glasslogic: (Requiem)
[personal profile] glasslogic








Chapter Three


It took a long time to
become the thing I am to you.
And you won't tear it apart
without a fight, without a heart.
                       ~Become You, Indigo Girls


Dean favored roadside bars outside of city limits, places where people knew how to mind their own business. Where no one called the cops if the occasional dispute over a game of pool spilled out into the parking lot with split lips and busted knuckles. Dean had always won most of those fights.

He won all of them now.

Sam favored quieter establishments. He liked bars where the tables were clean and the atmosphere inviting. Where people did call the cops if a fight broke out and there was more than one beer on tap.

Places that suited both of their tastes were few and far between.

"When you said we’d split the difference, I kind of thought at least my feet wouldn't stick to the floor," Sam muttered, as he ducked into the smoke-hazed main room of a place that had almost certainly never been visited by a health inspector.

Dean's grim mood from the last few weeks had started improving as soon as he'd crossed the threshold. He drew in a deep lungful of the stale air and looked around, satisfied. Bare light bulbs were strung randomly over tables and the bar itself, while corrugated aluminum paneled the back walls and reflected the harsh light with an unappealing metallic glare. Even with the creative approach to interior design, there crowd was pretty healthy for a Tuesday night. "What are you whining about now? This place smells like easy money, and lots of it."

"That's not what it smells like to me," Sam muttered, not bothering to hide his distaste of the place. He shifted, subtly checking the floor's adhesion factor again. He could hear the crackle of his soles peeling free even over the tinny country music and the restless din of the crowd. "How do you even find these places?"

"I'm drawn to them," Dean assured him, "it's like a gift. Besides, I'm sure it's not the whole floor. They probably just spilled something here."

"Nightly since nineteen seventy-five?"

"It's not like we were planning to eat off of it, Sam. This is a bar. Alcohol, remember? The food only exists so you can drink more." He glanced at Sam's face, then elbowed him in the side. "You keep scowling like that you'll scare off all the easy marks." The locals had given them both a good once over, and then turned dismissively back to their own business, but there were plenty of people loitering around a couple of pool tables in an alcove at the other end of the main bar room that looked ripe for the right kind of pickings.

Sam rubbed at his ribs and glared. "I thought you said you wanted a drink."

"I said I wanted to find a bar," Dean answered, distracted by his evening plans.

"Which is usually where people go when they want to drink."

"Or to score loads of easy cash off drunk rednecks. Did you miss that lesson or something? Go… drown your sorrows or something. You're raining bad vibes all over my mojo."

"I'm raining bad vibes?" Sam echoed incredulously, but he was talking to himself. Dean was already threading his way through the maze of chairs and tables to reach the pool tables. Abandoned and with nothing better to do, Sam drifted over and took a seat at the bar with vague plans to nurse several drinks through the evening until Dean had either gotten them thrown out or was bored enough to leave. They were running about fifty-fifty on their exits lately.

He could have insisted on being left at a motel room, but there was something about the undemanding companionship of a crowd of people just out enjoying an evening that appealed to Sam on a basic level. Amidst the tangle of psychic powers, reality rending conflicts, demons, angels, prophecy and nightmare -- the world was still the same world it had always been, and reminding himself of that provided a certain thread of comfort.

Of course, he only had to turn his head and catch sight of Dean for a concrete reminder that just because the world was as it had always been, didn't mean his own personal reality hadn't been firmly upended. General musings on the unfairness of life and trying to remember if he'd packed his toothbrush in the motel that morning were good for a couple of hours while he halfheartedly watched the basketball game playing silently over the bar.

"Hey there."

He turned his head to meet a pair of flirty blue eyes set in an attractive, smiling, face. Sam, who'd been a sucker for pretty blue eyed girls long before he'd met Jessica, smiled back reflexively. The girl tucked wavy brown hair behind one ear and nodded towards a nearby table where another woman was watching them both with an expression of mortification. "I'm Ella. My friend Sidney over there thinks you're cute." Ella's smile widened a fraction. "She has pretty good taste. Come here alone?"

Sam blinked at her, thrown for a loop by the unexpectedness of the conversation. No one had tried to pick him up in years. Much less women who, if they weren't actually in college, were certainly in the right age range. He glanced over to find where Dean was in all this, but his brother was still entrenched in his pool hustling and seemed oblivious to whatever Sam was up too.

"You don't think I'm a little old?" Sam asked her finally, at a loss for where to steer the conversation. Over at the table Sidney buried her face in her hands as Ella raked him with an openly appraising look.

