Elementum Res. Progressus
Rating: Mature Adult
Word count: 3,727
Summary: Four elements make up a fifth.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to a whole cadre of beta readers; la_folle_allure, dryad_duinath, sxeraven, jellicle_freak and especially to Meg who reminded me that when you cast a circle, where you start defines your intent.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings, disclaimers, and attributions. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
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Elementum Res. Progressus
The crack of thunder is louder than a gunshot and the air sparkles with electricity, but no rain falls and Sam can only be grateful for that because the air is frigid and they'll both catch pneumonia if it rains.
The air whips the sand into mini dust devils, spitting grit and dust, and brings the stench of rotting flesh with it, which pretty much clinches the argument they've been having over whether it's a golem or a ghul. On the one hand, golems are easier to de-animate but it would leave them to figure out who had brought it to life.
Dean hates ghuls like few other things -- mostly because they are messy to kill and while it is possible to blow one into bits and pieces with a shot gun, it makes gathering up all the bits and pieces that get spattered into one pile difficult. They have to be incinerated because even a small piece can infect anything that ingests it and a wise man once said ghul bits taste like chicken to dogs and alfalfa to cows and wouldn't that just give rabies and the whole Mad Cow disease scare a whole other dimension?
Just thinking about it made Dean wonder if he'd ever be able to eat a hamburger again.
As it is they both pull on gloves and an extra shirt as much for the cold as to leave as little of their skin exposed as possible.
Dean takes the gun anyway, and Sam's got both machetes and his own blades. The other good thing about ghuls is they are stupid as dirt -- operating on no brains and all instinct. This one's taken up residence in the kind of pointless storm drain near the edge of the cemetery and the keening sound it makes carries across the air beneath the thunder, sounding like the screech of tearing metal.
The thing Sam hates about ghuls is that they are more than the sum of their parts and while chopping it to bits is relatively easy, keeping the disembodied hands from grabbing or infecting them without touching is kind of like playing croquet with flamingoes and hedgehogs.
Sam's first strike takes off the thing's head and Dean takes it out at the knees. They each take an arm. But instinct or self preservation kicks in and the thing twists and Dean gets shoved off balance hard enough to hit the sidewall, knocking the breath out of him. The thing, headless and legless, grabs onto his jacket and claws to find flesh.
Sam has to avoid the twitching legs to get to him. Just cutting the arm off at this point won't do any good -- the hand won't let go, which means Sam has to cut it off at the fingers and those are too close to Dean to trust to the machete.
His own blades are sharp and he crowds against Dean when he slashes, grunting when the fingers fall. But it goes from bad to worse when he trips over Dean's legs and feels bony but incredibly strong fingers at this throat. The turtleneck he's wearing keeps him from being scratched but not from being strangled, and he hears the rasp of metal against stone when Dean regains the machete and severs its arm.
Sam only barely hears Dean swear, but then his brother's right in Sam's face, gripping the severed hand of the ghul in one hand and using Sam's blade to cut the fingers free one by one until they drop like grayish slugs to the ground. Then Dean's turning, pressing his shoulder to Sam's chest to hold him up while he gasps for air. Dean spreads lighter fluid over all the remains he can see.
Ghuls burn easily and Dean kicks a few scattered pieces and uses the edge of the machete to flick fingers and hands toward the pile, then counts all the pieces before dropping a book of matches on the writhing mass of animated flesh.
Only then does he turn back to Sam. Dean rolls down the collar of Sam's shirt, pulls the fabric away from his throat and looks for scratches, however small. All he sees is bruising and Sam meets his eyes and nods. He's okay. Dean pulls his head down and kisses his forehead and then turns back to make sure the damned thing is nothing but ash.
When it's burning, a ghul smells like rancid honey and rotting oranges. It's not an unpleasant smell but Dean has never figured out how such a perfume-like scent can come from something that devours dead flesh.
They both smell of it when they get back and Dean makes Sam take off his shirts and wipes at the bruised skin of his neck with holy water, just in case. He holds his breath while he waits, but nothing foams or sizzles so he thinks they got lucky. He's close enough for Sam's breath to ghost across his face, warm and moist, and Dean doesn't hesitate to kiss him, offering to breathe for him, with him.
