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Madness Is The Emergency Exit

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Amazing cover art made by Forhimxx

 

 

 

 

 

So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought,
Heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable,
Remember there’s always madness.
Madness is the emergency exit...
-    The Killing Joke, Alan Moore

 

 

They used to be sweet little boys
But something went horribly askew
Now killing is their only source of joy
-    Shankill Butchers, The Decemberists

 

 

One bright day in the dead of night
Two dead brothers got up to fight
Back to back they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other

 

 

When Sam’s five and Dean is nine, Mary burns to death in Sam's room. Little flakes of his mother float down and land around Sam like rose petals on a lover's bed. Her screams echo around his head for days, and months, and years so that when he closes his eyes and listens, she’s still screaming.

 

John places Sam in Dean's arms and tells him to run, so Dean does what he is told and never let’s go. He carries his brother out of the house as the fire swallows it, mind still lost in the flames with the agonised screams of his mother and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh.

 

When John comes back with nothing but smoke and flakes of ash on his clothes, the three of them sit on the Impala and watch the yellow striped men trying to battle the flames. Sometimes Sam wonders if that was his first fire. Sometimes he wonders if his mother roasted alive in his room because he set it alight. Then Dean bites a line along his jaw and tells him that Sam would never hurt Mary because she understood.

 

John never understood. Mary tried to open his eyes but he didn't want to see beyond the white picket fence and the American dream. John wanted Mary and normal or nothing at all. He wanted Mary and two good sons but instead he got ash and matches.

 

And Sam and Dean, they wanted a father who understood so John fell into a bottle and drowned under the surface. It wasn't his fault that alcohol has a siren's touch or that Mary was gone and his world was empty. It wasn't John's fault that he threw his sons into a life where all they had was each other..

 

When Dean wakes Sam and there are multi-coloured bruises like flowers on his brother's soft skin, they douse the world in gasoline. When John tries to break them apart 'for their own good’ ‘getting to close’ ‘not normal', they light a match and drop it. Sam’s nine and Dean’s thirteen and they sit on the hood of the Impala to watch their father burn. In his mind, Mary’s screaming but Sam thinks that she will be quieter once she has John again.

 

Bathed in orange and yellow, Dean's hand sneaks around Sam's wrist. His fingers press into the jumpy pulse and listens to his little brother's excitement. There's blood raining from the sky and he can see his mother burning a few feet away, even if no one else can. Somewhere in Dean there's something wired wrong, a plug forced into a mismatched socket. Instead of checking out a pretty girl he wonders how red she bleeds. Instead of shouting at his father to stay away from Sammy, he rips the world apart.

 

Something’s wrong and fuzzy, the camera can't quite focus on the Winchester brothers because it doesn't really know if there's something to focus on. It can see them both but they've got parts missing, guns without safeties, and blades without handles. Both of them know they're broken but it doesn't matter, not really. There's a snap-crackle-pop from the fire keeping them warm. Sam throws his head back against Dean's chest and laughs at the sky.

 

There's a fire in Sam that burns so bright, brighter than anything else in his world. It crackles and laughs. Sometimes it gets too hot and Sam can't control the fire. They all burn, his mother, his father, his world. Only Dean doesn't burn.

 

And Dean, he’s always thought he would need to be a fireman so he can calm the blaze in Sam, so he can control the restlessness under his brother's skin. The thing is, Dean doesn't want to be a fireman because firemen stop the blaze, stamp it out so the only colours are black and blue. That was never an option for Dean because he would have to blow out Sam and then Dean's world would go dark. It's okay though because he's part of Sam, and Sam doesn't burn so neither does Dean.

 

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By the time they hear the sirens screaming through the peace around the bonfire, smoke has stretched overhead and hidden the sky. Sam turns to his brother and asks him to bring the stars back. They slide into the Impala and drive until the orange glow has faded and all that’s left is the smoky smell threaded into their clothes.

 

"It's okay now, Sammy," Dean says as they stop in a red-lit motel car park and he runs a hand through the ash in Sam's hair. "He'll never split us up."

 

"I know," Sam purrs, pushing his head against Dean's palm. "Mom's keeping him now."

 

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When they open the trunk of the Impala next morning and find an armoury, there’s a fight in the parking lot over who gets what. It ends with Morse Code splatters of red on the grey concrete and rules for who gets the silver-skinned Glock, the elegantly curved corvo or the scoped rifle. At first they are going to divide the boot into Sam's half and Dean's half but they don't like being separated. Their arms end up in a pile like pick-up-sticks and you can't move one without moving another.

 

It's only after they have inspected each weapon, red-painted images running through their minds, that Sam turns to Dean and asks him why there’s a weapons cache in John’s car. Absentmindedly running his fingers along the engravings on his new Glock, Dean shakes his head with a frown.

 

"I don't know, Sammy."

 

For a moment they’re lost in that tiny car park, standing in the middle of the world which has never been bigger. There are a thousand things to do and so many places to go. Everything’s spread out before Dean and in front of it all stands Mary, her skin peeling in black strips. He doesn’t know what to do and the world won’t stop to let him think. For a moment he longs for John and the orders that told him what to do and where to go.

 

It’s Sam who puts everything right. Dean's baby brother, who he knows will be bigger than him one day, standing there with big puppy eyes that burn like fire. Sam’s hand is resting on Dean's and simultaneously stroking the metal of the gun between his brother's fingers, gaze so charged Dean feels an itch like fingernails ghosting over skin. The world is still spinning, drawing closer with blue and red lights but it's okay because Dean has got Sam and he's never letting go. He’ll bury himself inside his brother, cut him open and climb into his skin, before he leaves Sam.

 

Bobby calls them then, when the brothers are frozen in indecision. Down the phone his voice is as rough as Dean remembers from hazy, sun-dappled memories of car frames stacked in dusty heat. There's something different though, rust flake in words of condolence and sorrow for broken things. Bobby tells them to make their way to his scrap-yard and asks if Dean can drive.

 

"Yes sir."

 

"Don't 'sir' me, boy. That was John, not me."

 

"Okay, Bobby."

 

"Drive safely, son."

 

"I will."

 

The world streaks past them in a blur of colours melding into one and no one can catch them if they don't slow down. The wind is shrieking though the window but it's drowning out the sound of Mary in Sam's head. Then Led Zeppelin fills the gaps and spreads a smile on Dean's face. They hit 60, 70, 80 and touch the needle to red. Town after town drips from the windscreen and falls back into dark looks and disapproving whispers of those demons that race the law. They're running from the world or perhaps the world’s running from them.

 

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When they reach Bobby's, Dean slows down so the gravel won't be spat at the Impala's soft underbelly. He draws careful circles around the metal graveyard until he finds an empty garage where he can park their black beast. By then Bobby has heard the Impala's growl and is waiting for them, hands in pockets and eyes on the ground.

 

Bobby’s like Sam remembers from the half-formed Technicolor memories that are too old to be completely reliable. Worn out cap sitting on his head - Sam wonders if he has ever seen the top of Bobby's head, maybe he doesn't even have one - scruffy beard and a grimy rag hanging from his pocket. There are differences though, longer lines on his forehead and deeper shadows in his eyes. Time’s eroding hope like the ocean conquering Venetian streets.

 

"Hello boys."

 

"Hey, Bobby." Dean talks as Sam stares at the destruction around them. The yard’s decorated with the bones of cars that drove until their limbs fell off and their insides dragged along the ground. It’s the mechanics' heaven and to Sam it’s corpses piled to the sky, rotting and dripping black on the oil-soaked ground. It’s a kingdom of twisted bodies that scatter in a million screeching head-lights.

 

"Come on Sammy." Dean's voice calls to him and now there are only cars around them, lifeless, inanimate objects in Bobby Singer's Scrap-yard. Mary’s screaming in Sam's head but Dean’s waiting for him just before the shady gray of the inside and she’s never as loud when Sam has his brother.

 

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John was a hunter. That's what Bobby tells them when they ask about the weapons in Dean's new baby. There are things out there that go bump in the night and they might come from humans but they're nothing except blackness now. They’re the blood clots clogging the system and spewing filth across the land.

 

Dean looks out the window and sees their mother's twisted body, black and shivering as it flakes apart, lying in the cradle of a car that once drove on roads of black tar. There’s something beautiful about the ash drifting from her corpse but he doesn't like the curls of golden hair that still fall from her blackened head so he turns to look at Sam. His brother’s looking back at him and for a moment Dean thinks he can hear Mary screaming.

 

Bobby tells them about the monsters that humans become when they lose everything they had. Monsters that draw blood snail-trails across the world. Monsters and demons and ghosts and creatures born in Hellfire that live damned lives. Dean looks at Sam and wonders if they're one of these monsters, wonders if their eyes will turn black in the right light.

 

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The Winchester brothers stay at Bobby's house for a long time, days turning into weeks, turning into months, turn into a year, creeping along the rows of cars waiting for salvation or sacrifice. Bobby thought they would become bored, antsy caught in one place when they suddenly had the world at their feet. He loved Mary and John, knew they were good people but John changed after his wife died.

 

Of course he changed, anyone will when something comes along and pulls the world out from under their feet, but John changed. He changed until he wasn't there anymore.

 

He can remember moments in the sweet green summers, when John left his sons with Bobby while he painted the grass with monster's insides; moments when Bobby saw the fingerprint bruises on Sam's wrists or noticed the way Dean would move in front of his younger brother as soon as their father came into the room. It was in those moments that Bobby tried to convince himself to tell John to leave the boys at the scrap-yard, drive away and never look back.

 

But he didn't. Bobby likes to think he never got a chance, likes to believe that one day he would have looked at John and seen a drunkard, an abusive father, instead of a war-torn soldier, an old friend. Then there was another fire and Bobby never got the chance to look beyond memories of post-hunt afternoons dripping with cold-beer condensation.

 

Now he spends the days looking at the result of his hesitance. The Winchester brothers had always been close but now they were inseparable. Bobby gives them each a job, hanging washing or cleaning car parts. They do one job and then the next, never leaving their other half alone. They move around each other like they only have one brain, compensating for movements that the other hasn’t yet made.

 

He thought that they would get bored and antsy, stuck in a salvage yard in a small town, tied down with a temporary life, but they never complained. When Bobby doesn’t give them jobs to do, Dean works on the cars he deems worthy of salvation. Sam sits with him, counts the hours on the clock and watches Dean become the saviour.

 

When the heat of the day starts to fade, the brothers tell Bobby they’ll be back for dinner and then disappear. They never say where they’re going and Bobby never asks but every time they come back with fresh bruises and the occasional drop of blood on their grass stained clothes.

 

He was going to ask, then one day he’s walking on the edge of the property when the sound of skin on skin and breathless curses reach him. The Winchesters are in the field adjoining the salvage yard, various glinting weapons in the grass, surrounding them like stadium spectators. There are ammunition boxes settled in ordered rows and grass caskets filled with empty bullet casings like piles of shells on a beach.

 

As Bobby glances over the fence, Sam's fist connects with Dean's face and the elder Winchester's head snaps to the side with the impact. Before Bobby can open his mouth, Dean has recovered, returning with a powerful kick. Sam blocks the blow easily, barely stumbling at the force on his forearms. They fall into a blur of punches and kicks, ducking and blocking and occasionally taking a hit but recovering almost instantly.

 

Chilled fingers dig into Bobby's brain as he watches them. There’s something so wrong about this scene, the orphan brothers beating each other with blood-skinned fists. Sam’s ten and almost as tall as Dean already. He ducks and twists with almost superhuman grace, avoiding hits that Bobby could swear are going to meet flesh. Dean’s fourteen and older in his mind. He matches Sam in grace but his blows are heavier, muscles already built up over years of something Bobby won't think about.

 

He watches them for a minute more, shivers running over his skin like mice’s feet. There’s something so wrong about these broken brothers. The lines of their bodies are tight and thin, merging together for a heartbeat before pulling apart. Sometimes Bobby can't see where one ends and the other begins but then their eyes are flashing deadly and so different. Shivers run over Bobby's skin like rats’ claws and the urge to run’s overpowering.

 

As soon as he’s back in the house, he pulls a knife from his modest armoury and slips it into his waistband. It's something he can't explain because he would never hurt Sam and Dean, would never hurt the brothers who’re already so damaged.

 

But the shivers still haven't gone away. Out of sight but never out of mind.

 

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They stop when Dean finally manages to block a kick from his brother then floor Sam with a punch to a jaw. The younger falls back into the grass, exhausted, sporting a split-lip and seeing the world in flutters of bright colours as his head spins. A moment later, Dean drops down beside him, gun in hand, streaks of red smeared over his skin and dripping sluggishly from his nose.

 

"I'm getting better," Sam says, trying not to let the words sound too much like a question, too much like a despite plea for approval. "I could kill a ghost now."

 

"Yeah, Sammy." Dean's voice is soft and he draws a line along the side of Sam's face with the gun, a red line like a temporary scar. He wants to make it permanent. "You're a good shot."

 

Sam's lip stands out in the closest he will come to a pout. "Just good?" His brown, not black, eyes go big and round, a puppy with soft skin lying in the grass with Dean, leaning into the barrel pressed against his cheek. "I wasn't better than just good?"

 

"Yeah, Sammy," Dean murmurs again, digging the gun into the stream of red dripping from his brother's fat lip. Sam practically purrs as a red line is drawn down his face and the pain blankets him in a buzz of electricity under his skin. Maybe one day it will be permanent.

 

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They spend Christmas with Bobby, hanging red intestine-like tinsel over the wooden rafter bones of the house. Sam goes around after his brother and repositions all the tinsel when Dean isn’t looking. Mary isn’t as loud at Christmas, strangely muffled as if placated by mindless holiday spirit. Sam doesn’t understand thinks that his mother’s lost in fake memories. He’s not going to argue of course, it’s nice to have the volume turned down. It’s nice to not feel insane all the time.

 

One morning when Dean’s distracted by car limbs, Sam tells Bobby he doesn’t know what to get his brother for Christmas. There’s nothing left, nothing that Sam has that isn’t Dean’s too. He says maybe he needs to go into town, explore the shops until he finds something that Dean doesn’t have yet. Bobby shakes his head and shows him a cupboard in the back of one of his garages.

 

“Take anything you want from here, kid.”

 

There’s another world inside the cupboard, a hundred thousand things from a hundred thousand places all crammed together. Some glint silver and catch the light whilst others hide in the shadows and wait for the opportune moment. There are things made of bone that fitted into bodies once. There are bullets that Sam doesn’t think could ever fit into any gun he knows.

 

He finds the amulet on the bottom shelf, tucked away in the corner of a cardboard box full of animal pelts. It’s a strange gold face with horns like a demon. Sam thinks of all the monsters out there, all the creatures that have black eyes in the right light. He thinks Dean could kill them all. With a smile he tucks the amulet into his pocket and closes the doors on the knick-knack world.

 

When Dean opens his present the little horned face glows in the firelight. It seems smaller in Dean’s hands but there’s a smile on his face and Sam knows he chose well. Dean’s fingers run over the horns, press on them until his skin goes white from the pressure. Carefully he slips it over his head, letting the amulet fall against his chest. He grins at Sam, teeth white like bone.

 

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Sam’s ten and Dean’s fourteen when they leave Bobby with the throaty roar of the Impala and a cloud of dust. He knows it wasn’t going to last forever, knows that saving cars wasn’t going to keep them interested for long. He just hopes it was long enough. The brothers will always be fine, will always survive so long as they have each other.

 

No, Bobby not worried about the Winchesters. It‘s the rest of the world he prays for.

 

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For the first few months they slide across the middle of the US, from small-town America to smaller-town America. They stay anywhere that has a vacancy sign and never for more than two weeks.

 

Dean convinces Sam to go to school in the day, tells him Mary would’ve wanted it. Sam doesn't really argue. There's an idea in his mind, a pretty bright image of the American dream. It's a lawyer and his wife and they're smiling and laughing. Sam’s running his own law firm, a Stanford graduate, unofficially voted most successful. It's just an idea, the picture-book of social expectation but it's hooked into Sam's head. He thinks it’s what Mary would’ve wanted it.

 

It's wrong of course, it's so very wrong, because Dean isn't in the picture. Sam's spent hours trying to find his brother's place, trying fit him in like the last piece of a jigsaw but it’s bent, twisted, out of line. Mary would want it, would want a lawyer in the family, would want Sam to have a perfect life, but even she’d forget; Sam’s nothing without his brother.

 

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Although he’d never admit it, when Sam’s at school, Dean plays housewife. He cleans, does laundry, cooks and, whenever they're available, he takes odd jobs mowing some old man's lawn or fixing a rattling Ute. It's not a lot of money but it's enough.

 

When he has spare time, which is more often than not really, he drives his baby down to the school and slips into the crowd, attends a few classes as 'the new kid' or 'just trying it out'. That way he can make sure that Sammy's safe. That way he can see his brother in the halls, sit with him on the bleachers and watch the 'normies'. He can be close enough to protect Sam from anything that might want to hurt him.

 

At night they watch whatever they can find on TV and steal food from each other's plates. Sam stretches out after dinner, taking up as much space on the couch as possible until his feet are slid snugly under Dean's warm thigh. Sometimes he falls asleep like that, lulled by the screams and gunfire of whatever b-movie's rolling on screen, until Dean nudges him awake and gets him to a bed.

 

On weekends they hit every bar they haven't already been banned from. Sometimes they will walk into one they don't remember entertaining, only to be met with a shotgun barrel. When they find a bar, they strip it bare. Sam quickly learns how to hustle pool, long limbs melding seamlessly into the positions Dean moves them to. They find a mark, play him, drink, start a fight, win, grab their money then stumble home, laughing and licking blood from their fists.

 

Sometimes they make it to their beds and wake up on blood-stained sheets (which Dean never fails to make crude jokes about) but most nights they fall into a tangle on the couch. They wake the next morning, Sam curled into his brother's warmth or splayed out against his side, aching from their injuries but grinning through black eyes and red teeth.

