Salvation 'verse. End of Days. Promises to keep.
Dean, Sam, and the generations that follow.
Sam shouldn't look older than him.
The thought hit him suddenly, seeing Sam and Sarah in the kitchen garden, Sam holding a wide handled basket while Sarah crouched to pull plump, red, ripe tomatoes off the vine. The morning sun was angled just so, pushing light across Sam's head, turning the silver in his hair to gold, obscuring the lines and wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. There were darker spots on his hands and arms too, now; the skin loose around the muscles of his arms and shoulders.
It didn't matter that Dean had plenty of grey in his own hair, that he kept it cropped shorter than he ever had to make the parts at the back of his head that were a little thin less noticeable.
But Sam still offered a hand to his wife to help her up, still leaned down to kiss her smiling mouth. Then leaned more heavily on her, arm across her shoulders, than he probably realized. They walked slow, Sam's gait not as even or steady as it used to be. The shirt he wore hung too loose on him, indicating he'd lost more weight again. Dean was pretty sure the shirt he wore was one Sarah had given him for his birthday just a few weeks before.
Dean would be older still on his next birthday, knew without looking in mirror, without pride or vanity, that he was still in better shape than Sam. He had his own share of wrinkles, his own share of age spots from years of exposure to the sun. He could pitch ball with Mary's oldest still, but he needed a long hot soak or his back would give him fits for days. He could still spend hours working on their cars or on the tractors, still work the back of the truck to throw hay out for the herd in winter.
He couldn't remember the last time Sam had been on the second floor of the house, not since they'd remodeled the study on the first floor into a bedroom for him and Sarah, complete with its own bath. He could still make the steps at the front and rear of the house, but he used the railing every time.
Sam's hands were still steady on a gun, or holding the newest addition to the family, the fourth of his grandchildren and damn if his oldest wasn't nearly fifteen.
People who didn't know them well thought Sam was the older, were surprised when they found out different.
His brother's laugh hadn't changed. Nor had the happy flush in Sarah's cheeks over whatever silliness or embarrassment they'd just exchanged. Sam's smile took years off his face and with his head thrown back in laughter, he looked decades younger.
The days were long for now and Sam still rose at dawn, was usually the first one up, measuring out coffee for the big aluminum brewer. He was better in the mornings, finishing his allotment of chores before most of them were up. He'd warm up the ovens, and go out to see if the hens had given up any eggs, throw grain out for them -- always ready in the bucket. Dani had been the one to take Cal to task over it, to make sure the buckets were filled the night before so Sam wouldn't have to dig or bend to pull the feed from the bins.
Sam knew they looked out for him, family and co-op members alike. Took it with more grace and less fuss than Dean knew he could ever manage. Somewhere along the way the reserve Dani always showed around Sam gave way to something else. Dean could pinpoint the day but not the real reason. Maybe because Sam had worked the last of his lawyer mojo to secure this land as much as it could be. They were practically a state unto themselves, carved out of chaos and the crumbling but ultimately less than complete destruction that had followed the slamming of one too many open doors between the world and the rest of the unseen universe.
Dani had taken it on herself to check Sam's blood pressure, his heart and his lungs. There was a doctor in Hershel still, but too far for the routine monitoring, and Dani could still draw a vial of blood when it was needed, give a shot, splint a broken bone. She and Sarah and Charlie Grey spent fall and spring laying out the herbs and flowers to dry, storing them so that Dani could use them later for compresses or teas. Real honest-to-God pain killers were hard to come by any longer, and cost more money than they (or Sam) were willing to justify.
Sam didn't like drugs anyway. He could be a big old baby when it came to that, preferring those warm compresses or the rub of hands against muscles that no longer recovered quickly or well. Dean told him so every time he massaged Sam's back or his hands after they'd been soaking in an infusion of Dani's herbs and oil. Sam's hands were more knotted than Dean's from arthritis and one too many broken fingers or wrists over the years.
Sometimes Dean woke early too -- more often lately. Found himself on the broad porch of the house with Sam, sipping coffee but not really talking. This summer especially when the mornings were only cool for an hour or so after dawn, and the dry grasses rustled and whispered with the last of the night's breezes.
