage and me in school. I came home one day and you were asleep on the ratty piece of shit couch, the plaid '70s reject. You were all stretched out with a book on your chest. There were bruises on your face and on your arms ‘cuz you’d been on a hunt, a poltergeist or something like a few days earlier. Your knuckles were split and you had blood under your fingernails.”

Nodding, Dean doesn’t blink, keeps Sam’s gaze and yeah, Sam’s using his intense stare, the one that rips Dean apart because it’s as if he’s some sort of truth, the only thing Sam can rely on in a existence intrinsically constructed of lies.

“I sat down next to the couch and you kept sleeping like nothing bothered you. Not the bruises or your swollen hands or the blood. You were my brother, nineteen and you’d fallen asleep reading. And that was what I wanted. You and me, somewhere safe and quiet and forgotten so you could read and sleep like you wanted. Except without the bruises. It was normal.”

“Sammy…”

“I kissed you,” Sam confesses to the ceiling, “but you didn’t wake up.”

“You did?” Dean squeaks, and well, no, he didn’t squeak, fuck if he’s going to squeak, maybe his tone is a little startled and he thinks, Damn, slept through it, what the fuck, good job, loser.

“That’s all I wanted. You. I wasn’t gonna lose you, to Dad, to the next monster down the road, to a concussion or, or blood loss or a bullet. You were asleep and you were mine.”

A low roll of thunder, the wind rising and falling like breath.

“It can’t be this way though, this isn’t going to change it.” Hands sliding to cradle Sam’s face, Dean strokes his thumbs along Sam’s jaw and he tilts until Sam’s looking at him, “This isn’t going to do it.”

Jerking, Sam tries to get away, his wings fanning, predatory. “But I’m not letting you go, do you understand? Fifteen and I decided you were mine, no one else’s.”

Lightning bursts like a supernova.

“No one else’s? What about when you left?”

That’s it; Dean’s said enough and too much and it’s a collapsing bridge, all the cables severed and the disastrous fall below.

With a deliberate measured swing, the wings bow around them as Sam crowds into Dean’s space.

“It was stupid and selfish, but I thought I was entitled, so fucking frustrated with you.” Sam’s voice is dark and black and the wings flutter in response. “But no matter what, it was like you didn’t…see me.”

“I did, Sam, I did, you have no—I wanted to—I did see you. And I do now. You know that.”

The feathers waver near Dean’s skin, promises of heat and power and force, but nothing compares to Sam, how he’s watching Dean and something slides into place as the storm prowls outside, flashing its lightning-honed knives and purring thunder-deep with blood in its mouth.

The storm is Sam’s.

Sam whispers, “You aren’t leaving me,” and the wind sweeps by in imitation, an echo.

“No, I’m not,” Dean says.

His eyes clear, hazel gone frantically light washing darker and the wings relax back, Sam leaning into Dean as his arms go around him.

The wind drops and the bemused thunder murmurs.

**

Forehead against Sam’s spine and Dean runs a hand over his back, along his sides, to his stomach and chest.

snap

The wings are gone and the weather’s died, left in delicate stillness and uncertainty.

“You don’t know how it feels,” Sam says sleepily, the sound vibrating through to Dean.

“How what feels?”

“The storms. It’s like your blood is on fire and every sensation is gasoline. It’s easy and it feels so right. Bending everything to what you want.” He takes a few shallow breaths and Dean waits.

“It’s like kissing you.”

Dean goes hot. “Ok, you damn dork, giant fucking girl, time for food, then bed. You need to sleep this off.”

Shuffling away, he’s about to escape when Sam twists and tackles him. “I mean it. It’s addictive. I can see why…”

“C’mon, Sam, eat. Then sleep.”

A huge sigh, but Sam gets to his feet unsteadily and heads to the table, sorting through cartons. Sure enough, Dean was right; the food is spectacular, if a bit lukewarm, but that doesn’t stop them.

Sam looks a little more content, still drowsy, so Dean closes his eyes and takes a leap because if this doesn’t go right, it’ll be the same old argument all over again with a backdrop of foul destructive weather as if this were a bad melodramatic elementary school production of a tragic play.

He clears his throat and hopes his voice doesn’t falter. “Hey there, creature with five stomachs, listen up. I had an idea at the library.”