 

Dean still sees Mary, burning on the Laundromat ceiling or crumbling into ash that scatters over the roses he's pruning for Mr. White. He can see her face, every strip of her soft skin peeling away from the muscle underneath.

 

Sometimes she's still whole and human, smiling at her eldest son like he remembers from sepia memories. Then her nightgown catches on fire and the flames flit higher and higher until her eyes are dripping out of their sockets and Dean can't watch anymore. When it's really bad, when Dean feels like he can't breathe anything except ash and fire, he pulls Sam out of school on a 'family emergency' and they drive to the middle of nowhere.

 

In a random field, they fight until they've bathed the Earth in their blood. Then Sam fills Dean's entire world with his dimples painted red, his eyes bright and fixed on Dean. Then there’s no room for Mary.

 

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The screams still ring in Sam's head, always there, although sometimes they're so quiet it's just background noise. They always come back though, his mother's dying moments echoing in his head forever. Most days he wonders how he hasn't gone mad yet, how he can be so sane with the screaming in his thoughts. At least, he thinks he’s sane.

 

At night it's the worst and every couple of weeks the clamour keeps him awake and staring into the dark. On those nights he climbs out of bed and slips into Dean's, ignoring his father's words ‘too close not right’. Dean grounds him, holds his sanity in place. Dean’s his bay, port, pier and anchor.

 

Sam squirms into the warmth of his brother, fingers twisted in Dean's shirt. He nudges his nose against smooth, bare skin then sinks his teeth into Dean's shoulder. The crescendo in his head dies away, the screams almost gone, never quieter than when Sam has his brother to hold him in the world. And Dean never complains, just hooks an arm around his little brother, digs his fingernails into soft skin and never let's go.

 

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It's a month after the end of school when Sam finally decides he's going to Stanford. Sam’s eighteen and he has eleven acceptance letters in his hands. A full ride. The screaming in his head isn't as loud, almost dulled at the edges. Mary’s proud, he's certain of it.

 

Sam’s still sitting at the table, paper dreams spread in front of him, when Dean comes back from re-painting Mr. Pinkman's front door. There's no point in going to greet his brother, the routine that Dean Follows is imprinted in his mind. Close door, toe shoes off, hang keys on hook, head down the hall, into the kitchen, open fridge, grab a beer.

 

Then Dean’s at the door, grinning at Sam with a sun-worn smile, freckles standing out like cigarette burns around his green eyes. The scent of sweat and paint reaches Sam as Dean slides into a chair across from his brother, head tipped back as he chugs at the cold beer in that way only Dean could survive. Mary’s quiet in Sam's head but it won't last, can't last, not anymore.

 

"What'cha doing, Sammy." And Dean’s smiling easily at him. Dean, Sam's big brother. His rock, his life, his soul. Dean who has always looked after him, who never complains, who never lets Sam get hurt.

 

"I'm leaving." The grin slips away, the bright green eyes dull, the beer clunks against the table.  "I got accepted into Stanford with everything paid for. First semester starts in a week.”

 

There’s something in Dean’s eyes, broken and devastated, like the Earth after an apocalypse. Sam has dropped a nuclear bomb behind those green irises and now he’s looking at a wasteland. Dean looks down and the demolition’s gone. He’s just a frail man sitting at a table in a frail life that Sam’s smashing under his feet.

 

This is Dean. This is the brother who has given Sam everything, who has held back the world so that Sam can breathe. This is Dean who has burnt their life to the ground only so he can build a new one. Dean who has destroyed all the monsters so they can sit in a small kitchen in a small town, safe.

 

And that’s why he says it, that’s why he chooses Stanford. That’s why Sam can’t stay. Because Dean has given everything for Sam so now it’s his turn to do something for his big brother.

 

“I’m leaving in two days.” Dean turns away, leaving the half-drunk bottle dripping condensation tears on the table. Sam hears the door open, listens to it close and doesn’t move.

 

Dean deserves better than this jagged world of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’. Dean deserves better than a half-sane brother who holds wildfires under his skin. Sam doesn’t know how long he will last in a world without Dean; he doesn’t know how long it will be before the fire consumes everything in orange and yellow and pain. All that matters is that he’s as far away from Dean as possible when the flames escape.

 

In his head, Mary’s screaming harder than ever until the worlds fuzzy at the corners with black holes and burning stars and a million galaxies spread across his vision. Sam’s going to pass out and this time he doesn’t know how to make her stop.

 

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Sam leaves the next day.

 

Dean drives him down to the bus stop but he doesn’t say anything, barely even looks at his brother. Sam’s relieved. He isn’t sure if he can get out of the Impala with Dean’s green gaze spearing him like a bug under a pin. It’s hard enough as it is and he finds his hands lingering on the worn leather of the car, remembering how that rip and that scar found their way onto her insides.

 

When he’s finally outside and Dean’s still sitting in the driver’s seat, the world’s black and white. Everything’s hollow inside, as though a giant has dipped his spoon in and scooped out all the fleshy organs that Sam needs to stay alive. Air’s getting caught in his throat, catching and hiccupping, the simple functions of his body forgotten as all his brain’s focused on not climbing back in, not burrowing back into his brother’s skin..

 

And Mary. Her scream’s sandpaper on the tiny thread that’s holding Sam’s skeleton in place. That shrill, never-ending sound, wearing down the sinews and muscles that keep Sam whole, breaking them down inch by inch. This is what it’s like when Dean isn’t there, when Dean won’t hold Sam down and keep him from blowing away.

 

For a moment Sam isn’t sure he’s going to make it but there’s still stubbornness left in the clench of teeth and the tightening of his jaw. Dean doesn’t need him. Sam’s brother deserves to be free and Mary deserves the perfect son she always dreamed of.

 

Mind set, he slams the trunk of the Impala and moves round to the passenger door of the car. Everything he owns is packed in carefully folded squares and impeccably ordered rows inside two gym bags. It had taken Sam an hour to pack everything into three bags that morning. Then another two hours to take everything out, pick out what was Dean’s and put back what was left.

 

“Bye then, I guess.” Even the door opening hasn’t knocked Dean out of his obstinate stare into the distance. Mary’s screams momentarily break into sobs. “Okay. I-“ Sam knows he shouldn’t open his mouth again, knows he should just go. “I’ll miss you, Dean.”

 

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There’s a little puddle of water in the middle of the road next to the bus stop. An oil rainbow furls and unfurls in it, rocked by the gentle breeze from a distant storm. Tiny black flakes float on the surface, little boats that will never complete an odyssey. The flakes fall from the black and red woman who’s standing next to the puddle with the water lapping at her toes.

 

Dean watches Mary turn to look at him. Well, turn to him anyway. She doesn’t have any eyes to look with. The fire has eaten everything, left her skin black and falling like snowflakes, giving way to the red red flesh underneath. Rivers of blood and pus and the sloppy mess of liquefied insides drip into new puddles on the road.

 

As Dean stares, the left side of Mary’s forehead slowly drops away from her face, muscle and skin gradually pulling apart until the chunk of charred flesh slides over her cheek and falls to the ground. It leaves a gaping hole behind, carved all the way to the brown-tinged bone, drizzled with red.

 

The door opens and Sam ducks his head into the Impala but Dean doesn’t – can’t look away. He understands; this is his punishment. Sam’s leaving because Dean let Mary burn, because he didn’t saved her. This is Sam’s chance to get away from him and the way that everything around Dean blackens and withers away. So yeah, he understands why his brother’s leaving.

 

“Bye then, I guess.” Dean feels like a boat set adrift in the night, anchor-less, captain-less. He’s lost and the stars aren’t shining to point the way home. “Okay, I- I’ll miss you, Dean.” Mary tries to smile but her jaw unhinges and splatters against the pavement, wet strings of red and black trailing from what is left of her face.

 

“Sammy.” Dean doesn’t remember thinking anything, doesn’t remember saying his brother’s name, but he must have. There are words that can mean a thousand things, ‘sorry’s that can cover years and 'thank you's that cross lifetimes, but nothing’s more important than that word. It means everything.

 

The door closes and Dean’s voice’s lost. Sam plods to the bus, shaggy head bowed, eyes on his feet. Dean can’t move, can’t look away from Mary, and can’t stop watching Sam. His little brother’s leaving him and Dean knows it’s the right thing. That doesn’t stop his chest from caving in and pulverising his heart.

 

The puddle splashes rainbow red water over the grey tarmac road as Mary’s arm leaves her body. Sam’s bus pulls away from the stop, big tires tracking through the puddle, crushing Mary’s ribcage under its feet. Dean barely manages to escape from the Impala before he’s losing his breakfast on the ground and this, this is what it’s like without his brother

 

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Chapter Text

It’s been almost a year in the twisting corridors of Stanford when Sam meets Jessica for the first time and she’s perfect. Her green eyes gaze at Sam in a familiar way that sends electric pulses over his skin. Shiny white teeth sit in a shiny lip-gloss smile and he expects her to be made of soft skin, silken and supple.

 

Instead she’s full of angles and hard muscles that jolt against Sam limbs and lips that drag along his skin in swirling wet patterns. Sometimes he holds her like china because she’s so small in his arms and sometimes he throws her to the bed, wondering if she can break. Jessica just laughs and reaches out, calling the devil into her arms.

 

Sam’s twenty when he meets Jessica and she’s perfect. They build a life together, a construction of textbooks walls and hidden memories, filled with cracks that they plug with fast food and black-and-white movies. They have a small flat and in the bathroom their elbows bump together as they place their toothbrushes side by side like fallen trees.

 

Sam leaves in the morning before Jessica’s awake and he’s home hours after her, but she just gives him an easy smile and stands on tip-toes to kiss his cheek. The days roll by in a haze of work and no play but Sam wants to give his mother the perfect son.

 

And Mary, Mary screams and screams and screams and screams. Mary’s there when the day ends and when it begins and when Sam doesn't know whether it’s day or night, the confusion’s because Mary’s screaming too loud. When he starts to forget his name, he picks a bar and picks a fight and picks out the glasstoothbone embedded in his fist. Only then is Mary quiet enough to for Sam to think.

 

It's when Sam’s punching a faceless figure and Mary’s screaming with every blow, that the ache, the desperate need for his brother’s strongest. It's that continuous ‘Dean, need Dean’ that’s Sam's backbone. Some days it will suck away everything else, drain every emotion until all that’s left is Dean. Then some days Sam will wake, eat, dress, smile, laugh, live because one day he’ll see his brother again.

 

When Dean’s all that exists in Sam's thoughts, then Mary screams the loudest.

 

------------

 

Dean’s twenty-four and he’s forgotten how to live. Dean’s twenty-four and he almost forgot but there’s a voice mail waiting on his phone when he shakes off the hangover enough to check it. Dean’s twenty-four and he would have forgotten but his brother’s voice wishes him happy birthday from light years away.

 

Days are passing like thoughts thrown away on trivial questions. In time they all blur together until a week has gone and Dean can’t remember what he did. There’s nothing except hunts and booze and a pliant body to complete the circle. There’s no lather rinse repeat.

 

Just repeat.

 

And repeat.

 

And repeat.

 

He drinks to wake up. He drinks to fall asleep. He drinks to shoot straight. He drinks to solve a hunt. He drinks to cure a hangover. He drinks to see the endless road. He drinks to make the smiles come easier.

 

He drinks so he doesn’t spend his days thinking, ‘Sam, Sammy left me.’ Then, when he has drank too much and fucked someone behind the bar, he collapses into a motel bed and rolls his brother’s name around in his head until it’s just a sound echoing through his dreams.

 

And Mary, Mary’s everywhere. She sits in the backseat of the Impala, eyeless sockets somehow still watching Dean in the rear-view. She’s crucified on trees and splattered across ceilings. Everywhere she goes, a bread-crumb trail of rotting flesh stretches out behind her.

 

In the mornings she’s waiting for Dean as soon as he’s coherent. In the motels she stands at the end of the bed, pus and blood dripping from her fingertips to soak into the carpet. When he’s sleeping in the Impala she presses her hands against the window, leaving skin handprints stuck to the glass.

 

In those days when it’s worst, when Dean can't open his eyes without seeing Mary, when she’s imprinted on his eyelids, hunting’s the only thing that keeps him functioning. It's the adrenaline charging through his veins, the metal weaponin his hands, and the slow spread of red blood on the floor. It's the screaming of someone, something dying as Dean stops it's black heart.

 

Some days Dean thinks he must be insane but people always say that insane people think they’re sane. So he’s probably sane but if he thinks he’s sane then maybe he’s insane. But then… Mary laughs at Dean as he spins in orbits. Eventually he just gives up and knocks back another shot.

 

Sam would know. Sam would be able to make Dean sane. Sam would be able to fix him. Dean downs another bottle. He wakes up with blood on his hands and it’s not his. Sammy would be able to save him.

 

------------

 

Sam’s twenty-two and he can feel the contractions of his brother's muscles under his hands. There’s a heavy weight resting on him. It presses his body into the floor until the world’s suddenly solid around Sam and how long has it been since his world was real? How long has it been since Sam’s feet felt the ground underneath them?

 

Mary’s screaming and screaming and screaming and Sam doesn't hesitate, just noses under his brother's leather jacket and sink his teeth into skin. Mary’s gone. She's not just quiet. She's gone. For the first time in too long, the world’s silent.

 

And then a voice breathes in his ear, hoarse and soft and perfect. "Sammy."

 

He let's go, shifts his weight and bucks up, flipping them over until Dean’s the anchor and Sam’s the ship. Arms automatically wrap around his back, a steel cage to protect him from sharks, fingers digging into his skin. Blocking out the world, Sam buries his face in his brother's neck and lets the smell of ‘Dean, Dean, Dean’ calm the moon's roaring tides.

 

They stay like that for a long time and perhaps it’s forever or perhaps it never happened. The world’s still moving but they’re standing still or perhaps they’re moving too fast and the world’s standing still. Perhaps they’ve fogged up the glass and the world has simply fallen away beyond the mist. It doesn't matter, nothing matters anymore.

 

------------

 

Dean’s twenty-six. His fingernails are digging into his little brother’s skin and he’s never letting go. Every pole’s slotting into place, north and south, east and west. Sam is his arrow pointing the way, his map to find the world’s edges then fall over into no man’s land. That’s where they exist, in the shadows where the rest of the world can’t quite see them.

 

All too soon Sam’s gone. He’s standing over Dean so much taller than he remembers. His hand’s warm when Dean takes it, warm and calloused and real. Their shoulders jostle and they fall against each other as their calibrations reset and they get their balance back. They’ve been apart for a long time, too long, but still they snap together like muscle memory, remembering every axis that their other half’s plotted on.

 

Then Sam asks the question that Dean doesn’t want to answer. “What’re you doing here?”

 

It’s not a short and snappy answer. It’s long and complex and he doesn’t really have an answer, not one that he can say. He’s forgotten what it’s like to feel something that isn’t drunk or lost. Sam’s drawing back at the blank look on his face and Mary has appeared at his side, dripping on the perfectly clean carpet.

 

Light floods the room, banishes their world of shadows. There’s a blonde woman standing in the doorframe, dressed in less rather than more. Her eyes are emerald green and she’s beautiful and Dean has been replaced. Sam has a picture-perfect Barbie doll and Dean no longer belongs. They’re talking about him and he has been slotted into Sam’s life as another half-lie. Then Sam’s moving over to her. Sam’s leaving Dean and Mary’s sliding into the gap left behind with a toothless smile of bleeding gums.

 

Jessica’s looking at Dean with curiosity whilst Sam’s still asking, ‘why are you here’. Quickly he spins a story that he knows will fit into his brother’s new life, a tale of an absent father, half truth, half lie. Sure enough, Sam doesn’t looked horrified, just annoyed and the Barbie looks concerned about a father she has probably only heard momentary mentions of.

 

Then Sam looks down at her and Dean realises the truth. He knows that look. He knows it from years of keeping his little brother safe, watching over him when angels were too busy. He knows that look because that's how Sam used to look at him. So now Dean understands.

 

Mary glides in behind the two lovers and for just a moment Dean can see her smiling proudly at her youngest son. He understands. This is the apple-pie life. This is what a mother prays of for her child. This is what Sam dreamt of when he was young and curled up in a bundle on the backseat of the Impala, pressed up against Dean's side like a precious creature to be protected.

 

Dean understands. This is Sam's perfect life. He won't let his own feelings get in the way of his brother's happiness. It only takes him a moment to stutter out a contradiction, an excuse. It’s the hardest thing he has done since his brother left him in to vomit in puddles at the empty bus-stop. Barbie looks oblivious. Sam looks confused. Mary smiles wider and a slice of her cheek crackles, blackens, burns in invisible flames.

 

They walk downstairs together, steps, breath, heartbeats perfectly in sync. Everything’s tightening inside, clenching together as he prepares for the agony of leaving Sam again. It was easier when he wasn't the one looking in the rear-view. It was easier being lost in the kingdoms conjured by alcohol.

 

It's crowded in the tiny corridor. Dean can feel Sam's breath against his cheek and the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of Mary's blood on his hand. The light from the street lamps paint pictures on Sam's face, throw their bodies into shadow. He opens his mouth to say goodbye, really, he's only going to say goodbye, but the words never come in time. Sam’s warm in his arms, nose pressed against his ear, tears wet on Dean's skin. For a moment the eldest Winchester’s sure he can hear Mary screaming.

 

An hour later Dean leaves Palo Alto and Sam is in the passenger seat next to him.

 

 

------------

It's just for one hunt, that's what Sam keeps saying. It's just one hunt and then he has to go back to his dream. There's a Barbie doll waiting for him and a lawyer's school taking interest in his ‘A’s. There's a golden path set out under his feet and Mary’s smiling through the motel window, hand pressed against the glass.

 

It’s nothing new when Dean asks for twin singles. It never changed, even when Sam wasn't there. Sometimes Mary would sleep on the bed instead, half her face left spread out on the pillow in the morning. There's no room for her now, not with Sam filling Dean’s world. Tonight she’s pressed against the window and Dean won't let her in.