"You're what, twenty-seven? Twenty-eight maybe?" Ella asked. "That's not that old. I'll be twenty-two in April. Sidney's twenty-three. Besides, age isn't everything you know." Ella's smile grew even more inviting, but Sam's bemused friendliness faded a little at her estimation. She seemed serious about the guess on his age and that was just…weird. Thirty-eight years of mostly rough living hadn't been exactly unkind, but no one should have been guessing his age a decade off.

Ella smile faltered a little as, not understanding the problem, she felt him withdraw from her. "I just wanted to see if you were interested in having a drink with us. No rings involved."

But Sam was barely listening to her, instead he was looking down at where his hand rested on the bar. Looking just like his hand always looked. Except… he let go of his drink and turned both his hands over, examining the fronts and backs with a scrutiny he usually only gave weapons and useful texts. Most of the injuries he'd picked up since Ruby entangled herself in his life all those years ago had left no visible mark, but there had been some. The little nicks and dings from a life on the road that scabbed over and healed in the weeks between the power exchanges that left everything renewed and mending. An ugly suspicion began to creep into his mind. He cast a harder look over to where Dean was still playing pool, but his brother seemed as oblivious as before.

"Hello?"

Sam forced his attention back to Ella. "Sorry, I'm a little… distracted."

"No kidding." She frowned. "You aren't… on something, are you? You just look a little out of it."

"Uh, no. No, just--"

"You've got a girlfriend," she surmised.

"No." Sam answered reflexively, and then immediately kicked himself for missing the easy out.

"Bad break-up?" Ella tried again. She was looking a little hopeful at this point, probably trying to find an excuse for his lack of interest that wouldn't prick her self-esteem.

Sam wasn't used to people being so helpful in a conversation he was trying, badly, to escape. He managed a weak smile. "Something like that."

"It's cool," she said immediately, looking almost relieved. "We just saw you sitting alone and thought we'd check you out. Not many new guys coming to a joint like this." Sam didn't know why anyone would come to a joint like this, but asking her would probably cross a few lines of politeness and Sam was feeling rather grateful to Ella.

"Maybe another night," he offered. Ella waved noncommittally and made her way back to her friend. Sam took the opportunity to slide off his barstool and head for the bathroom.

~~~~~

"Yo, Sam? You in here?" Dean called as he pulled open the bathroom door with a grimace. The handle was actually tacky, and he was grateful that germs weren't something he was concerned with anymore. The door itself hung a few inches crooked in the raw wooden frame and squealed loudly enough to make his ears hurt as he forced it to move. Dean didn't have the impression a lot of the male patrons bothered with the official bathroom when they needed to take a leak, as there was a lot more traffic going through the propped open rear exit.

He'd seen Sam vanish through the actual restroom door almost twenty minutes earlier, but distracted by the game, it had taken him awhile to notice when Sam didn't return. The kneejerk instinct to check Sam's mental state had slammed into his own, frustrating, barriers -- but even through the dense psychic weaving Sam was thrumming with… something. It didn't have quite the right rawness to it to be fear, but it was intense, and deep and nothing that Sam usually felt like. Dean forfeited a couple of hundred on the game without a thought in favor of hunting his brother down.

"Sam?" The room was a long L, and there was no question as to where Sam was. Dean could feel only one living presence in the room, and the beat of that heart was more familiar to him than his own. The answer to what Sam was feeling was apparent as soon as Dean turned the corner

Rage.

Sam was so angry that his knuckles shown yellowish white through the tight skin of his hands where he gripped the sides of the porcelain sink. He didn't even bother turning his head to meet Dean's gaze, just stared at himself in the mirror, lips set in a thin, compressed line and eyes bright with fury. Dean wasn't even sure Sam could talk with his jaw clenched that hard, but it wasn't like the problem wasn't a big mystery. Dean had been half waiting for the explosion for weeks.

"What did you do to me," Sam demanded in a tight, low voice.

Dean felt suddenly tired in a way he seldom had since clawing his way out of Hell. Some fights he just didn't want to have. Which was why he'd acted instead of asking, and why he hadn't bothered to tell Sam after the fact either. It hadn't been up for discussion, so not discussing it had worked out well. For awhile. "What I had to."

"What you had too? Look at me! I'm like--"

"Thirty again?"

"The girls in the bar guessed twenty-fucking-seven, Dean. Twenty-seven! I'm almost forty. What the hell have you done?!"

Dean crossed his arms, unimpressed. "You know, Sam. A lot of people would be thanking me about now."

"Thanking you?" Sam straightened up to face him directly. "For what, Dean? This is my life. It's… it's my body. It's not some fucking toy for you to mess with on some whim just because you can! What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that--" The bathroom door squealed open and a giggling couple practically fell into the room. Dean glanced back at them. Sam couldn't see his face, but whatever the couple saw in it had them muttering a hasty apology and fleeing. "--Here isn't the place to have this conversation."

"No, but the motel is," Sam said, sarcasm thick enough to cut.

"At least it's practically deserted," Dean snapped back. "Not here."

Not here, with breakable things like buildings, and people, and the trust between them.

"Or maybe," Dean continued, "you think we should just go back out into the bar and let everyone get a good front row seat?"

Put like that… "I'm not getting in the car with you," Sam spat.

"Take a cab then," Dean said thinly. "But feel free to imagine my reaction if you aren't back within an hour and I have to come looking for you."

