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Our Whisper Woke No Clocks

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Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealously is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. - Song of Solomon 8:6, KJV 

He closed his eyes again and for a sweet little while he half-dreamed about dreaming of nothing. The dry cedar in the fireplace gave up the ghost at a slow pace. He crossed his arms behind his head and listened to the pops and the shrieks, letting it be what it was. The night itself was dreaming of bucolic days when the earth wasn’t swallowed up in embers.

The swell of evil, darkness, had become a noiseless tidal wave. Hunters were forced to retreat or work in greater numbers, an army against armies. But not them. He had stopped counting months, weeks and then stopped counting days. Nothing provided serenity now but the usual mundane hunt and daily tasks that would blur his mind and tax him into a dreamless rest. That was, until Sam had asked if they could stop, just for a while. Until after. Sure, he’d said. He was tired anyway, you know, just tired. Tired of waiting.

Dear, though the night is gone,
Its dream still haunts today,
That brought us to a room
Cavernous, lofty as
A railway terminus,
And crowded in that gloom
Were beds, and we in one
In a far corner lay.

The demons had begun to anticipate their every move; he couldn’t quite put his finger on how. When a motel night manager’s eyes went black in the time it took to swipe Alistair MacLean’s credit card, he’d grabbed his brother, made a bee-line for the car and vowed against anymore rooms with numbers. It had become either Bobby’s place or camping -- and damn he hated camping.

Once they’d settled in, Bobby’s place had quickly gotten a reputation with other hunters on the grapevine that it was one of the few dots on the map still free from demonic activity. Then scads of folk, as Bobby said, started showing up and using it as their new base of operations. There were so many dozens of camps outside now that smoke lingered in cold, eternal halos. It suddenly occurred to him that he liked the smell of a good fire, tried to remember when fire had become good or evil.

They’d given up their childhood room to a hunter couple and moved Dad’s old double bed out of storage and into the library. No one had thought that was strange, not at first anyway. He didn’t care.

He opened his eyes. The room was gray. He’d done so many things in here, unspeakable things, that he’d almost forgotten what color looked like.

Propping himself up on one elbow, he looked at Sam dozing peacefully beside him in the shadows.
One arm was hooked over his belly and the other was under his head for a pillow. He looked like - days. That was the only word that seemed to do him justice, strange as it was, whatever this was. They were alive and together for now, that’s what mattered, and there were good people here, people he could trust when … if it was the last thing he did, he wasn’t going to leave him alone.

When Sam’s eyes opened, they were looking straight at each other. So that’s what color looked like.

Sam yawned and silently scratched his belly before lifting his hand into the light to point closely at Dean’s cheek, stubble longer than usual. “You need to shave.”

It was almost impossible not to react, not to lean toward it.

“Aren’t you tired?” Sam continued quietly.

“No,” he whispered back.

“Were you watching me sleep?”

“I was watching you dream.”

“Oh. Was I talking or something?”

“Hunh uh.”

“What do I look like when I’m dreaming?”

That he watched often was a secret he couldn’t give voice to, one he wished he didn’t have to hide. It was the memory he would take with him, if they allowed that sort of thing. He tilted his head theatrically, closed his eyes and lolled his tongue out the side of his mouth. “Like that.”

“Hm, descriptive. You’ve gotten all poetic in your old age.”

“Still counting the months in dog years, are we?”

“Actually, you started it.”

“I did not.”

In one swift tuck and roll, Dean was long-pinned under Sam’s full weight, his arms held together at the wrist and buried deep in the narrow mattress. Neither of them moved except to breathe. Their chests were pressed together, matched rib to rib, one expanding as the other contracted. Dean quickly drew his knees apart, planted his feet on the mattress and lifted his right shoulder. Half the weight above him fell hard between his legs and tumbled onto his chest as he rolled hard to his left and sat up triumphant, straddling Sam, but his hands still cuffed behind him in Sam’s firm grip. They both smiled.

“Not bad.”

“That’s nothin’.”

Dean reached his right foot to the floor and pushed off the mattress with his left, half-lifting them both off the bed. The upward momentum freed his wrists and he grabbed and twisted Sam’s right arm into a shoulder lock. Then he used his left leg to anchor Sam’s body to the bed sideways, pinning Sam’s left arm under his own hips.