 

The hunt’s over too quickly, too easily. There’s barely time to breathe before the white lady’s gone and Dean has protected his little brother like he always promised. They’re grinning at each other, adrenaline smiles and near-death touches, the reassurance that they defeated another monster from under the bed.

 

Dean reverses the Impala out of the wreckage, blood pulsing in time with the heartbeat suspended between the driver's seat and the passenger’s. There’s something else though, the itch of a world being just a little bit off. Sam’s shifting in his seat, running his hand mindlessly up his arm, making all the hairs stand up the wrong way. Mary’s standing beside the car and somehow she looks worried - or as worried as one can look when they’re missing their flesh.

 

"Sammy?" He doesn't need to say anything else. When their blood’s pulsing with the rush of violence they only need to speak in names. Sam reaches out and hooks his finger into Dean's pocket, tugging lightly, not quite meeting his brother eyes.

 

Dean understands. Silently he pulls out the book of matches and holds it out. The smile that splits Sam's face is devastation and destruction. It's the spark of a fire and the kiss of flames. It's broken and terrifying and so goddamn beautiful that Dean thinks he will die if he looks too long, but he doesn't. Sam can't hurt him because he's a part of Sam and Dean will never let Sam get hurt so really, he’s protecting himself.

 

The house’s old and rickety. She creaks with the wind and threatens to fall. The flames eat the house's bones and cough her ashes into the sky. Her death’s blistering and bright, yellow and red dancers leaping in Sam's eyes, highlighting the curves of his face and Dean's little brother is perfect.

 

They sit together on the hood of the Impala, sides pressed together, feeling hot skin through the layers of clothing. Sam’s laughing, head thrown back to stare at the smoke wisps in the sky, fingers tangled in the cord of Dean's amulet. It's intoxicating, his happiness, his body beside Dean, and Dean has to keep pinching himself to know that this is real. This isn't a dream. His Sammy’s sitting next to him.

 

He wraps an arm around Sam's back and laughs with him, head falling back to knock on his shoulder. Dean's little brother has grown so tall. When he’s conscious of the world other than Sam and the cracklesnappop of fire, he sees Mary. She’s standing a few metres from the car and she’s smiling and she’s beautiful. Her skin’s milky smooth, hair golden curls, nightgown billowing white and she’s complete and she’s whole. Sam presses closer and a strange lightness takes over Dean's body, something he hasn't felt in years, something good, something safe.

 

------------

 

The fire’s so bright, the most beautiful thing Sam has seen since green eyes in the morning, blinking away sleep in motel rooms. As the fire burns, the house screams and creaks and crumbles like white cliffs falling into the churning ocean. This house is not quite a demon screaming in a meat suit or a man shouting through a bloodied nose, but it's close enough.

 

Everything feels settled under his skin, likes bugs he didn't know were there have fallen out and scuttled away. His body has tipped back onto the right axis and Sam can breathe properly. Dean's head drops onto his shoulder, laughter bursting forward to join Sam's and it's the most beautiful sound he can hear over the ‘snap crackle pop’.

 

For a second something catches Dean's eyes and he’s looking at some place Sam can't reach. Whatever he sees, it’s good. Sam can feel his brother relax, all his muscles easing out tension he probably never noticed was there. It's like a wave rolling through Dean until his body’s falling against Sam's, fitting to his awkward growing angles in a way that Jessica could never quite manage.

 

It’s then, as Sam curls closer around the solid warmth of his brother, that he hears the laughter. It's gentle and soft, a woman’s voice. With it comes the perfect smell of Mary, flowered perfume caught in the scent of a kitchen and something that Sam just knows is his mother. The smell twists into the laughter until they are smoke wisps on the wind, a distant comfort from a life half-remembered.

 

Sam stops thinking then, forgets Jessica and dreams of a lawyer. As long as he has held that path, walking between the dotted lines, keeping his fingers dragging through the American dream, he has never heard Mary laugh. He dips his head, noses Dean's shirt aside and digs his teeth into his brother's skin. The storm inside cools, calms, drops away. The storm he had never noticed until it was gone.

 

A nose nudges into his hair and Sam can feel Dean's smile as his brother's fingers bite into his waist. Ship and anchor, safely lost at sea.

 

------------

 

Words don't really pass between them, no ideas suggested. They talk in looks, names and touches as though they’re still hunting and perhaps they are. Sam fingers the book of matches and his chocolate brown eyes ask Dean for permission. A smile runs like a crack across the older Winchester's face and it’s poison in a look, a smile etched in destruction.

 

"Sammy," he says, voice hoarse with anticipation. The Impala rumbles under Dean's hands, his metal steed carrying them to the end of the world and beyond. The wheels knock over the centre line, once, twice. Sam looks over at him and laughs as they roar down the left wing of the highway. It's then that Dean decides there’s nothing he’ll not do for that laugh.

 

Pinprick lights appear from around the corner. A hand grabs Dean's arm, not holding him back but silently daring him on. It's chicken at 70 MPH, night whipping past the windows and ACDC is the drum-driven pulse that‘ll never flat-line. They’re seconds away from death and Dean can't breathe. His brother’s fingers are pressing bruises into his skin shaped like cigarette burns. The world’s made of black tar, dotted lines and Sam.

 

The pinpricks grow until they’re floodlight across the windscreen. Sam’s laughing and at some point Dean started laughing too. He can already feel the crunch of the car-crash second in time. He can already feel the finality of the end, coming in the blaring of a horn. The world’s so small and Sam’s pushing into his legroom until he slots into that Sam-shaped space that’s always next to Dean.

 

When there’s a heartbeat left, the chicken veers to the side in a screech of wheels, desperate and erratic, fishtailing into the dark. Sam spins his head around, wild hair brushing against Dean's cheek, to watch the lights fade behind them, crisscrossing in the dark. He falls against Dean, a thousand meaningless phrases and neologisms tumbling from his mouth in excited gasps. The Impala growls and runs along the centre-line. Next time the chicken will be dead.

 

In the rear-view mirror Dean can see Mary sitting in the backseat. She’s almost perfect except for the eyeball melting in its socket. Dean pulls his little brother closer.

 

------------

 

Neither of them is sure how long it takes to get to Palo Alto, not in hours anyway. Constructions of time disappear when they collide. Hours pass in minutes and minutes are years so there's no telling how long their days are. Instead they measure time in motel rooms and destruction. It takes them three rooms, five car crashes, two police chases, one fire and a hunt to get to Palo Alto.

 

The police chases are probably Dean's fault if you really want to place blame - and Sam decides he does. There’s something in Dean that won’t let him drive under the speed limit. Just call him Maverick. The fire, however, that’s completely Sam's fault of course. His puppy-dog eyes can’t quite hide the spark in his heart so Dean finds an abandoned house to burn. That's where the hunt came in and come on, how’s Dean to know that the creepy ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere is as haunted as houses can come?

 

They salt and burn and salt and burn again. The curling breathes of the second wandering spirit have only just faded into the night when the vampire appears.

 

"Really Dean?" Sam doesn’t hold back the disbelief in his voice. "Of all the places you could find, you found the only house in the world with two ghosts and a fucking vampire."

 

"We could make that into a song," Dean says with a smirk as he hefts the machete in his grip and watches the Vampire approach. "On the second day of Christmas, Sam's true love gave to him, two ghosts a-haunting and a Vampire in - where are we anyway?"

 

"You know," Sam mutters, half-amused, half-annoyed. "That makes you my true love, asshole."

 

"Aw, Sammy," Dean snickers and widens his stance as the vampire darts towards them. "I didn't know you felt that way."

 

Sam's reply’s lost in the wet squelch of the vampire's head parting ways with its body. Blood splatters thick across Dean's face, the metallic tang flooding his senses. Wild electric pulses through his body, running high with the explosive laugh that tumbles from his mouth. Without thinking he cleaves the body in two before it can collapse on the ground.

 

"Dean," Sam whines reproachfully, nose wrinkled. "We still have to bury that and I'm not stuffing its guts back in place." Dean cocks his head to the side, studying the mess. His little brother has a point. Neither of them are going on an intestine treasure hunt. Sam gives him a pointed look, forehead lined like a disgusted puppy.

 

As the Impala peels away from the triple-score haunted house, yellow and orange flames burn across the rear window and the lumpy sprawl of a vampire’s splayed across the lawn. Sam wasn’t happy leaving the corpse to rot but Dean placated his brother with a new book of matches and fingers buried in his shaggy hair. Nothing had burned brighter than Sam’s eyes.

 

------------

 

They evade the police for the last time and then they’re in Palo Alto. Sam’s pressed against the passenger door, body turned to face Dean, grinning wildly. Blood’s pumping through their veins and sirens whine in their ears. Dean grins back, watching Sam more often than the road, eyes tracing the flashes of street-lights that highlight every dip and dive on his brother’s face.

 

A turn emerges from the left and Dean takes it, stopping in the middle of the unlit side-road, white dotted lines cutting the car in half. Inside the Impala shadows swallow the two brothers until they can barely see each other but they don’t need the light. Dean twists around in his seat until he has one leg up on the bench, one still in the driver’s well, staring expectantly through the dark.

 

“We’ll burn it, Dean.” Sam’s voice’s soft as he answers the unspoken question. “We’ll burn the world down so it’s just us.”

 

“Don’t you want-”

 

“Fuck you.” The words are sharp and cold, a buried malice seeping into Sam’s voice. It’s not directed at Dean, never against his brother. It’s boiling anger and regret for the fake life he’s lived for four years. It’s shame and distaste for how long he has been caught in someone else's dream. It’s the way every single atom of his body aches at the thought of leaving his brother again.

 

They don't speak after that. Dean just reaches across the seat and wraps his hand around Sam's neck, so tight there’ll be bruises there in the morning. There’ll be purple and yellow flowers, a perfect handprint on his skin for anyone to see. Sam doesn't pull away, doesn’t find violence or malice in the press of muscle. Instead he pushes back into his brother's hand, looses himself in the skin against his and the sweet smell of the Impala’s leather.

 

Eventually Dean lets go, ignoring Sam’s disappointed noise and presses his foot to the accelerator. Somewhere a switch flips and suddenly the air between them is electric, tight and tied up in the instant excitement of blood and heartbeats and flames. Sam turns to grin at his brother and Dean can see sparks in his eyes.

 

Framed by the rear-view mirror, Mary’s sitting in the back seat. Her porcelain smooth skin glows in the strips of moonlight banded across her face. She smiles and her teeth are white marble tombstones. Mary’s perfect and whole and beautiful and Dean needs to see something burn.

 

------------

 

At first Sam didn't know what it was about fire that set his heart beating so fast, tremors across his skin and that desperate aching need for his brother. At first he didn't understand why the fire burned as brightly in the world as it did under his skin. He always figured it was just because he was broken, insane, driven to the sweet burn by the never-ending screams in his head.

 

And maybe he is, maybe that’s why he craves the screams of someone, something else. Maybe something in him snapped off and got lost in the fire that started his life. Maybe his insanity’s made of thundering waterfalls and creaking forests that crave the slow sweet burn. It doesn't matter though, not really, because if Sam’s insane, then so is Dean.

 

The match reflects in Dean's eyes, giving him cat-like slits in the dark and bathing his skin in orange. For a moment Sam thinks his brother has swallowed the fire and he's going to curl at the edges, but Dean just grins at Sam and spills the last drop of whiskey from his bottle. Wetting the grave. They douse the world in gasoline, light a match and watch everything burn.

 

Fifteen minutes later the Impala roars onto the highway like a black mare charging across the world. Sam and Dean are shouting and whooping and Mary’s laughing with them. In Palo Alto an apartment building burns to the ground and black-eyed men watch with charcoal grins.

 

------------

Chapter Text

It strange, suddenly being faced with a world to roam and no place where they’ll belong. There are a million signposts to a million places but they might as well go nowhere because the Winchesters have no forerun destiny, no plotted course, no distinct goal, not anymore. So Sam buys a map, closes his eyes and stabs his finger at the thin paper.

 

Trapped by his fingerprint’s a pathetically tiny village in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. The weather’s melting hot, summer sun beating down on the roof of the Impala. They’re halfway there when the air-con chokes. Windows are instantly wound down but even the wind’s heated and sticky. Sweat drips down the neck of Sam's shirt and Dean's body heat adds another layer of discomfort but Sam doesn't care. He presses closer to his brother, slick skin sliding on his, a constant reminder that this is real; that he won’t wake in Palo Alto.

 

Hunts seem to find them on the way to Sam's fingerprint, moths to the flame. There are monsters everywhere, so many things to kill, so many things to salt and burn. Sam thinks he’ll die young because his heart’s never given a chance to slow down. Food becomes second thought as the brothers run on adrenaline blood and half-crazed laughter.

 

They reach Sam's fingerprint and the village’s even smaller than it looks on the map. There are almost two inns, one ramshackle and moss-covered, the other half-full of permanent residents who checked in and never bothered to check out. Most of the houses are peeling paint and splintered wood. A dog barks and children shriek as they play in the dust of the local playground. They quickly learn that strangers in the village are watched from beneath hat brims and out of the corner of narrowed eyes.

 

There isn't a hunt here. Dean grumbles and mutters about creepy buildings in small-town America and various horror flicks. They don't find a hunt but they spend a week in the village. There's something about this place, something that feels like a clock ticking down but no one knows what to. It's not the uncomfortable shiver of something that’s about to go wrong, more the heavy weight of something inevitable.

 

------------

 

The clock hits zero on their eighth day amongst the dust-painted farmers. Their evening haunt (and Sam loves the irony in that word) is the closest bar, the only bar, drinking themselves into the night with the locals. They’re forced alone, isolated on their own table among rowdy drinking groups swapping stories. The Winchester's don't complain. It's probably better that people avoid them. The brothers are more volatile when they're together, too flammable, too charged.

 

It’s better that people avoid them but sometimes they’re not that lucky. Friday evening comes hot and humid, air almost thicker than the liquor that’s being knocked back by the locals, happy that the week’s over. There are more than a couple of people drunk, stumbling like new-born giraffes across the bar.

 

"Hey there, big boy." A woman with tangled, straw-coloured hair falls into the empty space next to Sam in their booth. The brothers always slide together until there’s more space free than taken. "How’re you doin’ tonight?"

 

"Get off," Sam replies coldly, pushing away wandering hands. The woman looks vaguely gleeful at the apparent challenge but it's hard to tell if she's even aware of what's going on. "Leave."

 

"Oh com-on," she slurs, pawing at every inch of his body she can reach. "I juss' wanna see if you're propo-propor- the same size all luv’."

 

"Leave now," Sam manages to grind out again, shoving away her leg as she tries to loop it into his lap. "Go!"

 

She's about to open her mouth and speak again when Dean apparently decides he’s had enough. In a second he’s on the other side of the table, hauling the woman out of the booth by her arm. She doesn't hesitate before she starts screaming.

 

The townspeople's reaction is instantaneous. Two men rip the woman from Dean's grip and push her out of the way whilst a third lashes out, landing a punch on the elder Winchester's jaw. It’s clear that these people have been watching the Winchesters, waiting for the camera to focus so they can see why there’s a chill in the room when the brother’s enter. Now they’ll learn the answer.

 

Before he can think, Sam’s on his feet and steadying his brother. He brushes fingers over Dean’s face, making sure no bones are broken. It takes a moment to shake the stars away but then Dean’s grinning at Sam, something wild swimming in his green eyes.

 

There’s a moment’s exchange between them, muscles tensing, hearts already beating too fast. Then the world’s a blur of pain and anger. Everything’s red, rivers of blood and anger choking out reality and logic. Sam can’t see but he doesn’t really need to. He can feel Dean beside him, can feel the movements his brother will make before he makes them.

 

Mary’s screaming in his mind, louder than ever before, until she’s all he can hear. Everything else drops away, muffled by a thick blanket of screams. He lashes out harder, violence pounding in his ears, the pain in his fists distant and not completely real. It isn’t until something warm’s washing over his body, splattering against his face, slicking the floor beneath his feet, that he realises Mary’s laughing. And he’s laughing with her.

 

------------

 

It’s carnage, a massacre. There are no other words to describe it. Blood’s splattered across the floor, over the walls. It reaches the ceiling in red star-burst splatters, macabre imitations of the glow-in-the-dark stars Sam used to stick on the roof of the Impala. The bar looks like the crime scene of a lion circus act gone wrong and Dean’s tempted to laugh at that thought.

 

The Winchesters stand in the middle of the room, chests heaving in time, gazes filled with electric heat. Dean’s holding a knife, the one that he always keeps tucked in a sheath at his waist. Red drips from the blade in a base-line. Sam’s wielding a broken bottle, the glass slicing into his own palm, not that he notices.

 

Dean takes a step back, not bothering to look, just waiting for the collision against his brother’s solid presence. They meet and suddenly all the noise, all the screaming shouting laughing, all the dripping images and melting skin, it’s gone. Dean’s world has never been so quiet, so empty and yet so completely filled with everything that Sam is.

 

It’s too much; the peace that comes crashing down over the blood hunger death that gripped Dean’s mind and wouldn’t let go. Legs give in and he sinks to the ground, sitting in the cooling pools of blood that are there because of him and the violence in his heart. Sam crashes down beside him, presses tightly against his side. He buries his nose under Dean’s collar, breath hot on his neck. Mary stands above them and blood seeps into the threads of her nightgown until it’s no longer white. She’s smiling at them.

 

“Dean,” Sam’s voice is a whimper against his skin. “My hand hurts.” The smashed bottle’s still clutched in the taller man’s grip, blood welling up at the edges and flowing down Sam’s arm.

 

“Let go,” Dean mumbles, reaching over to pull the glass gently from his brother’s hand. A growl escapes from Sam and he instantly jerks his hand up to his mouth, sucking on the wound. Dean looks away, throwing the bottle as far as he can, listening with satisfaction to it smashing against the wall. Sickness rolls in his stomach as he thinks of Sam hurt, his brother’s blood on the sharp glass.