~~~~~

Dean barely waited for the door to slam behind Sam, who stormed into their room less than fifteen minutes after Dean himself had arrived, before he picked up where they had left off. The brief pause hadn't put a dint in either of their tempers.

"You think I did this on a whim?" Dean demanded. "Let's talk about whims. You said you would help me with this quest, you said we were in this together."

Sam stared at him, momentarily shocked free of his own anger by the unexpectedness of the attack. "I am helping you, we are in this-- what the hell does this have to do with--"

"You might not have noticed, Sam, but we aren't making a whole hell of a lot of speedy progress on this little adventure. It's been kind of a couple of years since we started this now, and we're still rocking a whole lot of zero in the progress category. You're the best lead we've have for any of this crap, and that lead isn't panning out too fast. Which I'm okay with, as long as you're actually with me, and not moldering in some roadside grave, leaving me here to kick it here by myself. We sent the major players back to the Pit for a century to get some breathing room, but you're not going to be breathing for a century. At the rate we're going, you might not even get another decade in the natural order of things. Maybe less. You duck awfully slow. You think this is the first thing I've changed about you? You change a little with every mouthful of my blood you swallow," Dean said derisively. "You think it's normal that someone of your advanced years, who's lived such a calm and sedentary kind of life doesn't have to down a handful of painkillers just to get out of bed in the morning? You've been reaping the physical side benefits of screwing around with the demonic for years -- sorry having it suddenly up in your face is so traumatic!"

"That's completely different, Dean."

"Oh, so you knew." Dean's sarcasm was almost a tangible thing.

"No, I didn't know! I mean…" Sam trailed off. He'd seen wounds the entire length of his torso erase themselves in hours as a side effect of the curse. It wasn't a big deductive leap to think it could be having a more subtle effect. "Maybe I did. But that's not the fucking point, Dean! What happens with the curse -- it just happens. I don't have any control over that. Shut up," he snapped before Dean could interject. "Not real control. It's a side effect, not a deliberate action. Whatever happens with that isn't the same as you doing this shit to me on purpose."

"You're pissed because you've gotten younger? Do you know how insane that sounds?"

"I'm pissed you did this without asking me! And yeah, I'm pissed I've gotten younger. I've lived my life, Dean. I've earned every one of those years, and I've earned every one of my scars!"

"Really?" Dean asked pointedly. "Pick up a lot of these scars in the last few years, have you?"

Sam's hands balled involuntarily into fists. "You had no fucking right to do this."

"It's done. And you're awfully excited about something you didn't even notice."

"I don't spend a lot of time staring at myself in the mirror, Dean! I mean… how long has this been going on?"

"A few weeks."

"How many is a few?" Sam asked, suspiciously.

Dean shrugged. "It's not that big of a change, Sam."

"Ten years?! It's kinda big, Dean!"

"It's not like I punched something into a computer! I just… wanted to run back your odometer a little. You weren't old before, and… you're, you know, less old now."

"Old? What the--" Sam's comment bit off as connections made themselves in his mind. "Is this because you think I'm sleeping too much?" He demanded, even more outraged if possible. "I start grabbing an extra hour or two of sleep and you take a decade off my life?!"

Dean scowled. "I added a decade, genius. I didn't steal one from you. And it's probably not even that much. I just… wanted to see if it made you better. Nothing else has worked."

"Because there isn't anything wrong! I've been telling you that for wee--"

"There is something wrong," Dean snapped. "I don't know why you can't see it, but there is. It's not natural, Sam. You said Missouri didn't see anything, you can't detect anything, and there's nothing I can find when I look myself, but there is something very wrong, and it's only getting worse. I'm just about out of fucking ideas here, and you just wander around all blissfully insisting that either you're fine, or you're old."

