January 2, 2008

Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for Flora Poste. Beta by elynross and Merry. Do not archive without permission.

Dealing with Substances Not Included in the Outline

"So I'll see what I can find in the library, and you search the graveyard and then see if you can get hold of the priest," Sam says. He puts a hand on the table and stands up, leans forward. His sleeve's riding up on his arm, showing his wrist, and for a moment it looks like he's fourteen again and growing out of his clothes every other day. He didn't have those shoulders when he was fourteen, though.

"Sure," Dean says, tilting his head back to look up at Sam's face and check the level of earnestness and work ethic. He slouches down a little extra in his chair just to see if he can get Sam to do that thing with his mouth -- yeah, there it is, that ridiculous little frown, Sam's been doing it since he was four and the world wouldn't bend to his imperious will, and Dean still thinks it's kind of adorable, not that he'd admit to that. Not that he'd admit to watching Sam's mouth under any circumstances.

"We have to find out where Agnes is buried. There's something wrong there. I can't believe her family doesn't really know." Sam's hair flips forward into his face. Some days, Sam's hair just sits on his head like a weird hat that he put on by mistake. This isn't one of those days.

"Sure," Dean says again. "Graveyard, priest, I'm on it." He doesn't move a muscle.

"Call me if you find anything." Sam looks expectantly at Dean, who looks back, face as blank as he can make it. "I'm serious, Dean, the sooner we find out where Agnes is buried, the sooner we can--"

The sugar packet hits Sam's chin instead of his open mouth, and Dean feels a momentary concern, because he really shouldn't miss a target like that at a distance like this. "Any particular reason you think I've forgotten how to do my job this morning? You wanna teach me to load a shotgun while you're at it?"

"I just want to get this over and done with," Sam says. "Motel bed's too short for me. You probably don't have a problem with it."

And then Sam grins, just like that, straightens up demonstratively to his full Sasquatch height and leaves. Dean stays put and watches him as he goes out the door and once again forgets to duck the hanging basket of purple flowers that got him in the back of the head when they were going in. Sam is only graceful when he remembers to think about it, and most of the time whatever he's thinking about is a million miles away from what his elbows happen to be doing. As Sam disappears from view, Dean sits up again, taking the weight off his tailbone, and nods at the waitress who comes up to offer him a refill, because the coffee's not bad here.

Yesterday was damp and grey and mostly involved finding a motel and getting a quick look around, but today is sharp with fall sunshine, the kind of day when you get things done. Dean's finished every scrap of his breakfast and some of Sam's, and he's got no reason to stay here any longer now that Sam isn't around to be annoyed by it. He gulps down most of the coffee, and it's almost hot enough to scald the roof of his mouth and doesn't taste as good as it did before. Dean gets up and shrugs into his jacket and flashes a grin at the waitress all the same. She says, "You have a nice day, now. Are you sightseeing? Here for the foliage?"

"Kind of sightseeing, yeah," Dean says. He wonders if foliage is another code word, like antiquing, and decides not to think about it. Life's too short. Especially his. "Thought I'd drive over to the church and take a look around."

"Oh, but you can't drive up there," she says, tucking faded red hair behind her ear, and Dean blinks at the way her face is almost as earnest as Sam's all of a sudden. "Church road's closed. You can walk, though — see that footpath?"

Dean looks where she's pointing through the glass of the door and sees a path leading in between the trees on the other side of the road, going up the hill. "Okay," he says slowly. There's something wrong about that, but he can't quite put his finger on it.

"Won't take you more than five minutes," she says, opening the door for him and just about ushering him out.

Dean wanders out into the sunshine and stands for a moment with his head tilted back, feeling it on his face. The sky looks bleached-out, but the colors all around him are vivid — not just the foliage, but things he normally wouldn't think of as colorful, like a pale green housefront and the deep line of a truck tire in the soft dirt by the side of the road.

He walks towards the footpath, squinting a bit. The path is almost entirely covered in leaves, bright yellow and dull brown, and here and there he can see patches of gravel. Dean walks in underneath the trees. Almost all the leaves are the same shade of yellow, and when he looks up they stand out against the sky like retina burns. The slope isn't particularly steep, and he walks along thinking about whether he's going to find Agnes Gornitzka's grave or not, and maybe a little about Sam's mouth.

He's been walking for about ten minutes, give or take, and he's still in under the trees and he can't see the church, or the top of the hill, or anything except the footpath and the trees, going on and on and up and up. There's a golden haze all around from the sun shining through the leaves. Dean flexes his fingers; it's not cold enough for gloves, not really. He looks back over his shoulder and wonders how fast the waitress can walk, because she didn't look all that athletic, and when he turns forward again, there's a bear standing on the path up ahead.