“That’s low. That’s my bad shoulder.” Sam froze and breathed quick and shallow.

“Aw. You okay?” Dean teased, didn’t move or let go.

“Oh, I’m fine. I can totally get out of this.” Sam’s voice was barely audible over the ticking clock on the mantle.

“Uh huh. Like how?” he leaned in for an answer.

Sam took a big breath, swung his right leg back to hit Dean’s ankle and then kicked out toward the fireplace, shifted them both off balance and forward. Dean had to scoot his right foot along the wood floor to keep from falling headlong into the wall, but he refused to release his grip on his Sam’s arm. All at once he was spread-eagled, his left hand now caught in both of Sam’s hands, racked against the wall. He let out a sigh.

“Giving up?” A faded smile breathed on his neck.

“Let go of me, Sam.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Sam, let me go.”

His brother’s voice cracked. “No.”



The pressure on his back and his hand didn’t let up and he turned his head slowly to see his brother looking down, eyeing the chasm between them even though there was barely space to move. “Hey.”

"You have a choice, Dean. You can fight this."

"Sam..." he warned. A forceful shove into the wall made every muscle in his left arm cramp. Now he really couldn't move.

"No dammit Dean hear me out."

Dean struggled. He could pick both feet up off the floor and still be pinned to the wall. Sam was serious.

"You've told me that I'm stronger than you. That you’re selfish and you're sorry. Fine. But you've never said the one thing I needed to hear, man."

Dean stopped moving, his knees braced on the wall, ready.

"You never said why. Why's this so okay with you?! Why can’t you think about yourself? Just once?"

Not this again. Dean pushed with all his might with his left knee and turned his body to the right. He got halfway around but now his right arm was pinned against Sam’s chest. He threw his head forward, almost caught Sam in the nose. Sam had to lean away and it freed Dean enough to regain both his arms and take a swing. He caught Sam in the jaw with a right hook. Sam’s mouth hung open as he came back up and back-handed him in the nose.

Dean held up both hands and wiped at his face unconsciously, found no blood.

Sam backed away shaking, stood with his hand on the mantle, watched the second hand move on the clock.

Fine. There was no room for pansy-assing around now. “Sam. This is how it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be gone. And if I’d done my job, you’d never have … to begin with.”

Sam wasn’t responding, wasn’t looking at him. Then he rolled his lips inside his teeth: logic denied. “That wasn’t your decision to make.”

“Yeah, it was. It is my decision to make. I make it everyday.”


“No. You know what? I wish I’d gotten lucky. I wish to god that they had just taken me right then, so I wouldn’t have to watch you do this. But that’s how it works. She said she wanted to see me squirm, well…” Dean smirked. “She got her wish. Sam, they left both of us room to foul this up. We could do something, anything, to renig this and we may not even know until it’s too late. I live every second trying to keep this thing good, keep you from doin’ somethin’ stupid. So no. I won’t be here. You said you don’t need protecting, but you do. Once I’m gone, I won’t have to protect you from me anymore. And believe me, it’d be easier if …”

“Stop,” Sam whispered.

“… I didn’t have to. Man, do you really think for one second that I regret this? That I would ever go back and tell ‘em, you know what, never mind ‘cause my brother, he’s decided he’d rather be dead after all. Rather not have a family, have a life. I can’t. There’s no way for me to have those things. I don’t even know if I want ‘em. But I know you do. And no matter what you say, what you do, I’m not goin’ there. Every day, man, I make that decision all over again. Every time I wake up and see you…”

The look on Sam’s face stopped him cold. He slowly leaned against the wall, hands behind him. Breathed. “Did you know…”


“Did you know I’ve been watching you sleep? I mean, all this time…”

Sam’s thumb drummed his heartbeat out onto the wood. “Yeah.”

It was Dean’s turn to look down.

“I’m not sleeping, man. Not most of the time anyway.” Before Dean could think of anything other than how badly he wanted to change the subject, Sam turned his body toward him but didn’t look up. “I just want to know why you’re doing it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Damn it, Dean, why?” Sam’s whole body shook as he stepped forward until he was right in his face. It took everything Dean had to answer.