 

Sam drops his hands and uses his good one to pull Dean’s arm around his back. The elder Winchester’s fingers automatically grip his brother’s hipbone, digging in. Sam lets a contented sigh escape and pushes his nose back against Dean’s neck, teeth just lightly nipping at his collarbone. They stay like that for a long time, perhaps too long, as their hearts calm and minds plunge into oblivious peace.

 

It almost lasts. They’re jolted back to life by a truck engine and voices in the bar’s car park that filter through the door. More townspeople, late to the party. Dean’s instantly on his feet, displacing Sam and leaving a shape in the congealing blood spread across the floor. His brother follows him up, eyes narrow and fixed on the door.

 

They know enough to guess how this will end. Lynch mobs aren’t unheard of in small-town America and the brothers can’t hold back an entire town of sober renegades looking for vengeance. Sam stops thinking then, just grabs his brother’s arm and hauls him to the back of the bar. Sure enough, there’s a pantry there with a secondary gas canister. Dean’s hand wraps around Sam’s neck and his fingers dig into old bruises.

 

------------

 

It’s been a long week, problems every day with the crops, animals, other farmers. Bruce’s ready to fall asleep drunk, wake up drunk and remain drunk until Monday morning at least. It’s just his luck that the missus decides he needs to get the boys to finish painting the fence before he can start the weekend.

 

When they’re finally done it’s late, all the sounds of the night shrouding the bar as they pull up. Bruce frowns. Even after they clamber out of their utes on tired legs, the ruckus of the bar doesn’t reach him. All the lights are on but beyond that, there’s nothing to indicate that there’s a Friday night piss-contest going on.

 

They open the door and the first thing that Bruce thinks is they’ve repainted the place and red really isn’t working for them. Then all thoughts are gone and he throws up the freshly baked cookies his wife had given to her ‘hard working boys’ a few hours ago. Behind him he can hear the other men doing the same.

 

There are bodies everywhere, about a third of the town Bruce would guess. Smashed glass is sprinkled across the ground like fairy-tale glitter, a testament to how drunk the townspeople must have been. The bodies are mostly intact with only the occasional finger parted from its owner. Half the victims are clutching at their open throats, soaked in blood from where they writhed on the floor, slowly bleeding out.

 

But it’s not really the sheer number of bodies or the gaping wounds or the faces frozen in terror and desperation that makes Bruce double over retching. It’s the smell. The thick cloying stench of blood hangs in the air and Bruce‘s breathing in the death death dead that’s strew across the bar.

 

Through the blurry haze of tears and retching, he hears the roar of a car in the parking lot. Slowly he pulls himself upright and turns to the other two men. Both of them are still on their knees, strings of vomit trailing from their open mouths, eyes wide and Bruce thinks they’re probably in shock. He’s not sure what’s keeping him sane.

 

He’s never given a chance to find out. For a second he gets a glimpse of a black car pulling out of the parking lot, gorgeous and gleaming, nothing more than a shadow in the night. Then the fuse runs out and the gas tanks blow. The main structure of the bar explodes into a fireball, heat waves pulsing out from the centre. Instantly the carefully split liquors join the inferno, roasting the bodies they’re drizzled across.

 

The fire burns for an hour before anyone can put it out. The case goes cold after a few months.

 

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Silence falls between the brothers, caught in the adrenaline heartbeat pulsing between them. Sam doesn’t think he could speak, even if he wanted to, throat closed over from the thrumming ecstasy that has been threaded into every burning muscle. The metallic tang of blood fills the Impala, sending Sam’s fingers twitching in need for something that’s broken and bruised and perfect.

 

Once dawn’s creeping into the rear-view, Dean pulls into the next motel he sees. They get off as much of the dried blood as possible before going into the office and if the receptionist shoots them a worried glance, they don’t care enough to notice. In the room the brother’s sit on their chosen beds, facing each other but not quite making eye contact.

 

Something fragile has built up between them during the drive, something that’s neither a cord linking them nor a wall separating them. It’s the thick cloud of a shared sin suspended between uncertainty and disbelief. It’s the tug-of-war between denial and acceptance and neither has won because neither has been voiced. If you don’t speak about it, then maybe it never happened. If a tree falls in a wood and no one hears it, does it still make a sound?

 

Eventually Dean stands and walks into the bathroom. He’s moving slowly, perhaps weighed down by the satisfying burn of muscles rarely used. Perhaps tip-toeing around this fragile thing, breakable like the seal on a letter that could be exaltation or obituary. Sam doesn’t move, just sits staring at the slightly off-white bed sheets.

 

There’s something broken in Sam. It’s warped wood that creaks under feet, cracking more and more each day. It’s made of violence and written in someone else’s blood, driven by Mary’s screams until Sam has to destroy the world to make himself whole. Perhaps, in another life, in another mind, Sam would think he was insane or a demon, but he’s not in another life.

 

So Sam’s warped and twisted but so is Dean. They’re accidents waiting to happen in a world that only accepts perfection. They’re blemishes on life’s record, rats in the pantry, something that doesn’t belong because it’s not all there. Until they’re whole again, until they can find the needle to sow each other back together, the world’s painted red.

 

------------

 

Blood flecks dot the silver metal of the drain by the time Dean finishes in the bathroom. His skin’s clean, pink from where he scrubbed away the evidence of their sin. Screams are echoing in his head when he opens the door, last moments becoming a movie in his mind. Emotions tangle together until he can’t tell whether he revels or reviles in their slaughter.

 

Then he sees Sam, sitting on the bed with a crumpled look on his face, red smears on the sheets around him. The doubt vanishes. There’s nothing he won’t do for his little brother, no one he won’t kill. If this is who they are, blood washed down the drain, then Dean doesn’t care so long as Sam’s his.

 

The younger Winchester brushes past him on the way to the empty bathroom. Their skin meets for a second, hair pricking up in the electric current that will always spark between them. Dean ignores it, lets his brother fade out of his sight so there’s room in his head to think.

 

They’ll have to go, run, climb into the Impala and never stop driving. That’s nothing different. The world moves too slowly for the Winchesters to ever stop. West, Dean decides, west’s good. Put some distance between the brothers and the pyre they left burning. Put some distance between the roasting corpses and the ones who slew them.

 

It isn’t until Sam comes out of the bathroom ten minutes later that Dean realises he’s been standing in the middle of the room, staring at his bed, mind lost on the revisitation of slaughter.

 

“Dean?” Sam’s eyes are full of the uncertainty of newly found brothers. Mary stands behind him, a red smile on her face as she watches like a hungry audience waiting for blood. “Are you okay?” Hesitation. “Are we okay?”

 

It feels wrong, for some reason, to sleep in his bed tonight. The sheets just look wrong, too white or too stained or too - just too something. Instead he walks over and slips into Sam’s bed, still in his jeans and shirt. It’s a fairly comfy bed for the motel they have chosen, mattress eating the aches and pains that muscles complain of after a good massacre.

 

For a long moment nothing happens but silence, tension pulling the air tight around the brothers. Dean stops breathing and waits for Sam to choose what to do. The bed sinks at Dean’s back as the younger Winchester clambers in, long limbs somehow managing to fit in the space that’s left.

 

Breath comes easily then, released in relief and the certainty of newly found brothers. Dean lets his body relax and slide back until their spines meet in the middle. Instantly he feels the tension fall from Sam and they’re pressed together, caught in the limitations of their single bed meant for two brothers.

 

Dean closes his eyes and sleeps. When he wakes, Sam’s still there.

 

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The lines start to blur before them, good shifting into state highway 21, evil morphing into Illinois. The Winchesters glide through the changing landscape like Death himself, heralds for fire and blood. Sometimes they will pass through a town and leave nothing more than a corpse salted and burned, its victims safe once more. Sometimes they will pass through a village and leave the burning shells of buildings and too many bodies to bury.

 

Every time that Sam laughs, Dean knows this life will never end. They have fallen closer now, fallen into the middle of the bed, fallen off the edges of the world and into those dark places where no one dares to look.

 

It starts with a hunt. A real hunt this time, with baddies and they have to save the ones in the crosshairs. It starts with a nest of vampires who’re just a little too noisy and the Winchesters hear about them. It starts in Bobby Singer’s Scrap-yard with late afternoon sun projecting golden windows upon the floor.

 

They sit at the table with hands wrapped around beers that weep in the sluggish warmth. The brothers have just dropped in, were just passing through. Bobby tells them to stay the night, swap stories, let the world catch up to them. They sit around the table and talk about some things and avoid others.

 

There’s a hunt waiting for them on Bobby’s tongue. A vampire in Appleton, or that’s what it seems like anyway. There’s a body count stacking up, a wedding cake for the Devil. It’s definitely a vampire’s doing but no one’s sure how many there are. Maybe the brothers could go have a look? It’s only 8 hours away.

 

Dean looks at Sam and tells him they should take it, that it seems like fun. He doesn’t say the words, doesn’t need to. His brother knows what he means.

 

Sam agrees, reminds him that vampires are always fun, says that he needs a new machete.

 

He just got a new one, Dean complains. Like a good brother, Dean had found a brand new machete hanging in a farmer’s shed and gifted it to his Sammy. Together they had christened it in holy water from the farmer’s veins. But that’d been two months ago, Sam says. It’s been two months and the machete has been lost since then, embedded in – in – in someone’s skull?

 

Oh yeah, Dean remembers that. Fine bitch, he says, I’ll get you a new machete if you get me another beer.

 

Sam nods and stands up, heading off towards the fridge with a distinct air of satisfaction that makes Dean smile. He turns back to Bobby, focuses on the other people in the world. Lazily he knocks over his empty beer bottle, watching the sunlight swim through the glass and paint the table green.

 

“We’ll handle it Bobby.”

 

------------

 

Bobby doesn’t know what happened to those summer brothers who were made of dimpled smiles and freckles. He barely remembers them. Something came along and spread tar over their insides and now their souls are black and cracked. It twisted their brains and now the only way they can fit is together.

 

He still loves them, of course he still loves them. Bobby was never one to give up, never one to believe a broken man can’t be fixed. Now he looks at the brothers and their crooked smiles that form crooked dreams and he promises himself he’ll do better with these Winchesters. He promises himself that he’ll fix these men.

 

There’s something killing girls in Appleton. Well, it’s leaving bloodstains and little bits and pieces that come from more than one girl. Everyone says they’re dead now but people keep seeing them. Then people become bloodstains and ‘missing, presumed dead’. Bobby thinks something’s trying to make a home, trying to set up a neat little nest.

 

The Winchesters are the closest hunters that can handle it. The Winchesters and their black-hole eyes; Bobby suspects they could handle anything. He tells them the case, lets them decide.

 

Dean looks at Sam. He doesn’t say a word but Bobby knows that a conversation has passed between them. These brothers, born years between and raised inches apart, eternities fall in their exchanges when reality only passes in seconds. They’ll spend lifetimes in their glances while Bobby will only ever have one.

 

There’s the smallest inclination of Sam’s head and then he stands. Automatically Bobby flinches. The broken brothers don’t notice but Bobby knows he won’t forget. Guns without safeties but he promises himself, he won’t let them be destroyed.

 

“We’ll handle it, Bobby.” Dean’s empty bottle hits the table with a clink and Bobby grips his beer tighter.

 

------------

 

Appleton, Wisconsin. Sam thinks it’s a lot like Appleton, California… or is that Appleton, Minnesota? Whichever one has Fox River running through it. He looks out the window at the river and wants to laugh. They have been to too many cities and too many cities have faded into one. Dean mutters angrily and Sam could swear he says fucking apples.

 

It turns out that the vampires are holed up in an apartment block somewhere along the river – and yeah, there’s definitely more than one. They don’t bother learning exactly where. Blood trails lead the way up mould-encrusted stairs that creak under their feet. Shouting and laughter fill the air and this isn’t a subtle as Sam remembers vampires being.

 

In a few minutes it makes sense. The brothers don’t scout out the building; it’s just vampires and they’ve killed hundreds of those. They slink down the hallway towards the loudest voices and Sam’s carrying his two new machetes. He drops his chin to Dean’s shoulder, breaths a phantom whisper across his brother’s skin.

 

“On the first day of Christmas Sam’s true love gave to him, two new machetes and a vampire nest to buuuuurrrrn.” Dean’s lips pull into a smile and Sam can feel the excitement bunched in his brother’s muscles. He turns to smile at Sam and from some impossible angle there’s light reflected in his green eyes. Light’s reflected in Dean’s eyes or perhaps he has swallowed the fire again, swallowed the fire so Sam won’t burn alive.

 

Mary shouts in his ear then, screams a battle cry and somehow the sound’s coming from Sam’s mouth. They charge into the room, the Winchester brothers, Death’s foot soldiers. Inside thirty vampires turn to look and now Sam understands the lack of subtlety. If no one can stop you, why bother hiding?

 

The vampires are surprised, red eyes saucer-wide, a mirror for the oncoming storm. Heads roll like dice across the floor. Heads or tails, luck or chance? Fate hides her face as the Winchesters redecorate the room.

 

Sam’s machetes are like silver fire in his hands. They slice through the air, blood spraying from their slippery surface. He plunges his blade through the neck of a blonde woman. He skewers another as it – she – tries to sneak up on Dean. Mary laughs. Mary laughs and her voice the only thing Sam can hear over the sickly sweet sounds of death.

 

The vampires wake up soon, their senses catch up. They can smell the drizzle of their own blood, taste the irony as they lose their appetite for destruction. It doesn’t take long for them to start fighting back and Sam grins wider. He likes a little struggle in his massacres. It’s a scratch here or a gouge there. It’s teeth or nails or cold metal blades that skin can’t hold up against.

 

This is the perfect insanity, the ideal chaos that’s battle. This is knowing you have killed something but never seeing it fall. This is mayhem and the Joker’s paradise and it’s the only place where Sam knows he’s alive. The screams and shouts and death and laughter, they fade away until he can hear his own gasped breath.

 

On the other side of the room, Dean’s slicing and dicing. Sam can’t see him but he can feel every move his brother makes, can hear his heartbeat from a million miles away. There’s a link between them when they’re lost in bloodlust, something that Sam thinks has always been there, he just hasn’t always listened. There’s a link between them when they’re playing god and Sam knows everything that Dean does, says, thinks, is.

 

There’s a link between them and that’s how Sam knows when the crude knife slides so sweetly into his brother’s back. That’s how Sam knows that the wound, it won’t kill his brother but Dean can’t help himself from falling forward. Mary screams and Sam’s already moving.

 

The vampire’s still laughing when he slits his – its – throat. It’s laughing and jeering until suddenly it can only speak in gurgles. Slowly it turns to look at the younger Winchester, eyelids flickering over dead eyes. Sam reaches into the vampire’s red smile, wraps his hand around the knobbly spinal column, the ribbed larynx and pulls.

 

As the vampire falls to the floor, Dean pushes himself to his feet. In his hand’s the knife. No pain registers on his face as he sends the blood-stained metal into the forehead of the nearest fanged creature. His eyes flick to Sam, spine still clenched in his fist, and a grin stretches across his face. If no one can stop you, why bother hiding?

 

The battle, fight, struggle for survival doesn’t last long after that. Sam presses himself to his brother’s side, feels the electricity jump between their skins. They’re ship and anchor dancing in the storm. There are only nine vampires left, fearful and wary, slipping in their comrades’ blood as they circle the Winchesters.

 

The massacre, carnage, slaughter doesn’t last long. The brothers dart out to slash and hack then fold back together again. They’re Greek Hoplites lined up for war. They’re soldiers fighting side by side, each the only shield the other will ever need. They’re the eye of the storm, Death’s black legions.

 

The nine vampires become nine corpses. Sam strangles the last one with the spine that’s still in his hand. At his feet the wooden floor’s coated in a thin sheen of blood and Sam thinks that it’s probably  dripping through the cracks to the room below. He likes that thought. Someone else should know about the war they’ve fought, someone else besides nauseous police officers and grim forensics. They won’t put this in the newspaper. Panic, sheer bloody panic.

 

There’s a slimy wetness against Sam’s skin and he didn’t realise it until now. Blood’s seeping through his shirt where Dean’s leaning against him and Dean’s leaning against him. Sam spins around, dropping his machetes in favour of holding his pale brother up from the floor.

 

“Fucker stabbed me in the back.” Dean’s voice is weak but Sam can hear the anger, the bubbling rage and indignation. Carefully he lets his hand slip around to smooth against the wound. Blood slicks his fingers, enough to worry about at some point but not enough to kill Dean, not enough to scare Sam.

 

Carefully he pulls his hand away, sees it dark red and a stab of anger spikes through him. No one’s supposed to harm Dean. No one’s supposed to harm Dean and it’s Sam’s fault that someone has. A hiss of anger escapes his mouth and Sam can’t stop himself from lashing out. His foot snakes out and half a vampire’s head rolls into the shadows with a squelch.

 

“Sammy.” His eyes meet Dean’s and the words are written in those green green orbs. Not your fault, Sammy. I wasn’t concentrating. Not your fault.

 

Sam stares at his brother and wonders when time stood still, wonders when time stopped trying to make sense of the Winchester’s lifeline. They’re caught in those moments when Sam was eight and Dean was older than time thought. Dean’s telling him it’s not his fault and Mary’s dead and gone and screaming in his ear.

 

She stands behind Dean now and Sam can see her. Mary’s standing behind Dean and smiling and Sam can feel that link between him and his brother. It tightens like a leash, pulling them in, pulling them into those dark places where no one but Mary can see them.

 

He presses his lips to his brother’s then. Sam’s not quite sure why, not sure if that was the next number in the sequence, instruction on the page. All he knows is that it feels right. Dean doesn’t stop him, doesn’t hesitate or stumble or stutter or blanch. Dean presses back and suddenly all the pain and the blood, all the screams and the massacre; it takes second place and it’s never been runner-up before.

 

Sam thinks he has been put back together by a giant hand. Sam thinks his brother’s the missing piece that fits his soul back together. Around them vampires splutter their famous last words as Death claims the Winchester’s victims and none of it matters. Not anymore. The world could stop and it wouldn’t matter. Not anymore.