Time's a'comin'…time's a'comin'…
He heard it in the solid clop of the horse's hooves when they worked the graze land, in the thrum and hum of the engine on the truck, or the creak of the windmills that pumped water and brought power to the house. He could hear it in the echo of Sam's laughter when the herd of children pounded through the hall for suppertime. He could hear it in the beat of his own heart, in Sam's even though Sam had never said a thing about it since the last time almost thirty years ago.
The first time Sam had meant he wanted to go back to school, pursue the life interrupted…letting go that time had ended up meaning going with him, mostly because Sam wouldn't go alone.
The last time had been more about Dean not wanting to go alone.
Dean hated breaking promises. For that reason and that reason alone, he didn't make them very often, but Sam had always been stubborn about asking for the impossible and expecting to get it. Might be good for him to be disappointed once in awhile but Dean was long past being the one who could do it.
Still, he couldn't deny that whisper. Couldn't find the excuses that he'd used before, that Sam accepted. There weren't any babies waiting to be born this year, weren't any threats hovering. They'd had a good harvest and a better planting with plenty of rain -- best in years. There was grain and wheat in the silos, corn coming up like individual stalks were in a race to the finish. Lambing season was past and Sam was no longer the one needed to set the wards or murmur the incantations. Charlie and Sam-John and Marybeth had that all handled.
He used the railing coming up the stairs into the house and didn't argue with Sarah when she made him sit on the porch while she took the tomatoes inside.
It was warm outside, the sky clear and blue and Sam sat in the shade, legs still too long for a normal chair, leaning forward a little until Sarah came back out with a glass of something and a pillow she tucked behind him. She got a kiss for her kindness and glanced once across the yard to meet Dean's eyes briefly. She smiled a little and waved and went back inside.
Dean looked away, handed his tools to Livvie and climbed down from the tractor engine.
He looked back to the house and almost had a heart attack when Sam wasn't there. The chair empty, the glass still on the table.
He stepped forward and felt the crunch of snow beneath his feet and the bite of cold. Stared at the snow on the roof and the grounds although someone had cleared the steps. The chair was still empty on the porch, the glass gone, but there was light beyond.
He rubbed his eyes and found himself back in bright sunlight and Sam was settling the glass on the table. It was nearly empty.
He wasn't prone to visions so much. Sam's had quieted in the last few years, Mary's had grown stronger. Dean had watched Allie linger in the dining room or the parlor long after her father had left, caught Leigh sitting in Sam's favorite chair every chance she got.
Nobody said a word to Dean about it and Sam still looked him straight in the eye.
Dean wasn't scared of dying, or of what came after. Wasn't afraid of being left behind at all. No longer, no more. Wasn't possible. He knew it and Sam knew it even if no one else had quite figured it out. Wasn't anything left undone, and it wasn't his job to protect everybody anymore -- not even his own kids or Sam's.
It had all come full circle. Just one life he held in his hands and it wasn't his own.
He'd been warned once, long ago, that at some point things would be spun out too far to be called back. The end of the spool was coming up fast, unraveling quicker than he could catch it.
Sam had been ready to go for awhile now -- not that long, maybe a year or so. He hadn't said anything at all, didn't need to. He waited, calm and patient, like he'd done for a lot of years. The cracks were showing, but worn smooth, the faults and flaws showing up more and more. There were chips and breaks and fractures that couldn't be fixed by either time or love.
Dean wasn't ready to let go yet. He met Sam's eyes and got that smile that had been the cure for so many things, the reason for more joys. Felt the ground settle under his feet and the breeze kick up.
Sam was stretched out like a kite on a string and Dean held the spool.
Come winter that chair would be empty for good.
But it wasn't winter yet and the breeze brought up dust to make his eyes sting.
Times a'comin'…time's a'comin'…
You're gonna have to let me go…
Dean took a few steps forward and wound what he could back up again.
"You done?" Sam called out to him. He meant the tractor.
"Not yet. Close though. Be ready in time for harvest."
Sam grinned and nodded and settled back and waited for Dean to sit down in the chair next to him. Offered him the rest of the drink in his glass to clear the dust from his throat.
Dean patted his brother's knee, feeling the bone under the cloth, and left his hand there while he drained the glass to its last drop.
Time was coming, but it wasn't here yet.
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