“Because man, I … because … you look peaceful. It’s the only time I get to see you not worried anymore. Not having nightmares, not...” He wouldn’t say it, that word, that parasite of a word that lived on the darkest moment in his memory, sucked out the days in hundreds. He didn’t notice Sam’s arms rising on either side of him, leaning on the wall.

“That’s not what I meant,” Sam said. His eyes could burn holes in the floor and his voice was still tinged with anger.

“I … I’m sor-”

And then he was wrapped in Sam’s arms. His brother was holding him. His hands were splayed out on his back like it was imperative for every finger to be touching. Imperative. He liked that word. Like, necessary. Like air. You can have it, but you can’t hold onto it.

Sam tasted just like he’d imagined he would: the way he smelled after a shower. He wasn’t sure who leaned into whom. His hands went into Sam’s hair of their own volition, combed it, fingered the texture. He opened his mouth as wide as he could, let Sam take him, let him know who he really was. That he was a shameless dick who loved him more than he should, that he had fallen into a blackness so deep that he didn’t even have the strength to feel guilty anymore, that there was no way for them to do a damn thing about it, that he should stop it now that they were and he didn’t want to.

Our whisper woke no clocks,
We kissed and I was glad
At everything you did,
Indifferent to those
Who sat with hostile eyes
In pairs on every bed,
Arms round each other's neck,
Inert and vaguely sad.

They leaned their foreheads together, tried not to breathe hard, failed.

“That,” Sam whispered, “Is that what you wanted?”

“Yeah. Yes.”

“Don’t I get what I want?”

“What do you want?”

“I want you to want me to save you.”


Sam’s eyes were dark. He kneed Dean’s leg out and stepped in, leaned on him, pinned him to the wall. “You can’t stop me.”

He reached into him again, tongue seeking him out. Sam’s hands dug into his hip bones, rode slowly up his sides, felt each rib, fingered each scar, struggled with his shirt until Dean leaned forward and yanked it the rest of the way off himself. Sam reached down with one hand and did the same, pulled it over his head, wadded it up in his hands, dropped it.

They stood a hands breath apart as the fire played with the darkness in their features. They looked at muscle and marked flesh, bodies they knew so well and didn’t know at all.

Dean put one hand lightly on Sam’s shoulder. “You know I will.”

Sam’s nostrils flared, his jaw clenched and he growled. He grabbed Dean by both arms and pulled him into himself, turning him to face the light, his mouth hard on Dean’s closed mouth, forced his lips apart. They kissed each other softly, harshly, with all the pain and desperation of the inevitable unspoken. Every night in my dreams I hear dogs howling. Every night in my dreams I watch you die.

Now that Dean was really able to touch him, he felt different, the same. A short voyage past the toughness, Sam’s skin was softer than he’d thought it would be. He explored each tendon and corded muscle in his neck, down his shoulder, his arm, strong, able to hold onto everything but what was dearest to him. Dean dug his fingers into the flesh of Sam’s forearm, into the pulsing veins just underneath, tried so hard to convince him that he was still here. He pulled away from Sam’s mouth and planted a tender kiss on his collar bone, another on his shoulder over the scar, another on his neck, holding back everything but the motion of his conviction. Sam shook as Dean moved over his chest, their forearms joined together like a medieval blood promise and each knew that his throat was not the only one aching from unshed tears.

Dean leaned back and they landed sideways halfway on the bed, pushed the rest of the way up with legs and hands, half in the light, half in shadow, day threatening night, the weight of each other’s bodies something to struggle toward. The urge to move was overpowering, arms over bare arms, bared chests and souls. The sheets got mangled around their limbs and necks. Dean pushed them aside. Sam bunched them up and pulled them under Dean’s head. When he leaned down again, Dean went still. Sam’s lips were thin and red like they always got when he was upset. Dean was pretty sure that upset wasn’t the right word this time.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Dean said. He thought his own voice was more full of wonder than regret. Maybe he was wrong.

“Nothing’s going to happen to you.” Sam brushed Dean’s temple with his thumb, followed his fingers with his lips.

Dean shuddered and closed his eyes. It was harder now to take it than it had been to give it, but he stayed still and let his brother’s words, whispered into his throat, make his insides flex. Dean couldn’t make them all out and suddenly it didn’t matter at all because he did hear: this, is, god.