 

When they break apart, Mary’s gone. Sam searches for her in the slumped carnage but she’s gone. It isn’t until the brothers are leaving, Dean leaning heavily on Sam, that he hears it. Her voice is strong and solid. No longer laughter or screams. Now meaningless whispers, bedtime stories told from another world. He can’t hear the words but it doesn’t matter. It feels like comfort.

 

------------

 

It starts in Appleton, Wisconsin with the bloody pulp of vampire under Sam’s shoes and it never stops. It’s as though the brothers finally realise that they still have cracks running through them, cracks that needed to be smoothed over, need to be filled in. There are spaces in their souls that the blood, death, and laughter just can’t fill. They don’t have plaster to fill the cracks so Sam’s tongue writes a new testament on his brother’s skin.

 

Dean crowds his brother against the wall when the night brings darkness. Sam throws his head back and moans his brother’s name until even thunder’s drowned out. Dean drags his nails down Sam’s back and Sam sinks his teeth into Dean’s shoulder. Together they’ll writhe on the standard single bed and there’s no telling where one begins and the other ends.

 

Nothing matters to them, not the whisperings of motel clerks nor the raised eyebrows of society’s kings and queens. They’ll bring Hell to the world, fertilise the Earth with blood. Their body count stacks higher, cars in a scrap-yard, tombstones in a cemetery. Part of them knows that what they’re doing is wrong, knows that their destruction seeps from the cracks in their sanity.

 

But there can’t be an end. For every human they leave alive Dean digs his fingers harder into his brother’s hip. For every building left intact they burn a village. For everybody that becomes ash, Mary laughs and dances in the flames.

 

------------

Chapter Text

 

Wyoming’s host to a poltergeist. It’s in a church. Dean laughs when Sam tells him the priests thought it was a sign from God the first time the statue of Mary moved. Mary – the other Mary – laughs with her son. It was a sign from God until people starting getting crucified. Dean tells Sam that it’s proof that there isn’t a God. If there was one, he wouldn’t let this kind of thing happen. Sam shrugs. Perhaps he doesn’t know.

 

They try to mingle with the congregation but it’s a small town, out of the way. They notice new people, strangers. The priest corners them after the service, tells them that they don’t belong. It’s just the light, the candles. Their eyes just seem black.

 

The priest tells them that Jesus died for their sins. Dean laughs and says he would rather die for his own sins thank you very much.

 

The poltergeist attacks then, sends Dean hurdling against the crucifix. Clearly it thought it would be funny. The priest drops to his knees, clasps his hands together and lifts his eyes to the ceiling. Leaping over the pews, Sam heads for the North wall. They’ve smashed the other walls in to put gris-gris bags in place – not that the priest knows it yet – but not the North wall. Dean stumbles to his feet, fires salt wildly into the air until it rains like rice on a wedding.

 

Sam tries kicking in the wall and does more damage to his toe than the plaster. There’s a small metal statue of Jesus sitting on a table nearby. Muttering an apology, he swings it at the wall. Jesus’ head smashes a neat hole through the Church and Sam shoves the gris-gris bag inside.

 

Nothing seems to happen but he supposes that’s not surprising. There are no dead bodies with a poltergeist, no pretty pool of blood. There’s no fun. Dean’s still firing randomly but there’s no malicious force to blow him away so Sam just laughs at his brother. Then Dean turns to the priest, levelling his Glock at the cowering creature. There’s no fun with poltergeists.

 

“Let’s see if your God’s real.” Sam reaches his brother and wraps a hand around the barrel. He looks at Dean sharply, tells him that they can’t kill a priest in his church. Dean wonders if they can kill him outside and Sam shakes his head. No killing the priest, no burning the church.

 

Holstering his gun, Dean mutters and complains, glares at his brother. Sam ignores him. They can’t kill the clergy. They can’t kill the ones who’ve given their life to what they believe, not if they aren’t sinners. It’s not right. Sam believes in his brother’s sweat and collateral damage. The Winchester brothers, they worship and pray. They just don’t share the same gods. Dean turns to Sam and his eyes are black in the candlelight.

 

They ring the church in gasoline. Sam drops the match and laughs and laughs. The church stands in a ring of fire and Dean bares his knives in a massacre. They decimate the town and it feels like God’s work. When Impala roars away, only the church is still standing.

 

------------

 

“Wait,” Sam pushes his brother out of the way. He wants to try something. Dean just sighs, rolls his eyes. Crouching down next to the demon’s corpse, Sam pulls out the knife Dean gave him for Easter. It’s perfectly sharp, glinting in afternoon sun. Carefully he pushes the knife into the nape of the corpse’s neck, the blade sliding easily in. Tongue between his teeth, he draws it the length of the spine, stopping just above the hips.

 

Scuffing his foot in the dirt, Dean asks what he’s doing

 

“Be patient.” The elder Winchester huffs, kicks aimlessly at the demon’s disembodied head. Pulling the skin back, Sam grabs the rib cage and pulls. There’s a snap crackle pop as the bones break apart, splitting open like a flower bud blossoming. Smirking Sam reaches in and grabs the lungs, organs slick and squishy in his hands. Pulling them out, he spreads them over the demon’s shoulders, blood-covered wings.

 

Crouching down next to his brother, Dean tells him that it’s beautiful, this artwork he’s made.

 

“It’s called the Blood Eagle.” Sam grins widely at Dean, leaning back against his brother. “Some claim that Vikings used to do it to their defeated victims.” He turns back to look at his handiwork. Headless body flown to the underworld by its lungs. He asks Dean if he likes it.

 

Hands push him back into the grass. Blood smears on skin and there’s breath hot on his neck. “I love it, Sammy.”

 

------------

 

There are vampires in Colorado, building a nest where humans dwell like fast food joints. Bobby tips them off about it, tells them that the blood-sucking bastards are killing hundreds of people. Dean looks at Sam and they agree they’ll take the job. Bobby orders them to be careful, tells them that there’s a lot of vampires, maybe even too many. He must’ve got his information wrong. It takes the brothers ten minutes to kill them all.

 

As Sam strings one of the bodies from the ceiling, Dean finds a gun cradled in a velvet cushion box. It’s a colt, older than anything Dean’s seen. Beside it, nestled in the purple velvet, are five bullets, each engraved with numbers. There are intricate patterns etched into the colt’s metal and a pentagram carved into the butt. On the barrel he can read the words non timebo mala. Sam tells him it means ‘I will fear no evil’.

 

They take it to Bobby and he handles it as though it is made of glass. It’s The Colt, the original Colt, made in 1835 by Samuel Colt himself. Bobby levels the gun at Dean, peers down the sights. He tells them that this gun’s supernatural. Sam grins at Dean, jagged scar across his face. Bobby tells them that this gun can kill anything.

 

------------

 

They’ve built a new religion on blood and guts and gore. Slaughter is their salvation, Mary their prophet. Dean writes a new bible on his brother’s back, nails biting into skin. There’s no God or Devil in their religion, no scum from Hell or Host of Heaven. There’s no right or wrong, just brothers and tangled limbs. Brothers that need death to make sense of life.

 

Then, dazzled by the neon eyes of the Vegas strip, Dean loses his faith for one night. Just for one night he watches red water swirl in the drain and wonders why? Why is he so fucked up? Why is he so in love with his brother? Why are they so broken that to fit in the world they first need to break it?

 

He loses his religion, crawls between the sheets and fingers the gun under his pillow. It’s solid metal, reassurance of reality, reminder of sin. Recoiling, he moves it to the bedside table, turns away. Sam clambers in behind him, all big hands and floppy hair. A puppy who doesn’t understand and is this all Dean’s fault? He carried his brother from the fire, held on and never let go and perhaps he held too tight. All the cracks in Sam, did Dean put them there?

 

Hands ghost along his spine, fingertips traversing the Himalayas. Intrepid explorers, Dean knows they can feel the tension, can feel the wall building between them. Arms pull him backwards, roll him over so brown eyes meet green and Sam knows but they’ve never been the talk-it-through types.

 

They don’t say a word. Just a name. Sam says Dean and Dean says Sam and it fits like planets in orbit. Sam’s the Sun and Dean’s his Earth. Prayer given and prayer returned. They worship in a standard single bed, their temple of choice, their sacred sanctuary. Sam moans his faith and Dean listens.

 

The neon eyes cast shadows over the brothers, hide them from the world and Dean understands. There’s no God, no Devil, no right or wrong. Scarred brothers split in two. Sam is his religion. Sam is Dean’s salvation.

 

------------

 

There’s a shapeshifter in St. Louis, Missouri. It steals Dean’s name, voice, face. It makes a new skin. Sam’s so angry he’s shaking and pacing the room as Dean tries to soothe him. Unfortunately soothing has never been Dean’s strongest skill. Fortunately Sam responds well to being fucked by his brother.

 

Dean’s cock saves the town and that’s a thought Dean never expected to think. The shapeshifter loses Dean’s head and arms and toes. It loses its shape until all that’s left is a jigsaw puzzle crime scene and a woodchipper.

 

Dean saves the town but not the town hall. Yellow flames eat the warped wood. They have to pay, Sam says. They have to pay for harbouring a dangerous criminal. His fingers tangle in the amulet’s cord and Dean just grins. They lose the police an hour later on the I-70. They can’t keep up, not with the Winchesters.

 

------------

 

On their way through Cicero, Illinois, their faces stare at them from TV screens. America’s Most Wanted tells the nation the FBI need the Winchester brothers. They’ve become a story to stain the history books, a blemish on the American dream, a tale of destruction to rival barbarians of old. They’re a story for the part of every person that’s fascinated with the perverse.

 

... a rampage of death and destruction... survivors identified two white males suspected to be the notorious Winchester brothers... arrested previously for grave desecration, impersonating priests... exact numbers have not been released... body count said to be in the hundreds... worst case of multiple mass murder in American history... experts at a loss... armed and dangerous... stay away... do not approach...

 

Dean’s ecstatic, overjoyed, revels in the attention. Sam has to drag his brother from the electronic store window. White teeth sharp and pointed, he grins at Sam.

 

“You see that, Sammy?” He doesn’t notice the worried glances of passer-bys. “We’re on TV, you and me.”

 

You and I, Sam corrects but his brother doesn’t hear grammar.

 

“Mickey and Mallory.” His eyes flick to the screens one last time before Sam manages to drag him into an alley, away from the ever-watching eyes of the street. “They even counted the bodies for us, Sammy.”

 

There’s no warning, no sign to denote the changing of the tide. The blood in Sam’s body switches tracks and suddenly he’s at the whim of his brother’s smile. Suddenly he’s slamming Dean up against the alley-way wall, hidden in half-shadows and harder than fucking diamond.

 

“They counted every corpse for us.”

 

There are no calm measured movements. Clouds have hidden the moon and the seas boil. Dean rips at Sam’s belt, more animal than man. No opposable thumbs to assist him. Sam’s hands are big gigantic paws that can’t work a zipper.

 

Eventually they succeed, meet skin on skin in moans slick with sweat. Sam doesn’t slow, he’s too far gone to return now. Growling meaningless he spins his brother around and shoves Dean face-first against the brick wall.

 

“Do you know what that means?”

 

Their moans fill the alley, long and loud as Sam shoves deep into his brother’s body. It’s hot hot heat, all that fire Dean holds for Sam so his brother won’t combust. Twenty metres away feet beat rhythms on the pavement, innocent, ignorant, oblivious to the decadence that breathes the same air.

 

“They matched up all the heads with their bodies.”

 

Breath huffs heavily from Dean’s mouth as Sam pulls back then snaps his hips forward. Green eyes twist to meet his and Sam forces his brother’s face around to get at those lips  that are still forming words to make his mind crazed. Up against the brick wall in the shadows, they’re separated by coloured cloth but Sam thinks they’ve melded together.

 

“I’ve been counting too, Sammy.”

 

There’s no sweetness, no romance. There’s rubbish at Sam’s feet and he’s desperately thrusting into his brother’s flesh. It’s wild and animalistic. It’s the basest of instincts, the most abject of actions. It’s raw, vicious, violent, crude and God, Sam thinks there’s nothing more beautiful. God, Sam thinks his brother’s so damn beautiful. And God, Sam thinks, got it all wrong.

 

“Want to know how many we’ve killed, little brother?”

 

Half the fire’s in Dean but Sam thinks he’ll explode anyway. Little brother. It’s so debased, wrong, tainted, depraved; there are no words to give to the Winchesters. He slams harder into Dean and feels blood trickle from his brother’s hip-bones, pressed against the brick. Bonny and Clyde, Mickey and Mallory. They never had anything like this.

 

Dean cranes his head back, presses his mouth against Sam’s ear and whispers a number.

 

Sam’s vision blurs as he comes. Mindless, bestial, he sinks his teeth into his brother’s shoulder, tastes blood. Against him Dean spasms like he’s being electrocuted, lightning bolt electricity shocking his nerves. Fingers dig into Sam’s skin. The world spins and stops and warps around them. Dean’s head knocks against Sam’s and he’s still whispering, still muttering words. Mindless, animalistic.

 

“Little brother, little brother.”

 

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In Delaware Dean gets bored. Bored, bored, bored. Nothing monster to kill, nothing supernatural to salt and burn. He calls Bobby again and again until the only answer’s the infinite dial tone. Nothing. He paces the room, flicks through the TV channels, watches white static. He orbits Sam, sitting in the middle of the room reading, planet and moon. Planet and asteroid, planet and spy satellite like human and fly.

 

It doesn’t take long for Sam to snap. He pulls out his gun, points it at Dean’s chest and tells him that their heartbeats are out of sync. He doesn’t say anything, just glares at his brother but Dean understands. That doesn’t mean he gives in. They’re off-beat, out of tune, but he still huffs and grumbles as he leaves. Sam ignores him, already lost in his book once more.

 

Dean finds a bar, drinks more than he should and picks a fight. A fist leaves imprints on his skin and he thinks Sam’s going to be jealous. Sam’s going to be jealous he didn’t get a turn. The commentator in his head laughs as Dean blocks the next blow. ‘Let’s get ready to rumbbbbllllleeee!’ Five minutes later the bar’s quiet and Dean’s the last man standing. The cops aren’t there yet and Dean wants to try something.

 

The bottle’s cold in his palm, still wet from the three dollar beer it held. There’s a man on the ground starting to come round, still soft putty in Dean’s hands. Open wide and say ‘aaaahhhhhh’. It’s been on TV before and Dean’s always wanted to try it. He slips the broken bottle end between the man’s lips, pushes the edge against the corner of his mouth. Blood runs down the victim’s chin like teardrop pleas. Dean splits his face from ear to ear. Open wide and say ‘AAAAAHHHHHHH!’

 

Black and whites are first on the scene, nervous, uncertain. It’s silent inside except for something, someone, sobbing in the corner. They pick their way through demolition. Someone, something, smiles up at them with tears running down cheeks like blood trails. Glasgow grin, Cheshire Cat smile, it stretches from ear to ear.

 

------------

 

There are secrets in Roosevelt Asylum, secrets hidden like creaks and groans in the night. A ghost infects Sam, gets under his skin and brings up all that molten magma anger. It colours the world black and white, saps away green eyes until there’s a fake standing in front of Sam. Fake brother with white eyes and black teeth, inverted imitation.

 

Anger surges, white horses on wave crests. How dare this creature pretend to be Dean, mock him like a shape-shifter and live. False idol, effigy in flesh and blood. How has he not seen through the pretense? He turns the gun on black and white Dean. Its eyes go worry-wide, shock-wide. Incognito, it thought the disguise would last forever.

 

He’s so angry, so furious. All of this has been a lie. A fake brother standing by his side, promising love and monsters while he crossed his fingers. Broken brothers fixing each other, all a lie. He screams at faux Dean, asks him why, and Mary screams with him. Salvation and saviour unmasked. It’s all one big hoax, all one big joke.

 

The match lights, little wooden stick holding Prometheus dreams. It’s bright orange in a shaded world. Sam see it, watches the colour tumble through the air, slow motion streak on black. The body catches fire. Salt and burn, recipe for redemption, exorcism of smoke and ash. The bones char and colour rushes back to the world. Green eyes, there’s nothing he’d rather see.

 

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They spin through Bobby’s scrap-yard maybe once a month, grinning, breathing hard, glancing over their shoulders. Every time he welcomes them with cold beers and uneasy smiles. He can’t help it, that automatic reaction to the Winchester presence, fake smiles and a shotgun in the corner. It’s as if he can tell when they’re coming, begins checking his armoury a few days before they arrive.

 

There’s no sense to it, no sense at all. He knows, Bobby knows, that these boys will never hurt him. Goose pimples creep along his arms, run shivers down his spine. His back’s against the wall before he can stop himself. Accidental flinch, avoid eye contact. Cold metal pistol in the small of his back, it doesn’t feel like safety anymore.

 

------------

 

At a bar in San Francisco a wide-smiling electrician leans against the bar next to Sam. There’s a beer in his hand and a wobble in his step. Fingers run down Sam’s arm, push all the hairs in the wrong direction. His name is Chad, whispered inches from Sam’s lips. There’s a hitch in his breath and distantly Sam contemplates whether he might be insane or simply drunk.

 

Dean breaks his hand on Chad’s wide smile. No one stops him as bits of tooth and bone become knuckle dusters. Horror freezes them as though time has stopped. It hasn’t. No one can stop time. It goes on, every second another punch. Sam throws his head back and laughs and Mary laughs with him.

 

“He’s not yours,” Dean hisses at Chad the electrician but the words are meaningless to a mind distracted by stars.

 

Then his broken hands are grabbing Sam’s head, fingers digging in like they’re trying to reach his broken brain. Their lips meet, collide and crash like cymbals. They’re electric circuits, a generator to power the world. Raw, untamed, a lightning storm across skin.