Dean's clothes smell like honey and oranges and sweat; his hands smell like the leather gloves he'd worn but he tastes like sunshine and summer rather than the cold and dust of this one horse town. Outside the room the thunder cracks again, and Sam would bet the temperature has dropped another few degrees, but here it's all heat and the raspy sound of cloth being pulled from skin and the heavy breaths Dean takes when Sam touches him.
When the storm finally breaks out into winds that rattle the glass in the windows and send howls through the cracks and corners of their room, Dean barely even notices. Sam is breathing shallow and fast against his throat, but he's got breath enough to moan Dean's name and it's Dean who stops breathing for just a second when the storm between them hits until Sam's mouth brings him air and Sam's body reminds him they've lived through another one.
First there was fire. It starts and ends with fire for Sam, though he can't remember the first and wishes he could forget the second.
No one can walk through fire and come out unscathed and Dean's done it twice now. The first time it took something away and left a mom-sized brand on his young soul. A baby Sammy sized band-aid remained to ease the pain of his young heart.
The second time it gave him his brother back but it ripped that twenty-two year old patch job wide open and his brother doesn't fit there any more. But Dean is nothing if not resourceful and he's never yet given up something he wasn't ready to, not his car, not his life, and certainly not his brother.
Sam's mouth is as hot and greedy as the flames he's been saved from, the flash of a smile in teeth and eyes enough to blind Dean sometimes. Months after he's left California the brown kiss of sun on Sam's skin still lingers, like it's not ready to let go yet, maybe never, and Dean's marked all the places on Sam's body the sun hasn't with teeth and tongue and the occasional bruise.
For Sam, who fears the fire almost as much as vampires fear the sun, Dean's touch is cooling and soothing and eases burns he doesn't remember getting. Dean offers a heat and warmth without trying to consume him, and Sam's hands seek it out like pulling up an extra blanket on cold night. He knows his brother's body at least as well as he knows his own, maybe better. He's touched all the curves and planes, and hard ridge of muscle and the spread and span of his shoulders and the taste of his mouth both morning and night. He knows how Dean fits against him here and there and the heat that swells between them doesn't scare Sam at all.
Even if they've burned bones or spread kerosene, Dean never tastes or smells like dust or ash, he's always been earth and water, steady and relentless all in one, given to occasional rumbling quakes or winter storms.
No fire can stand against him.
Dean learned to swim early on, because most motels had pools and it was cheap entertainment. While his father did his best to keep both boys clean, it was definitely easier to get them into the pool than into a bathtub. Like everything else his father taught him, if Dean was going to learn to swim, he was going to learn to do it well. And while Sam might find running to be the best way to work still growing muscles, Dean would do laps until he lost count and his arms felt heavy. He never bothered to time himself -- it was endurance, not speed he was going for.
Sometimes Sam looks at Dean, just watches him, and feels like he's drowning. Sometimes it's Sam's grief that makes him want to gasp and sputter and struggle to the surface. Other times it's Sam's anger or maybe Dean's that holds him down and won't let him breathe properly, so that when he does surface, he comes up swinging, flailing his arms and trying to reach for something solid to cling to. Inevitably he reaches for Dean, but Dean is more like a river running through Sam's life, always present, cutting deeper, but never quite the same from one moment to the next.
Some days, he even thinks he understands it, like if Dean stays still, he'll dry up or stagnate, so he keeps moving and Sam can fight against that current for awhile, but not for long. And it never works out well when he does.
Sam moves over Dean like water, cool and quick, changeable and playful, laughing at the damnedest things, a chuckle and whisper of sound against the inside of his thigh when Dean sucks in air because now he's drowning, sinking fast when Sam pushes him down, holds him under with promises and kisses and Dean finds it impossible to fight against that current; doesn't want to fight anymore when Sam wraps long legs and arms around him and makes a place inside himself for Dean that no one else can share. He's been baptized by Sam's come, left his own blessing inside and on his brother, tasted him like a man dying of thirst. He's closed his eyes against the wonder in Sam's eyes, held himself still when Sam's hands touch him with a reverence usually reserved for holy things and newborn babies.