A smirk and a cocked eyebrow are his reward behind a forkful of mashed potatoes. “See, I told you, Dean, reading is good for you. Some day, you’ll be as smart as me.”

“You mean, as big a smartass as you?” The fork is pivoting in his direction, a catapult ready to deploy its payload. “Don’t you even think about it, asshole. Pay attention. Hear me out.”

“I’m listening. Patiently.”

Dean glares. “You were right; it’s a trick of sorts. A riddle.”

Gravy drips onto Sam’s wrist. “A riddle?” he asks before licking it away, smirk growing.

“Fucker, stop trying to distract me,” Dean says, waving his knife at Sam. “Tallulah said that one brother killed the other, right? So people assume—“

“We aren’t people.”

“You know what I mean. We assume the typical normal ending, the true thunderbird killed the psycho fake one, good defeating evil, like some fairy tale, complete with leprechauns or whatever.”

“Sky leprechauns. Fascinating, Dean, truly fascinating. Continue with your theory.”

Contemplating what food to steal in reparations due to him for all this mental anguish, Dean is momentarily sidetracked, “No sky leprechauns. Think they’d rain lucky charms?”

Sam laughs and says, “Your theory, Einstein?”

“Relativity,” Dean says, “why you find me as your relative so fucking hot and tempting.”

It’s stalling and Dean cringes, but Sam’s laughing so hard he’s almost choking. “Ok ok ok, fine, here’s my theory for your boring nerdy ass,” he says, brandishing a spoon as Sam mutters around a mouthful of green beans, “You love my boring nerdy ass.”

“What if the fake psychotic one—that’d be you, hotshot—killed the true one, the one he got the blood from? And it released him or something. You know, like we thought it’d work with werewol—“

His brain stutters to a halt, his teeth clamping down on his tongue. He focuses on some bites of food and loses his appetite as Sam considers his plate, wrinkle between his brows.

Anyone Sam loves is a red alert, ticking down until they’re gone. Dean hopes he’ll be the last in a long line; Sam’s strong and after this, maybe the klaxon will finally stop howling, the countdown will slow and stop and he’ll get something, someone good he can keep for once.

Almost to himself, Sam says, “Murder? Or sacrifice. One saving the other.”

Wincing, Dean rubs at his neck, staring at the fake wood grain in the table.

But then Sam merely looks thoughtful and says louder, “It might work. What you’re talking about, shooting the bastard—“

“Motherfucking asshole bastard brainless dimwit, Sam; if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck—“

“It’s a motherfucking asshole blah blah blah, yeah, shooting him—“

“Or her. Equal opportunity, we cannot forget the ladies—“

“Janice? You’re the idiotic one who went with Catwoman,” Sam narrows his eyes.

And Dean shoots the expression back, “You were busy equal opportunity flirting with Alma and that guy.”

“Hey, you pushed me at Alma. Not my fault you were too stupid to know what you wanted.”

“Oh I knew, you were just too busy being mysterious.”

“It’s part of my allure,” Sam sniffs, stabbing at unsuspecting food.

Now Dean’s a little bit off the trail considering Sam’s allure. “Where were we?”

“Shooting assholes.”

Dean cracks up, a little hysterical, a little tired and Sam flicks his hair out of his eyes, “What’re you, twelve?”

That makes it worse, Dean laughing until his stomach hurts and all his food is in danger of sliding off the table. It doesn’t solve anything, but it fucking feels better than a few minutes ago. And Sam’s glaring. Hallelujah.

“So if we shoot the person who jumped us—“

“Jumped you. I was there to save you—“

Whatever the fuck, Sam, maybe you’ll be…released or something.”

Elbows on the table and Sam yawns, huge, then blinks at Dean, adorable and cuddly and what in the hell, Dean’s become a twelve-year-old girl.

Standing, Sam sways a bit before shuffling to a bed and falling on it, face first. “I don’t think it’s Janice. I think it’s someone else, but I dunno who.”

“That’s comforting and specific. Your detective skills, Poirot, are unsurpassed.”

“Shut up and get over here,” Sam says, flinging out an arm with a spot just for Dean; he’d probably fit and—“Just get your ass over here. Stop thinking about it.”

Grumbling, Dean tugs off his boots, “You’re so high maintenance,” and drops next to Sam who promptly drapes himself along whatever part of Dean he can reach.