Sam rolled to lay beside him, his hand floated over Dean’s hips, suddenly hesitant. “Dean…” he whispered.


“I want to remember this, okay? I don’t need anything else. I don’t want anything else. Just this. That you did it because you loved me.”

A shocked huff pushed a tear through one of Dean’s eyes. Sam didn’t see it, wouldn’t see it; Dean turned his head to hide it. It was a weird flashback, but in reverse, everything they wanted that would never happen because they wanted something else more and it had brought them to this final ironic demon-induced one-fingered salute at their sanity. “You idiot.”

“Tell me.”

Dean shook his head with a baleful smile. But his eyes said it and Sam heard it.

Sam was rough and Dean liked that better. There was no time to think. There was only reaction and pulling and twisting, gritting teeth, skin and elbows and hands and Sam.  God, his hands. No, Jesus God, his mouth. Dean wasn’t sure where he was, so he held on to Sam’s hair, soft, falling in Sam’s face, hiding his eyes but nothing else and that was okay because Dean wasn’t watching his eyes. He was watching Sam’s body, looming in relief between him and the flames in the fireplace, sucking a mark onto his hipbone. Dean was so hard, it hurt to breathe.

“Don’t stop me,” was all Sam whispered before he took him into his mouth. Dean gasped and twisted, knotted the sheets in both hands and replayed the entire In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida drum solo in his head to keep from coming right then. There were things happening to him that he didn’t know existed and the only coherent thought he could muster was why; why now; why did they wait until now. It was Sam’s hand slick on his swollen cock, his fingers and tongue licking and probing, making him sweat, making his feel, putting him back together by breaking him apart. If he didn’t breathe soon, he would pass out. He reached down and put his hands under Sam’s arms, pulled Sam toward him, kissed him.

Sam held himself up over him at full arm’s length and waited while Dean looked. He was naked and hard and Dean kinda couldn’t believe it. His eyes adjusted a little and he reached up to trace a path down Sam’s ribs with his fingertips. He took in the girth and wrapped his hand around it, smiled when Sam flinched and grimaced his eyes shut. If he propped himself up, he would be able to take him. So he did. He kissed it, lapped the sheen off the tip and took him in his mouth as far as he could, seeking and finding revelations. Sam’s voice rasped out that he couldn’t be still anymore, so Dean put one hand on Sam’s hip to control the depth of his thrusts. Then his mouth was pushed away. His lips tightened around the tip as Sam pushed him back, let out a moan when Sam licked up the wetness around his mouth and then fed it to him with the tip of his tongue.

Dean pushed up and rolled them over, taking Sam underneath him. Their feet had been dangling over the edge before, but now Sam’s heels thwacked the side of the bed rail, hard. They both had to stifle their laughter. “God, you’re so loud when you’re -” Sam began and Dean stopped his mouth with his hand. Sam laughed again and mumbled something, bit down on Dean’s middle finger. Dean hissed and pushed Sam’s head deep into the mattress.

“Oh, just you guess who’s gonna get it now,” Dean mouthed the words almost silently, but his rapid breathing made the words carry and fluffed Sam’s hair out of his eyes. Sam did his best shocked expression, which was actually terrible and he gave up and went right back to chuckling into Dean’s hand.

Dean slicked two fingers in his mouth and knee-punched Sam’s right thigh. Sam was warm and tight and he wasn’t laughing now. They knew what they were doing. This wasn’t new. But it was. It was better. He moaned into Dean’s hand, licking the wound he’d made and lifting his chin, trying to escape. Dean just shook his head and crooked his fingers, started a slow rhythm. Sam arched up and his hands flew to Dean’s shoulders, searched out his hips with calloused fingers, squeezed. Dean slowly released Sam’s mouth one finger at a time. “Yes?” Dean drawled, like he was answering a solicitor’s knock at the door.

“Holy fuck…” Sam offered.

Dean smiled and pulled Sam close, asked if he was sure and watched Sam nod, felt him grip his hips tightly with both hands. He cradled Sam’s neck with one hand and guided his cock with the other. He joined them gently, Dean watching Sam’s face as he inched forward, Sam taking him inside. Suddenly, Sam pulled him tight and Dean let out a shocked cry. Their eyes flew open at the movements happening, Sam’s ass clenching on his cock in waves, even though both of them froze. Dean couldn’t stand it. He leaned forward, his arms tightening around Sam as the shivers turned into small movements and he gasped, “Sam.”