"That was a joke, Dean!" Sam was having trouble not yelling by this point, but his frustration was quickly exceeding what mere snarling and swearing could express.

"Well, at least it was a freaking theory! Which is more than I could come up with. And, you know, you're still falling into just as much of a coma, so it was a bad theory. Congratulations."

"Coma? What are you talking about?"

"You think it's your keen, highly developed hunter instincts that let me move you around like a rag doll while you're sleeping? You don't notice that you fall asleep between words sometimes, and wake up with the sun on the other side of the freaking car?"

"Maybe if we stopped for more than four hours at a time at night, I wouldn't! You're the one who claims to be too bored to let me actually get a good seven hours in a real bed. Or six. Or when was the last time we stayed in one place for even five? I'm barely closing my eyes some nights before you're dropping my shoes on my chest and telling me to get back in the freaking car!"

"That's not what's going on," Dean said, voice laced with impatience. "And since you won't even admit there is a problem, don't bitch at me about what I have to do to try to fix it!"

"This isn't a fix!"

"So you do admit there's a problem?" Dean asked, in a reasonable enough voice that Sam wanted to throw something at him.

"No," Sam growled, "I don't admit there's a problem. But if there was, then whatever the hell you've done to me clearly hasn't fixed it. So you can just presto chango me back to how I was before!"

"Hmmm." Dean slouched against the wall and almost looked like he was considering it for a moment, then shook his head with mock gravity. "No, I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Why not?" Sam demanded.

"I told you," Dean shrugged, "it's not some kind of exact science. It's just intent, and focus, and wrapping you in as much entropy as I can pull through these freaking wards I'm hogtied with. Add some time for seasoning, and… there you go. I mean, you don't really want to wake up eighty, do you, Sam?"

"I really hate you, Dean," Sam said fervently.

"And I think I can really handle that in five minute increments, Sam."

"You think I'm going to be over this in five minutes?"

"I think you're so pissed off that you're forgetting the other reason for me to do this."

Silence filled the room for a few minutes while Sam tried to get his temper under control and Dean just watched.

"No," Sam finally spoke up, tired and with the anger banked somewhat. "No, I'm not forgetting."

"Did you really just plan to up and die on me in a few years? Quest or not?"

"I… didn't think about it." Sam frowned. "That's kind of how being human and alive works, Dean. I didn't think there was another option."

"This is the other option," Dean said flatly. "Outside of some really inadvisable rituals and maybe that Frankenstein thing."

"Yeah. No. So… what's this plan then?" Sam laughed with no hint of real levity. "Every few years you just roll the clock back a little?"

Dean shrugged.

"That's a shitty plan, Dean."

"Only if you weren't planning to go the distance with me."

"You know that's not the problem."

"I'm not sure I see a problem."

"You should have asked me! You should have told me."

"Well, I kinda thought it would be obvious. And if it happened slowly enough that it wasn't, then…"

"Then why bother telling me at all?" Sam finished for him. "I'm not a toy to play with, Dean. This is my body, and it's my life." Sam's anger was spiraling again, he made no effort to restrain it. "I put up with a ton of shit for this grand quest of yours. More than anyone should have to. My entire life has revolved around this crap in one way or another, and you don't get to try and tell me that if you hadn't sat down and discussed it with me, that I wouldn't have eventually agreed to this too. We are in this together, and you don't get to make these fucking decisions without me. I can't believe you did this!"

Dean's eyes narrowed. "There is something wrong with you, Sam. And you've resisted every freaking attempt I've made to sit down and discuss it. You treat it like it's some running joke that I'm annoying you with. This was going to happen, you just admitted it was going to happen even if I had given you the heads up. I didn't want to put up with the whining while I'm worried sick about what's going on with you. Maybe what's happening is fucking with your body and your mind, because it's not like that hasn't happened before. Remember, Sam? So maybe I talk to you, and you refuse because you're fucked up, again, and then what? I do it anyways? You say you hate me right now for doing this without asking you, how excited would you have been if I'd asked, you'd said no, and I did it anyways?"

"That's a bullshit argument, Dean!"

"Yeah, well. That's the best you're getting right now. You've added a few years and some flexibility to your lifespan. It's done now, it's not going to be undone, and anyone else on the planet would be freaking ecstatic. So why don't you shut the hell up and we can move on to something else that's going to make you unhappy."

"Jesus, Dean. What else have you done?"

"This is more about what I'm going to do. What we're going to do." Dean straightened up from where he was slouched against the wall. He let his battered leather jacket slide down and off his arms until he could drape it over the top of the television. Sam's gaze involuntarily traced the shift of muscles in Dean's newly bared arms until he realized what he was doing and jerked his gaze away, swallowing hard. Dean's smile was lazy and edged.