Mop of hair pushed against Dean’s ribs and he threads his fingers through it, soft.
“We can do this, Sam.”

“I know.”

**

Dean thinks of bullets and people, how it’s never a question of what he’ll do to save Sam, how the question is never asked or doesn’t exist because it’s Sam and he’s all of Dean’s answers.

A push of breath across Dean’s t-shirt and Sam says on a slur, “I’ll save you, Dean, I will.”

“In the morning, dorkface, in the morning.”

“Have to. So fucking in love with you, giant jackass. Not gonna fucking lose you.”

The words are smeared, exhaustion-heavy, and it’s almost as if Dean can feel them, hot and red, like blood.

Turning off the lights, Dean makes a sweep of the room, then settles again beside Sam and his brother rolls into him, curling as small as he can.

He stares into the dark for a long time until the shadows differentiate themselves, pull apart and separate and he’s living in a twilight world, stuck with his thoughts.

Sam's asleep, dead to the world and Dean thinks all phrases like that should be burnt, sleep like the dead, because when Sam was dead, it was nothing close to sleep, nothing at all. He could've tried to pretend, but no, it wasn't. Sam asleep is Dean warm and whole. Sam dead is Dean's temperature dropping to hypothermia and beyond, and he can't even remember what it was like to be a person.

He considers knives and wings, blood brothers becoming blood brothers, wonders what it would be like to slowly go crazy with Sam, and realizes he already is. Sam makes him crazy, Sam his partner-in-crime, fellow adrenaline junkie and getaway driver, co-author of their bullshit tall tales, his little brother.

Their brand of crazy is the best and he won’t let it go.

Sam's hands twitch in his sleep, clutching, and Dean lies there, stupidly relieved.

He wants this. He wants Sam. He wants all those days in the car, with the wind and music blasting their ears, Sam stretched out with maps and junk food, coffee and holy water.

He wants this, their breath in rhythm, lined up.

**

The alarm goes off, shrill and beeping, right at 4 in the morning. Dean struggles awake, Sam frowning and pinning him to the bed.

“C’mon, Sam, time to get up. Sunshine and all that.”

Sam opens an eye. “Still dark. No sunshine. Keep sleeping.”

“Nope, getting on towards dawn. Gotta meet Alma. Saving your ass. Remember? The big important things.”

“Like coffee?”

Smacking Sam on the thigh, Dean says, “Yeah, gigantor, like coffee.”

Dean escapes briefly, Sam quiet and docile under his hair before there’s arms and a leg as Dean stretches, winding around him, long muscles and innuendo.

“Dean.”

“What, Sam, since when did I tell you you could crawl all over me?”

“When you kissed me.”

Groaning, Dean tries to extricate himself, but Sam hangs on and now Dean’s teetering dangerously on the edge of the bed. “Hey, we all do stupid shit sometimes.”

Abruptly, Sam lets go and Dean scrambles to catch himself. Untangling himself from the sheets, Dean loses precious time and Sam’s on his feet first, looming, saying, “Don’t joke.”

Hands on his hips, fire in his eyes and Dean swallows in surprise. “Easy, tiger, you know I—“

But Sam doesn’t let him finish, kisses him hard until Dean pulls back, tugging Sam with him and Sam’s on his knees, all warm weight and intent. It’s awkward and bent and this side of uncomfortable, but Dean doesn’t care if Sam doesn’t except the not breathing part, that’s a bit difficult, kissing is better than breathing, but breathing is (dammit dammit dammit) required.

“Shower?”

“Shower, but we gotta be fast.”

“A quickie.” The smirk on Sam is enough to heat the water all on its own, holy shit.

Once they are under the water though, it’s lazy making out, kisses taking time they don’t really have, because this is one of those moments they didn’t have before, ever, with all the grief and close-calls, cold mud and hospital rooms. If it all goes downhill from here, the water hot and coursing over them, in their mouths as they kiss, Dean knows they’ll have this, he’ll have it, jumping-off kisses, edge-of-the-cliff kisses.

A noise between them and it’s as if Sam’s reading Dean’s mind, pulling them together, palms strong on Dean’s hips and he says, “Don’t, just.”