He's watched Sam drown a thousand times under his grief and his anger and every time Dean dives back in to haul him up, to pull Sam back into the shallow end.
And every time they stay at a hotel with a pool, Dean swims laps to improve his endurance.
There are times when Sam feels like they should just call themselves gravediggers and be done with it. They've gone through two shovels in the last four months -- although one of them was lost in a last ditch effort to keep somebody's sorry excuse for a Cujo from ripping Dean's head off. He's got blisters on calluses on his hands and Dean's are worse.
At the same time, grave dirt doesn’t usually smell any better or worse than any other kind of dirt, and fresh tilled earth as they pass through parts of the country already preparing for spring planting still smells like promises of the future, of new growth, of starting over.
Dean looks at Sam at the edge of darkness some nights and thinks it wouldn't take much for Sam to disappear into places like this. That he could step back and just blend into the trees and the earth and the rustle of branches against the sky. They share the same coloring for the most part, but Sam's always been that much darker, hair and eyes and skin. Sam would say his soul too, but Dean's never believed that and never will. Whatever is after them, after Sam, isn't after Sam because he's darkness but because he's light.
Sam thinks Dean has rocks in his head.
Dean's the better hunter in the traditional sense. He moves silently through the densely packed pine forest they're searching and it's like even the earth know he's one of hers. Even long after they've emerged, the possessed animal dead and burned, the scent of pine clings to Dean like after shave, he's got dirt on his face and blood on his hands and he looks more like a wood spirit than a man, one of the wise and ancient, and as much as Dean swears he hates camping, Sam often thinks that if anything could ever lay claim to Dean for the long term, it would be the deep woods calling his name.
When they get back to the cabin Sam won't let Dean shower and doesn't take one himself. Instead he pushes Dean against the notched and daubled logs, and peels his shirts off, breathing in pine and earth and air and the damp places the deep woods hide. Dean's hands push into Sam's hair and leave streaks of dirt on his cheeks. Dried leaves and pine needles whisper as they fall and are buried under clothes and adrenaline.
Scratches and bruises are ignored and Dean will have new ones from the logs, feels the rasp of wood across his shoulders but only grips Sam's hair tighter when Sam goes to his knees and puts his mouth on the one place on Dean's body that doesn't taste of dirt or pine or blood or death.
Sam is all shadows and quick, light, touches on his skin, moist and wet. Dean holds on as much because Sam is all that's solid and real, as because he's sometimes afraid Sam will just disappear into the world. Because like this, Sam doesn't seem part of the world Dean knows and feels and sees, but like he's part of the one beyond.
And he thinks, as he empties himself into Sam's mouth and throat, that even if he does, he'd find a way to follow him, because the world would be hollow and empty without Sam and so would he.
But Sam doesn't disappear, and later when Sam is sprawled out on his stomach beneath him, Dean traces his spine and ribs with a callused hand. The scent of the earth mingles with the scent of sweat on their skin, and he thinks Sam's already made that choice and taken the hollow and empty places into himself.
Dean presses his lips to Sam's and promises to fill them.
Sam doesn't remember who reached for who first, or even if it was born of comfort or fear or something else entirely. He remembers thinking resistance was like denial and denial hadn't worked out so well for him thus far. He remembers realizing that Dean was not a replacement for Jessica and Jessica had never been a replacement for Dean and that there was a warped sort of sense in their inability to cancel each other out.
He's loved Dean for as long as he can remember, as long as he's known him, and he loved Jessica nearly from the moment he met her. It took him a long time to realize the feelings were the same, that somehow he'd managed to have two people in his life who actually completed him in some way, even when he wasn't fully aware anything was missing. That when he left his father and Dean, Jessica had moved in to fill the empty places he denied existed. When she was gone, Dean filled them back up again without even trying.
Dean, on the other hand, remembers they were fighting: about taking chances, about risk, and not thinking things through, but he isn't sure exactly who had taken the chance and who was doing the dressing down only that he'd been pissed as hell. Sam had been angry enough that his face was flushed and he'd used his greater height to make a point, which he hardly ever did just because it pissed Dean off even more.