"Yeah. It's that time again. Past time even. Which I'm really not happy about, Sam. We had a deal about this."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "No. Not when I'm still this angry."

Dean's edges turned more predatory and his eyes darkened. Still human dark, but the threat was there. "Are we seriously back to this, Sam? You're obviously hurting, you watch me like you're aching for it when you don't remember not to, and if it's that clear then we should have done this days ago. You only get to say 'no' for so long before you don't get a say anymore and I don't care if you're angry with me. Just adds that little extra spice." He took a step forward and Sam stepped back, catching the edge of the dresser with the back of one foot and almost falling. He was going to end up backed into the bathroom counter if he kept giving ground, but not giving ground was sadly not an option with Dean still advancing. If he managed to get his bare hands on Sam's skin, Sam knew he would be lost to any kind of resistance. He'd had enough decisions taken out of his hands lately, and there were other considerations.

"Not while you're still this angry then," Sam tried, fighting back the first faint flutter of panic. Dean had won this particular fight before in worse circumstances, but that had been before Sam had understood the truth about his brother's nature, and had been exposed first hand to the scouring winds of entropy that raged at the core of Dean's being. The wards that had been broken before were strong now, and that kind of bleed-over shouldn’t be possible. He didn't think so, at least. But angry and frustrated… Sam didn't know how much Dean could pull through the divide anymore, and Sam would do a lot more than beg to avoid feeling a polar force of nature shred the edges of his self again. Or worse.

Sam could see the moment Dean understood Sam's reluctance ripple across his face. He finally stopped advancing, in easy reach of where Sam was pressed against the edge of the sink. Sam half expected Dean to reach out anyways, and hated the part of himself that wished Dean would.

Dean's hands flexed as he watched Sam, indecision still shifting in his eyes.

"I'm going out," Dean announced finally.

"Okay," Sam agreed, cautiously.

"You're not going to step one foot out of this room while I'm gone," Dean continued.

Sam nodded, mutely. He just wanted Dean to go, and give them both some breathing room.

"We're going to deal with this when I get back. It's stupid, Sam. I thought we were done with all this crap."

"I know. I know. I didn't mean to put it off this long. I just… lost track of the days."

Dean snorted and patted his pockets down, checking for his keys and wallet. Sam's shoulders relaxed as some of the tension bled from the room.

Dean ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "You can't screw around with this, Sam. One day I'm going to be off running an errand, and you're going to be riding this way out on the edge, and a demon is going to kick the freaking door down and drag you off and you're going to feel really stupid that you can't even defend yourself because you couldn't be bothered to do something every fiber of your body wants to do anyways. Just because we deported most of the problem children back to the Pit for awhile doesn't mean there aren't plenty of lesser pests still running around who wouldn't jump at a chance to serve you up on a platter."

"It wasn't that, I was just…" Sam let his voice trail off and found something else to look at beside his brother.

"Tired?" Dean demanded. "Is tired what you were going to say? Too tired to get naked and recharge the old batteries a little? Too tired to answer a curse that's stamped across the fabric of your very being? That kind of tired, Sam? You sure you still want to try and tell me that there's nothing going on with you I should be worried about? That maybe we should be worried about?"

"I thought you were going out," Sam said pointedly.

Dean rolled his eyes and retreated, scooping his jacket back up as he reached for the door handle. "Not one toe outside this door, Sam. And if you even look reluctant when I get back, I'm just going to tie you up and do whatever the hell I want to with you anyways. You'd probably like that, you can blame it all on me." The slam of the door punctuated his statement.

Sam glared at the door for a moment, then turned to examine his reflection in the mirror over the sink. The lighting was better than at the bar. Even knowing what he was looking at, it still took some time to find concrete things to point at that made him look different than he thought he should. There were fewer lines at the corners of his eyes, and maybe around his mouth. Worry lines mostly, but there were definitely less than there had been. Maybe less heaviness to his jaw, a certain lightness to his complexion. He did look younger, but pointing to where or why was hard. Maybe hard enough that he didn't need to kill Dean quite so fast.

Maybe.

He was still lividly pissed, but Dean might have had a valid point somewhere in all his crap excuses. Something to think about later. Sam closed his eyes and tried to find a peaceful center, some breathing space in his own thought, then went ahead and got ready for bed. Whatever else happened later tonight, it was unlikely to involve a lot of sleep, and Sam was already exhausted.


Section III
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