torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
July 3-8, 2007

Disclaimer: this one's gen, too. Beta by the incomparable elynross. Do not archive without permission.

paths of the living

The soda's gone mostly flat, but Dean's drinking it anyway, washing down the last of the fries without bothering to chew much. They're not stopping here long, they've got places to go; Dean's making a list in his head of everything that needs to be crammed into the next few days, the next few months, starting with a poltergeist in Beckley and ending with... something he's not ready to think about right now, but they've got miles to go before that.

Dean kicks his heel idly against the leg of the picnic table he's sitting on. Promises to keep, too. He turned in the same paper on that poem to four different English teachers, one of those advantages to changing schools a lot that Sammy never appreciated enough. Dean puts his cup down. Beckley tonight, and it shouldn't take them more than a day, maybe two, and after that they can head on down into Tennessee, because Dean's always wanted to see the Muscle Car Museum, and after that, and after that—

The future's unspooling inside his head like an old roll of film, and Dean tries to remember how many frames per second. How many days. What needs to be done next. What he has to remember to tell Sammy, to show him. There's a buzz in his head that's not just the dull roar of traffic going by, or the family at the next picnic table over arguing over the map. Mom and Dad are arguing, anyway; the kid's standing next to the picnic table, both hands gripping the bench, knees swaying a bit. She lets go and takes three wobbly steps in Dean's direction, and then gravity gets her and she sits down plop on her butt.

Dean gets off his table without thinking about it, responding to an instinct buried at a depth of some twenty-odd years, and somewhere inside he's a little surprised at how far down he has to bend before he can grab her and set her on her feet again. She grabs hold of him instead, fisting her hands in his jeans as best she can just below the knee, and Dean grins.

"Stick with it, kid," he says, patting her head and the two bright pink butterfly clips holding down her tangled black hair. "You'll get the hang of it in no time."

He straightens up to smile reassuringly at the nearest parent, and gets a surprised, beautiful smile in return. Mom holds out her hand to the kid, who takes off with the wide-legged stance of toddlers and cowboys everywhere and makes it all the way back to the bench, grinning like it's the most amazing thing that's happened to her all day.

And maybe it is. And maybe it's the most amazing thing to happen to him all day, too.

Dean breathes in deep, and when he takes his eyes off the kid and looks around, the world's a bit bigger than it was before. As he watches, it opens up around him; the sky lifts in a clear blue arc, all those dim distant shapes and movements turn into people talking to each other and cars driving by and it's all real again, not just faded background. Every tree has branches and leaves, precise and detailed, there's a scratch in the tabletop where clean wood shows through, someone's car radio is playing Sunset Grill, and the little girl is laughing.

And Dean's right there in the middle of it, feeling the sun on his face. When he turns his head he sees Sam walking along the grassy verge, carrying two newspapers and a coffee cup. Sam's lost in some frown-worthy inner musings of his own, but he's walking like he doesn't even have to think about it, like he's done it for years, like he'll be doing it for years to come.

Well. That's one thing done right, anyway.

Dean crumples up his cup and tosses it at the overflowing trash bin. He winks at the little girl and walks off, following Sam towards the car. It's a hot day, and there's a stillness in the air. The leaves don't move; they don't even rustle. But Dean's moving, and inside his head, he's not counting down the days any more.

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