He remembers bitter words on his tongue and his heart pounding and looking at Sam and thinking he was either going to kiss him until he was stupid or beat the shit out of him until he was senseless.
Sam kissed him and all he could think was sharing a brain, much?
He'd grabbed onto Sam's shirt and kissed him back, deep and hard, until his head was spinning, and his knees locked, and Sam fell against him only to brace himself against the wall. When Dean remembers that much, he also remembers that he'd nearly been killed and that was what Sam was so pissed off about. Dean thought it was because Sam was accusing him of being reckless and careless when really all Sam had been telling him was that he was scared; that he loved him, that he wasn't doing this alone and a dozen other things that all came along with Sam telling him he was an idiot sometimes.
There was a familiarity in the way Dean tasted, the way he smelled, the way his hands gripped Sam hard enough to almost bruise and yet not. Sam's skin still felt flushed by anger, and there was sweat on his skin, but Dean was all solid muscle and immovable force under his mouth and hands, and Sam felt like he'd taken the first deep breath in forever. The shock of even kissing his brother gave way to the shock of being kissed back. The half formed opinion that this was wrong surrendered to the feeling that he'd missed this so much and yet it had never happened before. How could he miss something he'd never known?
Under Dean's hands Sam's skin was like a fever, and under his lips, Sam's mouth was wet and slick. Sam steadied them both, feet braced and hands gripping Dean's shoulders and when he said Dean's name it was like a prayer only Dean wasn't sure if it were in supplication or asking for absolution.
This thing between them could as easily destroy them as save them and neither of them was sure which it would be, only it felt less inevitable than a valid choice, and less like tearing something down than building something new on an old but solid foundation.
There was no way for it to be only one or the other and it probably meant something that they moved at the same time; that Dean pushed up and Sam leaned down and they met in the middle without a word or even single question passing between them until much, much later.
Dean jerked sideways and Sam stumbled and the bed gave out a squeaky song of protest when they hit it together, then fell mostly silent. Clothes mixed in with sheets and comforters and the pillows went the way of sneakers and boots.
Their first time was all instinct and no finesse and less like love and sex than trying to find some way in which they didn't fit together and failing miserably at it.
There was no place Dean could touch with hands and mouth that Sam didn't say yes to, and no place Sam could pull away from that didn't have Dean pulling him back by touch and kisses, with the murmur of Sam's name on his lips.
It made Sam laugh to hear it, and Dean said it over and over, changing timbre and tone, along Sam's throat and down his chest until he heard his own name on Sam's tongue and thought he might come just from the way Sam said it.
They only recognized half of what they were doing and made up the rest, and later Dean would think it weird that no one got an elbow in the face or a knee in the groin and Sam would wonder how he could be four inches taller and yet they still fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.
They never finished the fight.
Somewhere along the way, it settles into Dean's psyche that if he takes risks like he did when he was alone, which he hated being at the best of times, then Sam will be alone. That Sam isn't impervious to being torn in two again just because it's already happened once. You don't build up resistance to things like that.
And elsewhere along the road, Sam realizes he really isn't going to leave, that there is nothing to the dreams he'd once had except that maybe he'd known he was missing something more than he thought and just not looking in the right direction to find it. And it isn't about Jessica or what could or couldn't have been but about what is, what has always been. Dean accused him once of trying to be normal and Sam had retaliated that it wasn't about normal, it was about being safe, only he'd really meant security and something he could count on, something that was his own that couldn't be taken away.
Only it isn't one thing that will make either of them whole, but a lot of things tumbled together that let them be more than each other without being less of themselves . Sometimes that means saving other people, and sometimes it means saving themselves. Sometimes it means losing and as long as they don't lose each other, they'll survive. There's no half-life to the existence of air and fire, water and earth; those things endure.
On any given night in any given town, on any given bed, or floor, or on blankets under the stars, Dean will write his name on the skin of Sam's back with his fingertips and say his name like it's a secret, and Sam will brand his promises on Dean's chest with lips and touches and know everything that watches them can see it even if the people they meet and save never do. They know there's life after death of a sorts and sometimes death before life actually ends.
It takes earth and air and fire and water to forge something new.
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