Dean closes his eyes, using the one word he understands, true and indisputable. “Sam…”

(So fucking in love with you)

And Sam whispers against his temple, lips on skin, “I know you. You’re a huge girl, dude.”

**

It’s still black out when they leave, slowly going purple, and the streets are empty, eerie, abandoned like those Westerns when trouble came to town and Dean thinks they might be the trouble, infamous, wanted dead or alive.

Swift movement gone astray in the half-dark, Sam shoves at Dean who almost runs into a building, but only because the damn thing hopped in his way. “Damn, that didn’t work quite right.”

“Oh really? Beating me up before our epic climactic battle wasn’t your original plan?”

“Yeah, you’re supposed to trip and I could catch you.”

It’s either the stupidest thing Dean’s heard or one of the most brilliant, all those girls he could’ve tried that with, breathless, their tits pressed against his chest, wide-eyed and—

Sam clears his throat, arms crossed, eyes hooded with his I-can’t-believe-I-even-acknowledge-you expression and oh yeah, he’s got Sam now (always Sam), his brother, the dummy geek who’s supposed to trip Dean to get a rise out of him, not to swoop in like some square-jawed hero and damn if Sam isn’t the biggest goofy romantic Dean’s ever known.

Which results in them tripping each other all the way to Tallulah’s, with a slight detour into someone’s yard, the grass wet with dew and smelling clean. They wrestle, not successful at staying quiet and it turns nearly angry, fierce, driving the oxygen out of each other. Dean isn’t sure if they’re marking territory, reminding each other they’re here or if they’re really furious, made absurdly outraged and possessive by the hazards and risks they permanently find themselves in, this hunt just another bullet, another problem solved and situation survived intact.

By the time they reach Tallulah’s house, Sam’s raking fingers through his hair to look presentable and Dean’s straightening his jacket and the air vibrates around them.

The chimes ring and Tallulah isn’t in her rocking chair.

It’s the kid, Jubal, a huge sneer plastered on his face. Between his fingertips, he twirls a knife, bloody and his arms drip red on his pants and sneakers.

“I knew you’d try to find me,” he says, “I took some precautions.”

“Precautions?” Dean smirks. “You must really be afraid of us.”

The knife spins as Jubal flips it in the air. “Nah, not really.”

Sam opens his arms wide, “Well, we’re here. Where’s Alma and Tallulah? No time for a reunion?”

“My cousin, the little fucking ungrateful bitch, is off bleeding somewhere, I forget. And my gran? She’s inside. Resting. Elderly people tend to get excited over dumb shit.”

His eyes flash in time with the knife, split reflections as the sky turns gray and yellow and Dean circles around Sam as they edge their way to the porch.

“You’re still willing to fight me even though you know what it tastes like? You still wanna kill me after I gave you all that power? You’re stupider than I thought.”

Dean shrugs, big hard grin. “And you left us alive. You’re obviously a lot more fucking insane than we thought.” He’s by the door, Sam on the steps, towering and still, looking ready to rip the house down or dig a new grave with his bare hands.

“It’s not insanity. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Don’t you do whatever you can to get what you want?”

Jubal laughs, high and strung out like scratching glass, then leaps, the knife slashing the air as he swipes at Sam, but it’s a weak attempt, a distraction Sam blocks, tearing his jacket before Jubal takes off across the lawn and out into the fields. A snap and his wings are open, black and enormous, folded as he sprints.

Pure chain reaction, Sam races after him and Dean darts inside the house. Scattered broken streaks of blood along the floor, spots of red everywhere as if flung and he tracks them to…Tallulah. She’s tied to a chair, bruised, crumpled on herself.

“Tallulah, hey, c’mon,” Dean whispers and the faint dawn light in the windows darkens. A crack of thunder. He has to get back to Sam, but he tugs on the ropes, pulling a blade from his boot.

Curls over her face and Tallulah says, “Who’s there?” as Dean frees her wrists, replying, “Me, Dean, let’s get you outta this chair.”

She rests a hand on his back as he cuts at the rope around her ankles and says in a tiny shocked voice, “I think he broke my wrist.”

Gritting his teeth, Dean spits, “Yeah, the fucker—I mean, he’s out taunting Sam and—“ Lightning slices a jagged swath outside.