 

Around them time has started again and there are hands pulling them apart. There’s anger on the faces around them and someone’s calling the cops. Dip underwater, predator instincts beneath the surface. Sam breaks his hand to match Dean’s. Symmetrical, paired together with the metric system of two-halves-make-a-whole. They raze the bar, leave the cops counting ash clouds. Broken hands, broken brains, broken brothers, no one can stop them.

 

------------

 

Sam loves the human body in all its complexities, playing card house defying gravity. He studies anatomy in dissections and dismemberments. He maps the human body with muscles that cling to bone, sinews and tendons like puppet strings. He follows the spaghetti threads of the nervous system then investigates the circulatory system with all its veins and arteries like vampire straws. The organs are counted and catalogued, shape size, placement, importance, all noted for future use.

 

He maps the human body through corpses then wraps himself in his brother’s warmth and worships it. There’s nothing more beautiful. The clench and draw of muscle, the pounding Morse code heartbeat, all that strength in something so easy to break. Tongue on skin, he feels the pulse of life, listens to the sound of breathing, lungs expanding and contracting. He catches green eyes, stares at pupils blow open like black-holes into Dean’s brain. And Sam, Sam is in love with the human condition.

 

------------

 

Humans are stupid. They’re so fucking stupid. Dean’s going to kill them all. He’s going to hang them from hooks and use them for target practise. He’s going to skin them and use their insides as werewolf bait. He’s going to go on a rampage, a massacre. This town, it isn’t going to survive.

 

They’ve taken Sam, separated the brothers for almost a day now. Stupid fuckers. They should know not to mess with Dean’s brother. It takes five dead nobodies before he finds somebody who knows where Sam is. The pathetic man, he pisses himself before Dean snaps his neck. There’s a nest by the river where they take the ones to be hunted.

 

He parks the Impala a kilometre out, doesn’t want to get his baby hurt. Doesn’t want to burn his baby by accident. There’s an aching in his joints now, an itch under his skin that he scratches with shaking hands. Withdrawal symptoms. Dean needs his brother and everywhere he looks, Mary’s burning.

 

The sentries die all too easily. Hands muffling gurgled screams, Dean slits their throats one-by-one. He blows the door open with a Molotov cocktail and doesn’t stop to watch the flames catch on. Sam’s in the second room, tied to a chair. There are six humans with him. They all die.

 

Then Dean’s blades are slicing through rope and Sam’s hands are on his skin, taking him apart. He’s pressed against the wooden wall, splinters catching in his skin like promises. Mindless he wraps his legs around Sam, forgets decency and embarrassment, forgets the flames and humans. Gun in hand, he shoots anything that moves and forgets the world. There’s nothing but ‘Sam, Sam, Sammy.’

 

Stupid fucking humans. When the Winchester’s are whole again, joined and merged into one, Dean collects the heads and presents them to his brother. Sam grins all dimples and soft skin. All knife-edge teeth and fire-light eyes and there’s nothing Dean won’t do to see that smile.

 

They burn the town, run the river red. Stupid humans. They have to pay for trying to take Sam from Dean. Mary nods, agrees, picture perfect in white cotton nightdress.

 

------------

 

Dean still gets hard at the mention of America’s Most Wanted and Sam’s only seconds behind. With their faces plastered across the nation Sam thought it would be difficult to pass unnoticed. He thought they would be noticed on every street corner. Thought that the receptionists and bartenders, clerks and assistants, would see the blood on their hands.

 

As it turns out, people don’t remember faces. They only remember their names. The Winchesters, they’re just fairy-tale villains, mindless, faceless. They don’t need motivations, just black hearts. Every town they pass through has caught on to the story, picked up the new monstrous threat to hang over those who misbehave.

 

“Be good or the Winchesters will get you.”

 

------------

 

Tampa’s hot and humid in summer, sweat-stains darkening clothes. Sam’s half-naked and spread out across the bonnet of the Impala, feet dangling in front of the grill. The sky’s reflected in the expanding metal beneath Sam and he’s shut, holding up the heavens. Dean grins and pads over to his brother.

 

They’ve stopped at a scenic route not far from the MacDill Air Force Base. Just a demon possession. There’s still blood on their clothes so Dean’s left them to soak in a bucket of water. There’s a rumble from far away, not an aeroplane, thunder from a future storm. Grey clouds are starting to gather, energy crackling and sparking across the sky.

 

Careful not to scratch his baby, Dean yanks his brother’s legs until Sam’s dangling off the front of the hood. Skin slicked with sweat, he slides easily down until Sam’s hips fit perfectly to Dean’s. There’s question in his eyes, lazily lidded in the humidity. Idly Dean pulls The Colt out from the waistband of his pants and presses the barrel above Sam’s heart, holding him down. There’s no protest beyond hitched breath.

 

The first drops of rain begin to fall and Dean leans down to lick them from his brother’s skin, unbuttoning his jeans. Light flashes around them, sudden like sparks to start a fire. A hand wraps around Dean’s wrist and he holds the gun tighter. With his knife he cuts through Sam’s jeans and later on he’ll be bitched at but now his little brother just moans beneath him.

 

Thunder crack, sound shockwave radiating from where Heaven meets the Earth. Dean pulls the trigger and the hammer clicks disappointment. Sam bucks beneath him, body twisting to find contact. Cocking the gun, Dean drags him desperately closer, holds him down against the warm metal of the Impala. They’re both slick with sweat and Dean slides easily into the tight heat of his brother. Sam hisses, breath sharp between his teeth, neck arched backwards.

 

Friction grates between them, fire burning along the fuse. The flames leap and Sam’s free hand pulls Dean deeper. Lightning strikes again and Dean’s thrusting viciously against his brother, fingernails digging into soft skin. Thunder chases behind, drowning out Sam’s half-crazed moans. Rain’s falling thick and fast, evaporating as soon as it hits their heated skin. Lightning bolts sear across the sky like angel’s veins. Instantly thunder follows the storm right above them.

 

Dean comes hard and fast, caught in the crackle of electricity around them. He pulls the trigger. The firing pin snaps into the empty chamber. Beneath the cold metal Sam convulses as he falls over the edge, barrel pressed to his heart.

 

------------

Chapter Text

The FBI’s onto them now, catching the trail of the killers in the black muscle car. It doesn’t matter. They linger on the tyre-marks of the Impala, trailing behind in red-painted remains and dusty grey ash. There are no leads for them to follow, no witnesses left behind. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, they have rules and regulations, codes and protocols. They’re no threat to the Winchesters.

 

It’s this man who’s the threat, this hunter, this Gordon Walker. While the FBI is two weeks behind, Gordon’s only two days slow. Bobby’s gruff voice tells them about the man over the crackling cell network and the Winchesters can hear the thought put into his words. They’ve become carefully chosen, as though he’s tip-toeing around an issue the Winchester’s haven’t yet realised.

 

“He’s a good hunter but dangerous. People have been saying he thinks that Sam’s some kind of Anti-Christ.” The brothers refuse to look at each other when Bobby says that, fix their eyes on the vomit-yellow wallpaper instead. “I wouldn’t say he’s recruiting but he’s been telling everyone to kill you, Sam, and-” Bobby pauses for a moment “-some are agreeing. He’s building a following.”

 

Dean falls silent then, can’t speak for the rest of the short conversation. Anger has frozen his jaw shut, every muscle screaming at this man, this hunter, who dares to suggest that he should kill Sam. His veins pump fury to every cell in his body and all he can think is these men and their false messiah would look beautiful in red.

 

He reaches out, hand wrapping around Sam’s wrist in a grip that has to hurt. Sam doesn’t complain, just thanks Bobby and assures him that the brothers are fine. Still their friend remains, not wanting to hang up and leave the Winchesters against the world, the world against the Winchesters.

 

“Just...” So many pauses to filter words and keep opinions away from them. If it was anyone but Bobby they would press cold metal to skin and see how quickly the words came then. “Be careful.”

 

The phone line clicks to dead. Dean grips Sam tightly, face stormy. There’s no hiding from the world now. He’s sure that it must be written all over his face. There’s no hiding from the world that wants to kill his little brother. Dean will end it all before he lets Sam die.

 

“I think we’ve found a hunt, Sammy,” Dean says with a smile and Sam grins back. Beside them Mary claps her hands with a gleeful expression but Dean doesn’t see her because he’s pressing his brother into the mattress and he’ll never let go.

 

------------

 

Sam’s dreams don’t work like most people’s, or he doesn’t think they do anyway. His dreams are predictions that linger for hours or days or weeks or months until suddenly they slip into reality. One night he’ll see a woman’s throat ripped out by a hissing creature and the next week he’ll find the corpse.

 

There’s no explaining them, no certainty in their existence. He doesn’t tell Dean because he doesn’t know what he can say. I’m dreaming the future, Dean. That’s great, Sammy! That conversation doesn’t work doesn’t fit into the world. There’s no sense to be found in those words.

 

So he keeps it to himself and if he wakes beside his brother when the sun hasn’t come up, he doesn’t say anything. Instead he lies there and wonders where these dreams are coming from, wonders why he’s the one to see what’s yet to happen. It doesn’t make sense.

 

This morning it’s quarter to five when Sam wakes suddenly. Still dark, the night presses and only the steady breathing beside him holds back the urge to turn on the light. He can’t remember what the dream was about, not yet. It’ll come to him though; they always do, in over-saturated images and quick, violent movements.

 

For now he rolls closer to Dean, thankfully for the way his brother’s arm is casually slung over his hip. They don’t really fit together easily, too much Winchester in too small a space. Neither of them complains. It’s not about comfort or chick-flick moments. It’s about the certainty of life, the assurance that there’s someone watching their back.

 

The clock has flicked over to eight by the time Dean wakes up. His eyes open slowly; peel back until Sam can see the green that has been hidden from him during the night. Dean smiles then, rubs his thumb along the soft curve of Sam’s hip and digs his fingers into warm skin. They’re still alive. No one has been to kill them while they slept.

 

“How long?” Dean’s voice is rugged with sleep.

 

“Not long.” Sam never tells him how badly he sleeps. Never lets him know about the dreams. He doesn’t need to, there’s no point.

 

“Shower.” Neither of them moves. This is how their mornings start, this is how they always start, slow and sluggish, wrapped in each other’s warmth. Sam leans forward, is about to press his forehead to his brother’s when memory of the dream explodes into his mind.

 

Gordon. There’s a gun. Teeth are white marble. Eyes read the numbers. Room 53. There’s a gun and it’s loaded. Room 52. It’s here, it’s here, it has to be here. Black Impala in the parking lot. Room 51. The clerk said two brothers had checked in. There’s a gun. It flashes silver in the morning sunlight.

 

Sam opens his eyes and he barely has time, doesn’t have time. There’s a shadow at the door and he doesn’t have time. The door of room 51 slams open and the brothers tangled in bed don’t have time, never had time. There’s a gunshot and Sam feels warm liquid spurt against him. Green eyes stare motionless at him and the fire has been blown out.

 

------------

 

Sunlight slams into his eyes when he wakes. He remembers the dream. Sam remembers and Gordon’s coming to kill them. Desperately he lashes out at the hands trying to hold him back. There’s a shadow on the door and all he can see are green eyes but they don’t see him anymore.

 

A fist connects with his jaw and Dean’s there, gathering him in, holding Sam together. His green eyes are worried and they flick about alive, so alive. Light slips through the window and reflects in Dean’s eyes s so it seems the fire’s still burning, always burning in Sam’s brother.

 

Unbidden, a whimper breaks from his mouth as Sam collapses back onto the bed, jaw stinging. They’re in hotel room 13 and there’s no shadow at the door. There’s no Gordon coming to blow out Dean. Instead Sam’s brother’s leaning over him, hand over Sam’s heart, face creased with concern.

 

“Sam?” His voice is rough and demanding, typical Dean hiding concern under prickles. “What the fuck was that?”

 

What’s the answer? It was just a dream, just a nightmare, nothing to worry about. That’s the easiest road, pain-free, judgement-free. If he takes that turn he’s no more twisted than his brother. He’s no more of a freak than Dean. That’s the easy road until the dream comes true.

 

“I- it-” Sam swears under his breath, closes his eyes and tries to decide what the answer is. Dean’s hand’s a heavy weight on his chest and Sam thinks he can feel his heartbeat where the brothers meet. “I’ve been having these dreams.”

 

So this is the answer. Sam opens his eyes and Dean looks thoroughly unimpressed. “I have these dreams and then they come true.”

 

Dean’s face goes blank, a meticulously shaped mask that gives away nothing but its existence. “What?”

 

“Sometimes the things I dream come true.” Itch shivering under his skin, Sam pushes away his brother’s hand, rolling out of bed. Dean doesn’t move stays half-lying under the sheets, and his gaze doesn’t follow Sam. “Sometimes I might dream someone being killed before it happens or a hunt before we find it. Not all of my dreams are like this but some-”

 

He doesn’t have the words anymore. For a moment neither of them moves, honouring the silence that stretches between them. Then, without a word, Dean pushes himself out of bed and disappears into the bathroom. Silence fills the room but now the room’s too big to be full. Then the shower starts up and all that’s left is the absence of Dean.

 

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A hand slamming into his chest wakes Dean. For a moment he can’t move, trying to catch his breath, trying to catch up to reality. Dreams of the Impala finally peel away and Sam’s thrashing around in bed next to him, eyes darting wildly about the room.

 

At first Dean thinks there’s a hidden evil, some monster that has snuck in to kill them while they slept. But there’s nothing there except bad dreams. Carefully avoiding his brother’s flailing fists, he tries to calm Sam, tries to quell his fearful fit. It takes a fist to the jaw for his brother to snap out of it.

 

Finally Sam’s eyes meet his and see him. Brown catches on green and realisation dawns. Dean follows his brother down, sliding a hand over his soft skin to make sure Sam’s heart‘s still beating. He knows the concern’s too obvious on his face but Dean can’t bring himself to care.

 

“Sam?” His voice grates in his throat, unsure of itself. “What the fuck was that?”

 

It was just a nightmare of course, just a monster in the night creeping through Sam’s head. With all the things that the Winchester brother’s do, it’s not surprising that they have bad dreams and Dean’s not stupid; his brother hasn’t been sleeping well lately. Still, he’s never had nightmares like this.

 

“I- it-“Eyelids fall down to shutter Sam’s eyes as he stammers and swears. This is something different from the common collisions of sleep. “I’ve been having these dreams.” Dean doesn’t stop the disbelieving look. “I have these dreams and then they come true.”

 

“What?”

 

“Sometimes the things I dream come true.” Sam shoves his way out of their bed but Dean doesn’t move, can’t move. He can’t let even his eyes follow his brother. “Sometimes I might dream someone being killed before it happens or a hunt before we find it. Not all of my dreams are like this but some-”

 

These words shouldn’t make sense, can’t make sense. Sam’s telling Dean that he’s different, that there’s something wrong that Dean can’t fix, can’t even explain or understand. Sam’s telling Dean that he’s dreaming the future and he’s completely serious, voice riddled with fear and apprehension.

 

Freak. It’s the first word that comes to Dean’s mind and as soon as he thinks it, he hates himself. This is his brother, his Sammy. Freak isn’t a word he can use. It fits though, a little part of him whispers. Sam with his big hands that set the world on fire set Dean on fire. Sam can see the future and Dean can’t deal with this.

 

He has to get away. There’s no staying there in the single bed they share, pinned under Sam’s puppy-dog eyes. He can’t be near his brother when he needs to think. The bathroom offers blissful reprieve with the waterfall shower and steam that blurs the world until it’s not a distraction any more.

 

Sam can dream the future. In time Dean will be able to laugh at how ridiculous that sounds. In time it’ll sound like the cringe-worthy tagline of some b-movie. Sam Winchester can dream the future and one day he dreams of the one he’ll spend the rest of his life with.

 

That’s not what he dreamt though. Steam clouds out the world and Dean can focus. Sam was dreaming something bad with those flailing limbs and scared eyes. It wasn’t just your average monster or ordinary murder. This is something else and whatever it is, Sammy’s scared so Dean needs to kill the fucker.

 

When he finally turns the water off, Dean’s skin in pink from the heat. A pair of briefs are on the floor, thrown haphazardly as Dean had shed his clothes as quickly as possible the night before. He figures it can’t hurt to pull them back on. Serious conversations are often better had somewhat clothed.

 

Sam’s sitting on the untouched bed when Dean comes out of the bathroom, expression clouded with despair. He doesn’t look up as Dean pulls on a t-shirt and drops down opposite him. Their tousled bed smells of sweat and Winchester and Dean thinks it’s wrong how comforting that is.

 

“Okay, Sammy.” The younger Winchester sharply, sunlight catching the surprise on his face. He expected harsher words from his brother. “Tell me what you dreamt.”

 

Sam doesn’t say anything for a moment, gaze searching for a hidden meaning in Dean’s face. He finds none. “It- Gordon was there. I mean, you and I were asleep in a hotel room.” He pauses, eyes looking distant, caught up trying to remember. “Room 51. Gordon was looking for us. He had a gun. I woke up but there wasn’t time to warn you. Gordon shot- he shot-”

 

Sam’s words cut off, sputter to a halt. The urge to pull his brother close and make him forget is almost overwhelming but Dean can’t lose the thread. He has to know if this is the future. Instead of pushing Sam back into the mattress, he rubs a hand across his face, tries to concentrate.

 

“So you think Gordon’s going to catch up to us at a hotel in room 51?” Sam nods, face a crime scene of despair. “And he’s going to what, shoot you?”

 

“Maybe.” Sam’s eyes meet Dean’s and the brown’s hazel in the thin film of water there. “I woke up when he shot you.”

 

“Oh.” Something changes in Dean then. Before it was uncertainty and denial floating in his head, concern about what is going on, what his brother has become.

 

Now anger surges forward, the match that holds the flame. ‘Fucking Gordon and his twisted ideas. Fucking Gordon and his messiah complex. Fucking Gordon and his need to kill Sam.’ Dean’s going to rip him apart and see who he thinks the antichrist is then.