“I’m okay,” Sam’s voice staggered. “God, Dean,” he added, adjusted his hips to bind them closer, taking all of him inside. “I’m more than okay.”

Dean let go and let the feelings and Sam’s hands guide him. Sam followed, matched the jerks and round-house thrusts of Dean’s hips, pulled Dean closer until their chests rubbed and provided friction where Sam needed it most. This felt different. It didn’t feel wrong. God, how could it feel wrong. This was more right than anything else he could think of and the rest of the world could go fuck itself. He buried his face in Sam’s shoulder and smelled him, filled them both up over and over.

O but what worm of guilt
Or what malignant doubt
Am I the victim of,
That you then, unabashed,
Did what I never wished,
Confessed another love;
And I, submissive, felt
Unwanted and went out?

Sam shared every movement. Somehow, he whispered full sentences as he gripped Dean with everything he had.

Dean heard only the tenor of Sam’s voice burning, curling in on itself and collapsing into a long groan.

The feeling of Sam clenching around him as he came was so intense that his thrusts got deeper, more urgent and he couldn’t help but follow. He kissed Sam’s shoulder, held him, let Sam pull him in, echoes of fading shudders tearing through them both.

His eyes still closed in a blissful haze, Dean let himself out gently, smiled and brushed back Sam’s hair. He rubbed their cheeks together and found Sam’s open mouth again, planted a quick kiss on it, yanked on the lower lip with his teeth just a little bit as he absently rubbed the indentations and the slice in his middle finger.

“Is it bleeding?” Sam said casually. When Dean opened his eyes to reply jovially of course you prick, he froze and all the color drained from his face. His heart pounded so hard he could feel it in his fingertips and he jerked away and fell off the bed.

“Dean? What the hell? Are you okay?” Sam hitched up and stared at him from the edge of the bed, unsure.

“Your eyes,” Dean whispered.

“What? Dude, what the…” Sam said incredulously. He moved off the bed to find a mirror as Dean continued to back away from him. He glanced around, his arms out, not finding anything reflective. “What is it?”

“They’re black,” Dean sounded like he was drowning.

Sam took a deep breath and held it. Then he shut his eyes. His hands were shaking. “I’m sorry,” he said and as he opened them again he asked, “Is that better?”

“Oh, my god.”

“Dean it’s me. Please… I swear it’s me.” Sam pleaded, then turned to find his clothes. “Dammit. I should have been more careful…”

Dean took the opportunity to yank his clothes on and rifle through one bag, then another. His eyes came to rest on his gun where he’d left it on the table with his keys and his wallet. He grabbed only one. He could barely find his voice as he turned around slowly, felt dizzy, worried that it wasn’t due to shock. “Sam…” He stumbled backwards toward the front door. “…what have you done?”

Sam stood resolute, broken, beside the fireplace. He didn’t move. “Dean,” he pleaded. “I didn’t want you to know like this. Please, you have to understand.” A silver barrel stared back at him as Dean flicked the safety off.

“What. Have. You. Done.”

“I saved you.”


“Just now. I had to. It was the only way.”

He was sure he was going to lose it now. He turned and walked out blindly, stumbled over a floor fan and a pile of books in the living room, left the front door ajar as he stumbled out and down the front porch stairs. His knees hit the dirt and his arms fell to his sides.

Sam followed him out, closed the door quietly, shrugged his jacket close to his chest in the cold. When he got within five feet of Dean he stopped, tears in his eyes, then fell forward as near as he dared on his hands and knees.

As he looked down at Sam, his finger fidgeted with the hammer.

“Dean, I couldn’t let you die. Please.” Sam’s fingernails bit into the dirt, clutched at penitence in the gravel and the leaves.

He wanted to touch Sam so badly. He wanted to touch his face really, really hard with his fist, over and over. But he couldn’t lift his arms. Tears rolled down his cheeks and into his mouth. He licked his lips and looked up at the stars, leaned back on his haunches. “So how does this work exactly?” he asked, afraid of the answer.

“It’s a spell. A binding spell. They want me alive, they want you dead. If they want me, they have to let you live.”