“All right, stay here. I’m sorry, I have to go…I’m really sorry.” He sets her on the couch with a pillow, her eyes big and startled white. As Dean goes to leave, she grabs his sleeve.

“Where’s Alma?”

A siren sputters to wailing life, the tone wheeling higher and higher.

“I don’t know,” Dean admits. This is the worst part of this fucking job. And the constant terror he feels when he can’t see Sam in front of him. But Tallulah just nods and her face sets into a determination he doesn’t see often; she would’ve given Dad a run for his money, he thinks.

But then she gives a small tug, fingers curving tighter. “The siren…tornados,” she whispers.

Shit.” Sam’s out there and thunder pries the sky open, a chasm of sound that drops and shakes everything. Panic is eating at his nerves, but Dean lets the needles of pain and adrenaline push him. A quick search and he finds the basement, yanking on the cord for the lightbulb.

“I’m gonna pick you up,” he says, and Tallulah replies, but it’s missing in the thunder and the roar left on the trailing edges. She’s light, like a feather, like a bird; he would laugh about later with some sort of bitter amusement, but every part of Dean is screaming SamSamSam. At the bottom in a corner, he discovers an old sturdy futon flanked by boxes and he sets her down.

“Tornados,” she says again, the syllables rough in the long unending screech of the siren.

“Never stopped me before,” Dean says, going for hero-of-the-day, but it’s kind of garbled because every fight he’s been in, every hunt is like the eye of the storm, the steadiness that comes from not thinking, just knowing, his body going with muscle memory and the high-flying adrenaline, drug in his veins, and the incessant need to protect Sam (always Sam).

Then he’s climbing the basement stairs, slamming the door behind him and charging out of the house.
To be met by thunderheads on two horizons, a colossal collision.

On the ground, in the fields, two figures fight, one stumbling sideways before they launch at each other and lightning strikes a stand of trees yards away.

Dean runs.

Blue-purple-green, clouds thrash and coil, snakes in battle, and Dean’s running full tilt over furrows, gun in hand. A dab of green as he runs by, Sam’s jacket lying in the dirt.

As he gets nearer, Sam punches Jubal, left-right and two holes appear on the back of Sam’s shirt, burning and his wings are there, open, deadly black. The wind shrieks, catching the siren’s tone, the note stretching impossible and maddening until thunder smashes it.

At the periphery of Jubal’s storm, thin fingers reach to earth, white and brown, and the roar builds, skips. Three dip down, four to bring a catastrophe, five to bring a hand of God and the dirt is thrown around, like the fields are a capricious child’s sandbox.

Dean thinks he’s yelling, shouting for Sam, but he can’t hear himself. And trapped between the storms, blinking through flying dirt and dead grass, aiming through the wind, fleetingly, he feels forsaken and vulnerable (fucking hates).

The tornados are spinning, sweeping drunkenly in the background until Jubal elbows Sam in the stomach, bringing him to his knees, then viciously kicks him in the side, and Dean could give a fuck about the armageddon weather. Planting his feet and steadying himself, he fires and Jubal snarls, grabbing Sam by the shirt, then with the tumult of thousands of birds, he’s rising, wings beating as he carries Sam high into the air.

Lightning flashes faster and faster, stabbing daggers of electricity in a staccato rhythm and the thunder cracks in on itself, over and over again. Behind them in the maelstrom, the tornados drag themselves into the clouds, all but one, leaving a lazy twisting sentinel and the black figures in the air, infuriated wind pulling at their wings.

A bloody hand on Dean’s arm.

Alma.

Her hair is candy-striped red and she points to the skies, saying something, but the wind covers her mouth.

Sam struggles and Dean sees Jubal’s head jerk backwards and then…he lets go.

Sam’s falling—

Whirlwind motion out the corner of his eye; Alma’s hands cup around her neck, like she’s gathering a hood, pulling it over her head and she changes. Her arms flit, like shaking a cloth over herself and instantaneously, she’s all beak and black feathers, disappearing as Dean turns to look at her.

A gust of wind beside him, jetting up from the ground and it catches Sam, filling his wings. He arches, righting himself; his wings ripple, newborn-uncertain.

Another movement next to Dean and now he can see Alma at the edges of his vision, a massive shadowy bird of prey, sparking dark and savage and ferocious. Her wings sweep and an updraft pushes Sam until he’s holding himself, wings in a steady rhythm, deep and simple, like Dean’s heartbeat.