 

“Dean?” Sam’s voice is anxious, his eyes fixed on Dean like his brother has the answers to everything.

 

“It’s okay, Sammy.” There’s an itch under Dean’s skin, that itch that tells him it’s been too long since there was blood on his hands. Sam’s the only remedy, Sam or destruction. So what if Sam’s stupid big head lets him see the future. Sure, it’s a little weird but it’s just another scar to add to their collection.

 

He’s just put the t-shirt on but Dean doesn’t care, throws it in a heap on the floor. Mouth splitting into a grin, he pushes Sam back into the mattress. So no, Dean’s not going to hate his little brother for accurate prophecies and that word – ‘freak’ – it’s already used by meaningless men with badges to describe the Winchester brothers. What does it matter if they’re a little weirder than before?

 

“Dean?” Sam doesn’t fight against his brother, slides back under Dean’s weight. Still, he’s confused, wondering what has happened in the elder Winchester’s head. “What about Gordon?”

 

There’s a growl in Dean’s throat when he tongues Sam’s pulse-point, feels his brother’s life-force. There’s soft skin under his hands and his fingers dig into Sam’s hips, falling over old bruises. Sam’s breath hitches but he doesn’t protest. Instead he squirms upward, searching for that sweet contact.

 

“When Gordon comes, we’ll be ready for him.” Dean hisses in his brother’s ear, malicious intentions turning his voice toxic. “He won’t kill you, Sammy. I’ll rip him apart and piss on his pyre.” Sam huffs hot air across skin as his teeth graze Dean’s shoulder.

 

Dean.” His name comes out half lost, a gasped breath between moans, exactly as it should always be said.

 

“We’ll kill them all, Sammy.” Teeth sink into Dean’s shoulder and in an instant he forgets the world.

 

------------

 

Sam’s pressed against his brother’s side, laughing at the burning wreckage in the rear-view. Just another man who took a wrong turn and ended up in front of the Winchesters. Just another man in the wrong place at the wrong time. A gun presses against Dean’s cheek and he can feel the hot metal light a fire over his skin. At the end, Sam’s finger twitches on the trigger and who knows if it’s loaded or not and who cares?

 

Beneath them the Impala growls and rumbles in time with Sam’s wild shouts. She shares in the exhilaration, in the aftermath of homicide. She’s the back chariot of death, the bearer of the end. They’ve crossed the country protected by her metal body. Neither of them knows where they are. Dean hasn’t looked at the map since... he can’t remember when. It doesn’t matter. They just want to be lost.

 

Carefully he strokes the Impala up another gear, listens to her pant and feels her lurch forward. They just want to be lost but they’re searching for their number. 51. It’s written on the back of Sam’s hand, carved there in black until the ink ran like blood into the lines of his skin. 51, Winchester kryptonite or siren song; Dean can’t decide if he wants to avoid it or take on the danger it threatens. Sam’s hair brushes against his chin, soft and feathery, catching on the light stubble there.

 

A hill climbs out of the darkness in front of them, steep incline leading up to the stars, leading up to Heaven. Dean shifts gear and urges the Impala onwards. The gun falls into his lap, Sam boring of the cold metal that will only ever be as warm as death. He pushes closer, somehow making the space between them smaller, asks where they’re going. Dean just shrugs and the Impala keeps reaching for the stars.

 

They get there eventually, the top of the world, a mountain in the middle of… somewhere. Dean parks the Impala there, in the middle of the road and tugs his brother out of the car. In front of them the world lays sleeping, lights bright in the dark like dot-to-dot puzzles across the magazine pages of Earth. They sit on the bonnet of the Impala and gaze out at the lights that mock the stars.

 

It’s the first thing he thinks of when his father comes to mind and Dean isn’t sure why the dead have slipped into his thoughts. Bottles on a fence like suspects in a line-up. Pick one, shoot it down. John’s telling him how to shoot, who to shoot, the what, when, and why. His Dad’s telling him that he’s a good boy, that’s he’s killed the monster, the creature prowling in the night. His Dad’s telling him he’s killed the bad guy.

 

It’s no wonder Dean has grown up twisted. His crooked teeth are lined red and set in a smile that won’t hold up in court. It’s no wonder he’s grown up to find he can’t pick out the criminal in the line up. The world’s tumbled into the grey area, lost it’s black and white. They’re not sure who’s bad or good so they kill everyone. Sam and Dean, brothers and butchers. The world’s their oyster and they’ll leave nothing but the shell.

 

On top of the world, Dean pulls his brother closer. He falls back against the windshield of the Impala and Sam leans over him, blocking out the stars. Dean presses his hand against Sam’s, marvels in the feel of skin against his and maybe, just maybe, he’s a little drunk. Empty beer cans litter the road, crunching metallic under car tyres. Sam leans down and whispers in Dean’s ear, tells him that they’re searching for number 51. Dean nods and bites along the line of Sam’s jaw, feels the itch under his skin for death.

 

Mary’s standing beside the Impala, a woman in white. Cars past through her as though she isn’t there and Dean supposes she isn’t really. Her eyes find his, glancing over his brother’s shoulder. A smile stretches her face, beautiful and perfect. Sam scrapes his teeth over Dean’s collarbone and Mary’s laughter fills his ears.

 

------------

 

It takes them two weeks to find it. Two weeks of a journey without an end. They’ve covered half of America driving on tar without names. Judging by the shape of the roads and the depth of conversation, Sam would say they’re in Arkansas. When they finally see a ‘vacancy’ sign, he takes the turn even if the buildings look like they might fall down if some sneezed hard enough. It’s two in the morning and they’ve been driving since five last night.

 

The empty reception’s flooded with dull blue light, giving the walls the sickly feel of some late night emergency room. A small gold bell sits on the counter and Dean takes it upon himself to ring the bell until Sam slaps his hand away. A ruffled, disgruntled man stumbles out of the back room eventually, blinking sleep from his eyes. Sam puts on his most winning grin, ignoring whatever it is Dean’s muttering under his breath.

 

“How can I help you?” The receptionist asks with that bored ease of repetition.

 

“Twin room please,” Sam replies and his eyes narrow when the man turns to the single set of keys left on the board behind him.

 

“You’re in luck,” the man says in a tired sales pitch. “There’s only one room left.” You can’t decide you don’t like this one, there aren’t any others. The words are implied. “Room 51.” Automatically Sam’s hand reaches out and grips his brother’s wrist. It’s not a denial or a refusal, not panic, just the understanding that they’ve found it. Room 51, the end of their journey.

 

“Sounds great,” Dean says in a voice of false cheer. He takes the keys before Sam can protest. Formalities pass and then they’re in the car park, away from the sickly blue room and the man who doesn’t give a shit. The Impala’s doors creak open as Dean pulls his bags out and Sam silently copies him. Words don’t pass between them, not yet. They have to understand first, know what will happen.

 

Room 51’s on the second storey of the complex and Sam can’t believe there are so many people desperate enough to fill the rooms of the paint-peeling building. He supposes Arkansas roads must be busy on... he doesn’t know what day it is. The numbers on the room door are gold metal and Sam remembers them so clearly, remembers the way they shined in the morning sunlight of his dream.

 

“We could leave.” The key’s in Dean’s hand, hovering near the lock but reluctant to slip in. He says the words quietly, not really meaning them, just wishing for a way out. Sam shakes his head, says they’ve come this far. There’s no point in running, not from this. Gordon’s going to catch up with them sooner or later. Dean pushes the key into the lock, the soft click of the tumblers rolling back reaching Sam’s ears. Silently he follows his brother into the room.

 

It’s disturbingly normal inside the room, standard twin, waiting for blood to paint the walls. Their shadows slink across the room, outlines lit from the lamps outside. Sam flicks the light-switch and the shadows are burnt away. He draws a breath, short and sharp. Everything’s exactly how he remembers from the dream. He turns to the bed closest to the door, the one they will sleep in so the sunlight wakes with warm fingers across the sheets. Dean will die there, has died there.

 

Hands move instinctively and Sam wraps his fingers tightly around the gun slid into the small of his back. It’s solid security, the safety blanket that he’s had since the day John promised him there were no monsters under his bed but there was something in his closet. Metal promises like a teddy bear to hold when the night was too dark to see through. Life with a .45. No wonder he’s grown up to be twisted out of shape.

 

They drop their bags on the table, take a shower, brush their teeth, and complete everyday rituals as if they’re going to sleep, as if everything’s alright. Sam’s holding his breath, or at least he thinks he is, waiting for the axe to fall, waiting for it to all unravel. The bed’s open and inviting, poised and expecting a tangle of limbs and skin and teeth. Dean sits at the table and starts to clean his favourite gun.

 

Sam knows his brother, has mapped out every inch of Dean’s body and explored every nook of his brain. He knows how he feels when even Dean isn’t sure and right now he’s nervous. Sam sits down next to him, pulls out his gun and borrows his brother’s cleaning kit. They drawn the curtains shut against the night so the only light they have comes from the bedside lamps. It’s a small orange glow, like a little fire frozen in time and trapped in glass. They’re just waiting, holding their breath.

 

------------

 

Morning comes with the rumble of engines in the parking lot and neither of them has said a word. They finished cleaning their guns hours ago and now they are simply sitting, simply being. Dean doesn’t dare to move, doesn’t dare to make a sound unless it all falls apart. His fingers are resting on the trigger and all his muscles are bunched, expanding and contracting in tense anticipation.

 

And there’s a shadow at the door. Sam’s on his feet instantly, soundless and Dean can’t help but be distracted admiring his brother, just for a second, just for a heartbeat. Then he’s standing too. They press themselves against the wall behind the door, listen to a key slide in the lock. Dean wonders if the receptionist’s still alive.

 

The door slams open and Sam’s almost caught by the doorknob smashing into the wall. Gordon’s in the doorway, gun pointed at the bed, their bed. He shoots before he realises it’s empty. In that deafening silence after the gunshot Dean steps forward. A smirk stretches across his face as he pushes the barrel of his gun into the back of Gordon’s neck.

 

“Make a move and you’re dead.”

 

Sam steps forward and rips the gun from Gordon’s hand. It’s easy, child’s play. Dean wants to laugh. All you need’s a brother with freaky dreams and you can cheat death. He looks to his brother and Sam grins, dimples creasing his cheeks.

 

The elbow hits him in the nose, breaks the bone. It’s so stupid of him, so stupid to think he could win that easily. Whiplash sends his head snapping backwards and there’s blood in his eyes. Flash of silver beyond and there’s a knife in Gordon’s hand. It’s all happening too fast, all falling apart at the seams and Dean doesn’t know how to hold it together.

 

There’s a sound, a scream perhaps, the shrieking cry of an animal in pain. Dean can’t see beyond the blood, can’t tell what’s going on and this is what it’s like, ship without anchor lost in a storm. Shapes moves towards him through the red mist, a figure, silver flashing in its hand. He doesn’t think, just raises his gun and fires.

 

Silence. Stillness. An empty, red wo

 

He wipes the blood away with the fabric of his shirt. Gordon’s on the floor in front of him, left eye missing, replaced by a bullet. Sam’s sitting on the edge of the bed, their bed, standard single meant for two. Mary’s crouched next to him, hands clasped as if God will save them. There’s blood, too much blood, colouring the sheets like it was always meant to be.

 

Sam!

 

Listless, weightless, Sam falls forward and Dean barely gets there in time, barely manages to hold his brother up. Mary’s screaming, somewhere Mary’s screaming.

 

Hey! Come here. Let me look at you.

 

He presses a hand to Sam’s back, feels the wound dug into his spine. Blood gushes against his hand and there’s so much – god, there’s so much blood.

 

Hey, look at me. It’s not even that bad. It’s not even that bad, all right? Sammy?

 

It’s then that he realises it, realises that his brother’s bleeding out in his arms and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to save Sam.

 

We’re gonna patch you up okay? You’re gonna be good as new.

 

There are words coming out of his mouth, mixing with the screams. He didn’t notice until now but they’re filling the room, stuffing it full of uncertainty and panic and fear, god, Dean’s so afraid. He’s not sure how he’s still breathing.

 

I’m gonna take care of you. I’m gonna take care of you. That’s my job right? Watch out for my pain-in-the-ass little brother?

 

Sam’s head wobbles back and forth, listless like it doesn’t belong on his body. Dean digs his fingers into that long hair his brother would never cut. That long hair that wakes him in the morning, tickling his nose.

 

Sam? Sam!

 

His hand finds Sam’s face, thumb pressed where dimples should be, would be. His brother’s soft skin seems to break under his fingers but it’s just his hands slipping, slick with blood. The screaming doesn’t stop. Sam’s eyes close.

 

Sammy!

 

------------

Chapter Text

There’s a sharp pain, a snap, a tearing sound. There’s something in his back. It’s like the nail of a frost giant, slicing through his spinal cord. His legs are failing, dropping his body to the bed. The world’s fading. Still he hears the gunshots, hears the body fall. The ground rushes towards him but there are arms, strong and steady, holding him up. He knows the face in his vision, knows it as well as his own. Green eyes, he’ll miss them.

 

Dean’s speaking to him, saying words that he can’t hear. It’s all clogged up. The world’s all muted and fading in and out like a camera that can’t quite focus. Dean pulls him close and his chin knocks against his brother’s shoulder. It feels like comfort. A hand presses against his back, trying to hold him together, band-aid for a lost cause.

 

Mary’s standing in front of him. She’s beautiful, God, his mom’s so beautiful. Sam would reach for her if he could move. Then it changes. Her eyes flash yellow and everything’s burning, everything’s swallowed in flames. Her flesh melts, her bones char. She’s dying right in front of him, crucified over her baby’s crib.

 

Their mother’s burning, burning and screaming. Sam tries to tell Dean, tries to speak but his body’s disconnected. A fuse has blown; someone cut the wires, all the nerves and sinews. It’s all breaking down and Dean’s trying to tell him something. Green eyes. It’s the last thing he sees before the light bulb blows.

 

------------

 

Then someone hits the switch, changes tracks. Sam breathes. He’s alive. He’s alive and there’s that need again, that need for his brother. Slowly he opens his eyes and looks down. Sam’s staring at his body. God, there’s so much blood, red river to hide tears. Sam’s staring at his brother and his body. Then audio fades in, like a TV tuning, and someone’s screaming his name. Dean’s clinging to the empty meat suit and screaming Sam’s name.

 

A hand lands on his shoulder and at first it barely registers. Then he turns and there’s a man standing beside him. His face is made of angles, wooden frame with leather stretched over top. Sam thinks he can see the shape of this man’s skull. He doesn’t care. None of it matters to him. He turns back to his brother.

 

“Hello Sam Winchester.” The man’s voice is curved and self-assured, the sort of voice one has when they know there’s no higher power. “I’m Death. It’s time for you to come with me.”

 

Dean’s fallen back against the bed, Sam’s body lying limp across his lap, head cradled in his brother’s hand. There’s a look on his face that Sam can’t quite place, can’t define or measure. Not really. He thinks perhaps it’s the look of someone who’s lost.

 

Suddenly a woman appears in front of him, beautiful with blonde hair and sculpted face. The hand on Sam’s shoulder jerks back.

 

“Lilith. What are you doing here?”

 

The woman ignores Death, turns to Sam instead. “You need to come with me.”

 

“You can’t take him.”

 

“The throne’s waiting for him.”

 

“I have to reap him first. Then he will choose.”

 

“There isn’t enough time. Azazel needs him now.”

 

“There’s a lot more at stake than your petty politics.”

 

The voices fade out, an argument Sam doesn’t understand. He slips past the woman – Lilith – and crouches down beside his brother. Dean’s eyes leap about the room, pass through Sam as if he isn’t there, as if he was never there. Empty corpse, forsaken brother. Sam reaches out a hand and watches his fingers pass through his Dean’s skin. He thinks he makes a sound then, perhaps a whimper, he doesn’t know. Green eyes stare beyond him and Sam was never there.

 

“I can help you get your brother back.” There are honey-comb words dripping in his ear. Lilith, sharp eyes and half-moon smile. She rests a hand on Sam’s knee and it doesn’t pass through his spectral skin. “Do as I say and you’ll have Dean again.” She gestures to Death, looming overhead. “He can’t promise you this but I can.”

 

“Sam, listen to me.” Voice of a God, or perhaps something more powerful. Sam can hear time running out in Death’s words. “She will take you to Hell. There’s no way back if you go with her but with me you have a choice.”

 

“Oh Sam, don’t deny it.” Fingernails trace his skin like knives yearning to carve his soul. “You’ve always known you don’t belong in Heaven.” Lilith’s eyes are white, pupils, irises scrubbed clean. “You’ve always known you’ll end up in Hell.” She leans forward and presses her lips to his ear. “Besides, what’s Heaven without Dean?”

 

Green eyes, sightless, stare at the motel wall. Empty Dean, in an empty life. Sam makes his choice.

 

------------

 

There are always two spare beds in Bobby’s house, always. With the Winchester brothers you can never be certain when they’ll next pass through. He hears the Impala before he sees it and Bobby knows cars, knows this one better than any. The gears grind, the Impala coughs, she’s been running too long. Dean’s driving his baby into the black tarmac. Something’s wrong.

 

When he gets outside Dean’s already climbing out of the car. Bobby’s never seen him like this, never seen Dean look so lost, as if his mind simply doesn’t know up from down. Then he sees the body in the backseat, not asleep, motionless. Curled brown hair, he remembers it from those years when Sam was short enough for Bobby to rest his hand on the top of the younger Winchester’s head. Sam.

 

He’s running, hands reaching out to help but Dean’s gaze stops him. If there was ever life in the Winchester’s it’s gone now. Dean’s eyes are dead, hollowed out and empty, nothing but a wasteland behind the green irises. A shiver runs down Bobby’s back as the sun beats down on them. There’s no life left in the Winchester brothers.

 

------------

 

The body lies motionless on the bed. It’s easier to think about it like that, the body, as if Sam was never even there. Mary’s crucified on the ceiling over her son, flesh peeling back in rolls. Dean wants to crumple, feels as though he has been punched in the stomach. He wants to curl in on himself and protect all those soft insides that only Sam knew were there.