They were quiet for a moment. Sam’s tears were raining over the ground and the tops of his hands, fingernails bleeding in the dust.

“And that’s it? That’s what that was about? You talking… the blood when you…?” Dean scoffed at himself, looked behind him. “You expect me to believe you did this yourself? Huh? Or did you have help?”

“No. Bobby didn’t help me, or Ruby,” Sam reached for Dean’s arm, obviously thought better of it.

“Well then who?”


“What are we gonna do now?”

“What do you mean? We start cleaning up these sons of-”

“I mean what are we gonna do … we gotta reverse this somehow, we gotta … get you right." When Dean finally looked at him, his eyes were green again but all the world around them had gone gray.

"That's the whole point, Dean. This isn't a curse."

"God! I can’t believe you! Sam, don’t you get it? They’re not gonna do something like this… agree to something like this without you giving them something!”

Sam was silent, returned his gaze. When he spoke his eyebrows lifted and he turned his hands palm up on his knees. “I know,” he said distantly.

Dean looked down. Burned onto Sam’s hands were symbols. “No. Aw gawd… no no no…”, he wiped his own palms on his thighs and winced. He turned his hands over and saw the same symbols, didn’t know how they got there, when. He covered his face and his ankles gave way underneath him.

Sam sat back, facing him, in the dirt. Snow flurries fell and carried the minutes out over the red and yellow craters of fire dotted along the dim night of the road. The silence was so deafening, they could hear the icy snow hitting the roof, falling, crashing, bonding to the freezing landscape.

Dean responded by snapping the gun into his face and pulling the hammer down, making Sam blink. “How could you?” Dean sobbed in a low voice.

“You can’t hurt me with that, Dean,” Sam said calmly. He struggled to his knees and inched toward him, reaching a hand out. “Please, let me… Dean for the love of god, I did it to save you. Give me the gun.”

Dean scooted away and sat down again, unable to stand. After a few moments, he picked up a small stick and started scratching in the dirt in circular patterns.

“Please. Try to understand,” Sam whispered.

“Oh, I get it. You’re pissed at me for my deal and I get it. I understand. But you think that by goin’ and doin’ the same thing, that we’re even? Just tit for tat, right?” his anger melted and he felt heavy. “But Sam, I wasn’t promising to be the leader of an army in some fucked up macho demon showdown. I was promising to die.” He threw the stick into the bushes.

“I know.”

“Yeah.” Dean looked at the gun in his hand. “But that doesn’t explain how you’re gonna get the entire world off the hook.”

Sam looked surprised. “Sure it does. All these hunters? They’re in the same position now that we were always in. And we can stop it …”

Dean shook his head.

"What? You think I haven't thought about this? We can do it together, man. I can’t do this without you. I’m their leader now. We can use it against them. What can they do without me?”

“I guess they’ll have to figure that out, won’t they?” Dean lifted the gun and pointed it at his own temple.

Sam’s eyes grew wide. “Woah, Dean. No! Hang on!” A light came on in the house. Bobby shouted.

“We’re connected right? If I die, then you die?”

“Yes! Dean, what the fuck!”

“I guess Dad was right.”

In his thin smile, Sam could see everything, every mile, every secret rendered powerless in the dark. Dean looked at his brother, fatigue and sadness giving way to something stronger.

Sam stared back as recognition, realization, defeat spilled over.“I’m sorry. Oh, God. Dean. I’m sorry…”

Dean only nodded.

As Bobby burst through the screen door, Dean whispered, “I love you,” and pulled the trigger.

Sam clutched his chest and managed to pick himself up... fell over next to Dean... touched his face.

“Thank you…” he whispered.

His fingers froze on Dean’s lips.

Bobby picked up a flashlight, shouting their names. Beams of light, snow and tears littered the gravel where he kneeled down, his hand hovering first over the boys and then over his mouth.

A word was scratched into the dirt beside their bodies. Weightless drifts of white slowly punctuated their faces.

The word was in Dean’s neat lettering: saved.

He closed his eyes again and for a sweet little while he half-dreamed about dreaming of nothing, his brother by his side, also dreaming. The fire made him give up the ghost at a slow pace. He crossed his arms behind his head and listened to the pops and the shrieks, letting it be what it was. The night itself was dreaming of the earth no longer swallowed up in embers.