And Dean knows (eye of the storm).

Sam flings an arm out and lightning smears the sky in Jubal’s direction.

Dean aims for that.

A spray of red in all the purple-blue-green.

Bullwhip of thunder, echoing the gunshot.

**

Jubal is the last person to die from a freak bolt of lightning during an abrupt thunderstorm, one of the worst in decades and his death is remembered along with the storm, talked about on front porches over iced tea on hot humid days as the old timers shiver to feel the wind in their bones.

**

Hurtling into the skies, Alma clears the last tornado and the storm, letting it drift on peacefully, a white harmless collection of clouds.

She collapses in the dirt and lingering odor of ozone, human, crying. It rains, a slow sweet rain.

As she sits with her grandmother at the hospital, she tells them Jubal got her drunk one night and she thought she was just clumsy, the cut on her wrist. Then he became erratic, abusive, threatening more deaths, maybe even their grandmother, possibly razing the town. Until Sam and Dean appeared, then his paranoia exploded.

It continues to rain and the droplets smudge over the Impala’s paint before they drive away.

On the day of Jubal's funeral, Alma tilts her chin and stops crying. And it stops raining.

When Sam and Dean leave, she wonders if she'll cross paths with them, in the sky or on the ground.

**

Gingerly, Tallulah kisses Sam on the forehead, then Dean, her face wet with tears. In her grief, she blesses them, a gift from a thunderbird and a reminder of family, even broken ones. Her kiss hovers on their skin for many miles down the road.

She wants to give them blue skies, but instead, she talks to the wind whenever it visits her chimes, asking about them.

The wind returns with news of speed and music, the drift of salt and fire, a crisscrossing open nomadic life that pleases the wind itself.

**

As Jubal's blood seeped into the ground, the wings vanished like vapor.

Under the ragged holes in Sam’s shirt, the black lines on his back disappeared. And he felt every single one of his bruised ribs.

But the first storm they came across, it was at night and they didn't sleep, just stayed awake, sweating in the dark, watching TV and holding their breath, waiting until Dean couldn't stand it anymore and kissed Sam into submission. The storm passed unnoticed and unappreciated, nothing compared to how Sam bit his lips and how Dean became addicted to the taste of the hollows by Sam's hipbones.

**

“Dude, you were floating.”

“At least I wasn't falling, so shut up.”

“No, you were floating, like, uh, like a dainty fairy who misplaced his wand, heh, or or or a sky leprechaun, or that little annoying alien on the Flintstones.”

“For the last time, shut up.”

“Aw, what, top gun, did I ruffle your feathers?”

“Dean...”

“C'mon, wanna fight? You chicken?”

Then Sam bites along his throat and Dean doesn’t have anything else to say.

**

Dean lets the Impala loose on a route leading them into the desert. And Sam hums when they get there because as he said, “It felt good to be out of the rain.”

**

For about a month after all their winged meteorological fun, Sam could predict the weather. He would roll down a window and put his hand in the wind and know. Dean called him his hot local weathergirl and demanded he sashay around talking about low-pressure systems sliding into certain dry spell areas and pounding them, really hammering until everything was wet and exhausted.

Sam glared, then forced Dean to pull over on the side of the road and whispered bad weather metaphors while Dean was too distracted by Sam's fingers and tongue to argue.

**
Heat lightning in the distance. Dean rests against the windshield, the glass cold through all his layers. They caught the storm in their slipstream about forty miles ago and Dean watches it crowd across the skies.

This is a late storm as the days turn colder and Sam walks up, eyes on the skies, the wind tousling his hair and Dean lets himself stare at his brother, outlined by the purple-blue on the horizon.

Sam shifts his weight, foot to foot, hands in his pockets and tips his head back. The world is open and theirs for the taking if they want it, pure sky and road and fuel, for as long as they can.

The car dips, squeaks as Sam climbs next to Dean, legs long on the hood and he says, “You know, if we can do that.”

And Dean knows, has stopped the timebomb in his head though sometimes he hears it in his sleep, in the unyielding drive of Sam's heart, says, “We can do anything.”

“We’ll get you outta this. We’ll save you.”

“I know you will, Sammy.”

Heat lightning in the distance. The wind brings the smell of rain.