 

It was so difficult driving to Bobby’s, Sam spread out on the backseat like he was only sleeping; only dreaming. Dean kept turning to him, kept waiting to feel his brother’s weight heavy against him. It was so difficult, waiting – needing something that would never come.

 

“How are you doing, Dean?” Bobby’s standing beside him in the doorway, eyes never flicking to the frozen figure on the bed. It’s as if Sam was never there. “You need to eat something.”

 

The question barely registers. It’s not important, nothing is. “I’m fine.”

 

“Don’t you think–”

 

“No.” His voice rumbles and hisses molten rock from underground. “You touch him and I’ll kill you.” Part of him feels bad for the words, regrets the way Bobby flinches away from him. Part of him regrets it but it’s true. Every inch of Dean, every muscle, every atom, needs to kill something. All he wants to do is end the world, pile the bodies high and rip apart the surface of the Earth until Sam returns to him. They’re going to regret leaving Dean without his brother.

 

Mary turns to him with empty eye sockets and he nods to her. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll kill them all. For Sammy.” The Impala keys are still in his pocket and Sam’s blood’s still on his hands. He doesn’t look at Bobby when he leaves, doesn’t want to see what’s on their only friend’s face. Sunlight cuts across the windscreen and for a moment Bobby’s scrap-yard is piled high with corpses.

 

------------

Everything’s dark, curtains drawn on Sam’s existence. He knows there’s someone here though, can feel a presence radiating like body heat. There’s something in the dark with him.

 

“Samuel Winchester.” If Death’s voice was oblivion, this is damnation. Sam would be scared if he could remember how. “I always knew Azazel would find me a good heir but a Winchester?” There’s a laugh, mirthful like a man laughing at a corpse, a man shaking a dead geranium.

 

“Who are you?” For a moment he’s surprised that his voice still works.

 

“You know who I am, Samuel.”

 

“Satan?” The half-question seems ridiculous as soon as he says it. Satan? That’s just an ideology, a social construct, a monster under the bed.

 

It laughs again, a laugh like white padded rooms and confusion at blood-covered hands. “That’s just a name you gave me. I’m Lucifer, an angel. Your humans like to blame me for all your problems.”

 

“Why do you want me?”

 

“Samuel Winchester.” The voice changes, smoothes out, makes an effort to sound... mortal. “How would you like to be King of Hell?”

 

In the darkness, where all his memories and thoughts are white-water rapids threatening to drown him, Sam grins. “Get me my body.”

 

------------

 

It’s so quiet driving the roads at night with the streetlamps spluttering past like heartbeats in the darkness. It’s so quiet without someone in the passenger seat. The Impala has never been bigger without two brothers smoothed across her insides. Dean drives across the cat’s eyes dotting the road just so there’s noise other than his breathing. He turns ACDC up as loud as the knob will wind, tells himself that it will make him feel better. There’s no one to sing the chorus with him.

 

Then Mary starts screaming. He’s been wondering when she would return. Her body’s stretched out across the hood, crucified martyr tied to the American dream. She burns and little parts of her body are lost along the road. Dean fixes his eyes on the white lines, tries to block the screams out. It all feels pointless, meaningless. Perhaps he’s driving to his death. Perhaps around the next bend he will fall off the edge of the world. Silently he wishes.

 

The little hand has passed the 12 by the time he has all he needs. The crossroads are empty, stars shining above him like holes where bullets passed through the night sky. The cat’s eyes glint coldly at him, gazes from realms where none but him wish to go. The ground crumbles easily under his shovel. So many others have made deals here with shaking hands and half-belief. So many souls have been sold here.

 

It takes seconds for her to appear. She’s beautiful and maybe in another place, at another time, Dean would’ve been attracted to her. Ghost fingers trace scars on his skin, reminders of nights when there was no one but his brother to fill the time until dawn. Her eyes flash black and banish the memories. Dean’s alone and he isn’t sure how he’s still breathing.

 

“Dean Winchester.” Her voice is honey acid dripping like glycerine. Mary’s screams dull at the edges, enough so he can hear her words. “I should’ve known. Your brother’s taken a holiday downstairs so you’re running after him. How cute.”

 

Her heels crunch on gravel, towers like skyscrapers to hold up her heels. She stops in front of him and smirks, cold and deadly. He knows he should be attracted to her, should feel warmth, but he just feels empty. A giant has scooped out his insides until there’s nothing left to Dean Winchester. Her tongue flicks out, soft pink among red lips.

 

“I’m guessing you’re here to sell your soul for dear, dead Sammy.”

 

His hands are around her throat and he doesn’t remember moving. Her eyes blow wide as he squeezes, skin giving way under his fingers. Mary’s giggling between screams, her nightdress brushing against his skin.

 

“Don’t call him that.” Mindless he pushes his face in, inches from hers, smells the traces of sulphur on her strained breath. She’s nodding as fervently as she can, eyes desperate as if they’re still human. It takes so much effort to let go. Her gasps fill the night and Dean can almost see the smoke on her breath.

 

“You’ve made your point.” Her voice is thin and grating. “No need to damage this pretty body anymore.”

 

“Give him to me.” She straightens her dress, smoothes crinkles that were never there. “Take whatever you want, just give him back to me.”

 

She hesitates before replying, catches her lip between white teeth. “I can’t.” The Colt’s in his hands before the words have finished echoing. In his head Mary screeches in despair. “Wait! Wait!”

 

“Give him to me.” There’s oblivion in his voice, chasms where people go to be forgotten. There’s nothing human left, nothing of what Dean used to be. For a moment her mask slips and there’s wild fear in her eyes.

 

“I can’t but I can tell you how to get to him.” The safety clicks like a thunderclap.

 

“Fucking Winchesters,” she hisses. “Just listen to me! No demon can get your brother back, not from where he is, but I can tell you how to find him. I can get you there without killing you.”

 

“How?”

 

“Yeah, sure.” Nervous laughter. “I’ll tell you so you can kill me. Not likely.”

 

“Why should I trust you?”

 

She gives a wavering smirk. “Because you have to do something for me in return.”

 

“What?” Moonlight shines on The Colt, turning it to silver. Lightning in his hand, for a heartbeat he’s Zeus facing down the Titans. “What do you want me to do?”

 

“You have to go and see the king of Hell.” Her eyes flash black and Dean images a kingdom of corpses. He images rivers of blood and a thousand souls burning and screaming. Beside him Mary laughs. “I want to come along for the ride.”

 

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Lucifer gives Sam the guided tour of Hell.

 

There are corpses everywhere, beheaded, dissected, drawn and quartered. Everywhere are people dead, dying or perhaps they were never alive. There are so many of them, sinners, liars, thieves, criminals. Murders with black hearts that spasm like electric chair pain. The air fills with screams as they lie upon the rack, hang from chains, upside down and folded inside out. Sam smiles. Hell’s just a gallery of the human condition.

 

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Wyoming, they’re in Wyoming. It figures, Dean thinks and he must’ve said that out loud because the demon in Sam’s seat laughs. He tries not to strangle her. She says her name’s Ruby. She says Sam sent her. She says that she’s helping him. She says that the door to Hell’s in Wyoming and only Dean can open it. Dean says if she doesn’t shut up he’s going to make her.

 

They pass through ruins and strangely Dean thinks he remembers this place. Charred wood and twisted railroads. In the centre of the demolition stands a single church, untouched and abandoned. Yes, Dean remembers this, remembers a priest on his knees, praying to a God that doesn’t answer. He remembers his brother’s hand over his, stopping him from pulling the trigger. Then the town in flames, burning cars lining the roads like emergency lighting to show citizens the exits. In the backseat Mary giggles, smiles for a moment, then begins to scream once more.

 

Ten minutes later Ruby tells him to stop. The Impala’s headlights cut through midnight darkness and highlight wrought-iron gates. It’s a cemetery and Dean rolls his eyes. The entrance to Hell’s in a cemetery. Original. He must’ve said that aloud too because Ruby nods and tells him that of course it’s original because it’s been there since the dawn of humanity, jackass.

 

Dean wants to tell her where to shove it but the first two headstones are for ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ and they don’t have dates. Spur of the moment, it might be a good time to call Bobby. He looks at his phone, seven missed calls. Mary’s hand rests on his arm, her skin peeling in invisible flames.

 

The phone barely rings before it’s answered. Bobby’s on the line, voice cracking with worry and something that almost sounds like fear. Sam’s body’s missing. It’s just gone and Bobby can’t find it anywhere. Already the pronouns are changing, what was a ‘he’ is now an ‘it’. Dean assures their only friend that everything’s going to be okay. It doesn’t matter where Sam’s body is because Dean’s going to get it back. Dean’s going to look after his little brother.

 

“He’s not little anymore.” Bobby sounds older than Dean remembers, as if lifetimes have passed in hours. “You’re all I’ve got left, boy. Tell me you’re not going to do something stupid.”

 

Dean decides not to tell him about the Devil’s Gate or Ruby or how far Dean will go to feel Sam’s skin again. Their only friend, they can’t lose him. Everything’s going to be fine.

 

“Finally,” Ruby sighs as Dean hangs up. “I never knew Dean Winchester was such a girl.”

 

He doesn’t bother replying, just looks up at the mausoleum in the centre of the cemetery. It seems small, too small to be the entrance to Hell. There’s a small circle carved in the middle of the double door, filled in with a silver pentagram. He moves closer and inside the star he can see another circle, a black notch, like a demon’s eye staring back at him.

 

“The Colt opens the gate,” Ruby says and her fingers reach for the gun at Dean’s hip. He stops her, squeezing her fingers until he can hear the joints creak and groan. When he lets go she shrinks back but only for a second. Even in the dull moonlight it’s easy to see the excitement on her face.

 

The barrel of the Colt fits perfectly into the notch and Dean wonders where Samuel Colt’s life ended. Suddenly there are no more second chances. The hourglass is empty and they’ve all run out of time. The pentagram’s breaking apart, spinning faster than Dean can follow. Behind the door wheels and cranks are turning, ancient machines waking from slumber.

 

“Move!” Hands wrap around his shoulders and yank him backwards, pull him behind a headstone carved with nothing more than an ‘X’. Ruby’s standing above him, eyes sharp with something disturbingly close to hunger. “The demons behind that door have been waiting for millennia to get out.” She spares Dean a momentary glance, smile wide. “The first thing they’re going to want is a nice warm meat suit.”

 

There’s a thunderous explosion, doors blowing open. Ruby thrusts a hand out and the Colt smacks into her palm. She drops it into Dean’s lap without a word as black smoke surges into the sky above them. One by one, the stars disappear. The smoke doesn’t disperse, simply hangs there in the air. For the first time in years a shiver slinks down Dean’s spine. Incorporeal spectators watching the gladiator stand.

 

“Come on.” Ruby’s walking towards the Devil’s Gate with its doors hanging limply from their hinges. Dean follows her, trying not to look up at the black mass above them. An orange glow leaks from the somewhere in the depths of the mausoleum, colouring the rough rock walls with fire. Gazing through the doors, Dean thinks it’s like looking into the throat of some gigantic dragon, fire forever burning in its belly.

 

“Now what?” He asks. Ruby’s black eyes are spotted orange as she stares down.

 

“We jump.” Dean opens his mouth to laugh but he isn’t given a chance. Once more hands grab his shoulders and pull. Alice down the rabbit hole, hunter and demon tumble into Hell.

 

------------

 

Lucifer leaves him with another demon, one with yellow eyes. Sam forgets his name instantly. They sit beside a helpless swinging soul and Yellow-Eyes tells Sam his life-story from a different perspective. The boy with demon blood, bred to be a king. He never needed any guidance, not like the other ‘candidates’. Samuel Winchester and his brother, demons didn’t need to help them bring Hell to Earth.

 

Then Yellow-Eyes tells him about Mary, about her crucifixion, about the moment when he set fire to Sam’s mother. It hurts then, more than anything Sam thinks, the need for Dean. When Dean’s with Sam, Mary’s there too with laughter and soft words. Anger surges and he wants to kill this demon, knows that he could with the demon blood running through his veins. He might not know how to use his powers yet but there’s always a first.

 

Yellow-Eyes keeps talking, ignorant, oblivious. Sam doesn’t kill him, won’t kill him, not yet anyway. It wouldn’t be fair for Sam to kill him without his brother. Dean would be jealous and Sam needs his brother. Yellow-Eyes tells him the rest of the plan, the rest of his ‘destiny’ but he isn’t listening anymore. Sam’s remembering towns burning, people screaming, blood on his hands and fingers digging into his hip.

 

When he pulls himself from memories, Yellow-Eyes is gone.

 

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They find his body. Sam isn’t sure what he looks like before he’s back in his meat suit, isn’t sure he wants to know either. When he’s seeing Hell through his own eyes, the demon that brought his body’s still there. Her name’s Ruby. He supposes she must be pretty, blonde hair and smooth skin. Her eyes are sharp and her tongue sharper. Sam decides he likes her.

 

Someone has dressed his body in new clothes and there’s something disturbing about that until Ruby explains. They’re clothes for his coronation, uniform for a new king. Loose shirt and soft pants, he doesn’t complain.

 

He grasps her hands before she leave, fingers overlapping as they curl around her thin wrists. Her eyes go wide, black-holes in a meat suit, a human body for immortals to wear. He tells her that he likes her, that he won’t hurt her. An eyebrow raised, she tells him he’s not her type, too human.

 

Throwing his head back, he laughs. He’s anything but human. Sam tells her that he likes her, tells her that she needs to do something for him. Pink tongue flicks out and wets her lips, nervous tick. Finally she nods. He tells her to go and find his brother. Get Dean Winchester and bring him to Hell.

 

She turns to leave but he doesn’t let go, not yet. He leans in until they’re breathing each other’s air and he can smell the sulphur on her breath.

 

“Find a way to get him here alive. Kill him and I will make sure you know what it feels like to be human.” When his hands drop from her wrist, bruises are already colouring her skin purple.

 

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There’s ground beneath Dean’s feet, lined with cracks like the wrinkles of old skin but solid, certain. He’s alive and apparently in Hell. The rock path he’s standing on is suspended in mid-air, a golem’s tail twisting and turning, supported by a distinct lack of physics. Below them, as far as Dean can see, fire fills the space where Earth should be. Flames leap into the air, crackling, snapping, inches from skin.

 

And everywhere there are people, humans, souls, barely more than skeletons. Chains hold each up, attached to hooks imbedded in flesh. There’s a metal spider web spun through the empty black of Hell, a ceiling of genocide spread over their heads. Dean’s hand flexes instinctively on the knife in his belt. The desire for violence pulses through his body but always the need for Sam drives his thoughts, the need that holds his skeleton together.

 

“Welcome to Hell.” That hungry look’s on Ruby’s face once more, her eyes jumping from one body to the next. “Let me give you the tour.”

 

“No.” Dean fits the knife under her chin. Hunter and demon, they stand among the condemned and blood drips onto the ground beneath them. “Take me to Sam.”

 

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They seat him on a throne constructed from bodies long rotted away. Far beneath him the eternal fire burns, always hungry, always waiting. Spread out in front of him are demons, hundreds or maybe thousands. It’s a sea of unicoloured eyes, watching, waiting, hungry. They place a bone crown on his head, joints and limbs stabbing into his scalp like briars and thorns. They’ve made a new religion. They’ve made a new God.

 

There’s a disturbance in the crowd. Heads turn, eyes averted. There’s something moving towards him and the sea of demons parts. A shape appears a body that Sam knows better than his own. Beaten, bruised, he knows every scar, every inch of that skin. He’s moving and he barely remembers how. The demons watch, silent, staring. He wraps his arms around his brother, and swears he’ll never let go. New God, old religion. They are ship and anchor safely lost at sea.

 

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It seems hours later that they’re pushing through crowds of demons. Ruby leads him, tells him they’re close. Hours and finally the crowd’s parting for them. Hours and finally, finally, Dean’s looking at his brother.

 

Raised upon a dais of corpses, Sam’s sitting on a skeleton throne. His head bears a crown of bones and it’s a coronation, a celebration, a crowning of Dean’s little brother.

 

And Sam, Sam’s alive and beautiful and Sam’s a god, a king. He’s ruler of the condemned, reigning over an empire of blood and pain and death. Sam’s the emperor of a scrap-yard of bodies, the King of Hell.

 

Then there’s no more time to be lost in awe and worship. Dean’s little brother’s in front of him and there are ridiculously long limbs wrapping around his body. All the world’s 'Sam, Sam, Sammy'. Feet upon the ground, compass pointing north, seas calm. They have slipped into the shadows again, off the edge of the map. Sam’s all angles and hair and soft skin. Dean’s weak legs and white-tooth smiles. Bones crack under their feet and Dean thinks that this is what it feels like to be saved.

 

Sam’s talking to him, a stream of words broken by excitement. Dean forces himself to listen, decrypts his brother’s sentences. Sam tells him of a boy with demon blood, of Satan’s replacement, of the power of Hell. He tells Dean about the Rack and about demons and over and over again he says it.

 

I found the one who killed Mom. I found him Dean, can we kill him. I want to watch him scream. Let’s kill him Dean.

 

There’s no time to reply. The Colt is in Dean’s hand and Sam is adjusting his aim.

 

There, that one, the yellow-eyed demon.

 

Dean can’t see Mary but he thinks she must be watching, John too. What’s it called? Closure? The Winchesters need closure.

 

Sam’s hand wraps around Dean’s, squirms close until their index fingers are rested against the trigger. The King of Hell and his brother. Their hearts pound together, perfectly in sync. They feel the beat, listen to the countdown. Three. Two. One. King of Hell and his lover, they pull the trigger.

 

Yellow eyes dance in the lightning storm. Revenge; it feels like redemption. Lips crash against Dean’s and they meld together, the brothers that were never meant to be separated. A hand tangles in the cord of Dean’s amulet and his hand digs into soft skin. And this, this feels like salvation.

 

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