Dean stops and stands very, very still. The bear stands very still, too, watching him. Its fur is light brown and glossy, sun-dappled, and its round little ears are almost ridiculously cute, and when it yawns, its large yellowish teeth aren't cute at all. It stands right in the middle of the path, blocking the way, and Dean thinks he should back away slowly, but he can't stop staring. He's never been this close to a bear before, and he's fascinated by the size and presence of it, how solid it looks. The way it seems like the woods past the bear are so deep they go on forever.

It's not a particularly windy day, but there's enough movement in the air that leaves and light branches shift their position and sun-patches move across the ground and over the bear's fur, a slow, hypnotic kaleidoscope. Dean can't stop looking at how smooth the fur looks, like it's been brushed, like the bear just came back from the hairdresser. Beardresser.

"That's weird," Dean says. "I mean, it looks good and all," it seems unwise to offend a bear at close range, and this one obviously thinks grooming and personal hygiene are important, "but it's weird."

The bear grins at him and sits down on its butt. Dean's looking up the slope, and he knows about perspective and stuff, but still, that is a really big bear. "You're a really big bear," he says. "I bet no one ever picks a fight with you down at the bear bar."

The bear watches Dean, and Dean watches the bear. It's really quiet here on the side of the hill, under the trees. He can't hear any traffic, and he can't hear any birds, either. The leaves rustle a little, that's all. He thinks he should be able to hear the bear breathing; he can hear himself.

"I was just going up to the church." Dean nods in that direction, uphill, past the bear. "Wanted to see if Agnes is buried up there. She's a ghost now, you know. Sam went to the library. He's missing out on all the fresh air and excitement."

The bear tips its head to one side.

"Let me tell you about Sam," Dean says to the bear. He looks up at the sky. "See, the thing is."

The sky is really clear, and the sunshine is bright but sort of thin, not like in summer, when it can be thick as honey and Dean sometimes thinks he could open his mouth and taste it. He's not cold, although his hands wonder what it would be like if he buried his fingers in thick bear fur. Better than gloves. The lining on his jacket is starting to fray a bit on the left side, along the shoulder seam, he noticed when he put it on this morning. Gotta get that fixed.

"But he's my brother," Dean adds. The bear is a really good listener. "So you see the problem, right? It's not like I could change that even if I wanted to."

When Dean looks back at the bear again, it gets up on all fours and shrugs, fur rippling, and then it walks towards him. Dean takes a cautious step backwards, and another one, and he knows bears can run really fast but this one's not running and still it's right up next to him before he can blink, and holy fuck, that is a really big bear. Also, bear breath, and Dean could really have done without finding out what that smells like. The bear lowers its head and butts Dean in the chest, and he staggers back. "Okay, okay, I'm leaving," he says. "I get it, you're a busy bear."

The bear rumbles quietly, and Dean keeps going, back and back until he almost slips in the piled-up leaves. He's not scared, but he can feel his heartbeat through his entire body. The bear stays where it is, doesn't come any closer. Dean turns around, with a cautious look at the bear over his shoulder, and walks down the path again.

The path is a lot steeper going down than it was going up. Narrower, too. The trees have closed in, crowding him on either side. There's no gravel here, just hard-packed dirt in places and dirt softened into mud in other places, and tree roots, and rock. Dean walks carefully, and sometimes he has to steady himself against a tree trunk or hold on to a branch when the path's nothing but leaves over a sharp drop of worn-down stone. He catches his jeans on a thorny branch of something and the frayed patch on his right knee turns into a rip from seam to seam. The path twists, going around a boulder, and hell, there were no boulders when he was going the other way.

On the other side of the boulder, Sam is leaning back against a tree with his face in the sun. His hair is just about the same color as the bear's pelt, but looks less well groomed. His eyes are closed and he's smiling a little. Dean stops and looks at Sam for a while, the long easy lines of him, the way he fits against the tree trunk. Then Dean walks in closer, leaves rustling under his boots.

Sam opens his eyes.

"I thought you were at the library," Dean says.

Sam looks thoughtful, eyes narrowed against the sun. He reaches out with one hand and grabs Dean by the shoulder and pulls him closer, and puts his other hand on Dean's face and tilts it up, brushing his thumb against Dean's lower lip and looking calmly and seriously into Dean's eyes. When Dean opens his mouth he can taste Sam's breath, which is nothing like the bear's. Dean can smell something sweet, and when Sam kisses him he finds out it's ginger ale.

He also finds out that when Sam sticks his tongue in someone's mouth it's like when an invading army sticks a flag in the ground. This territory is now officially claimed in the name of Sam Winchester, basically. Dean would object except that his mouth's kind of, well. Occupied. In fact, borders are shifting and possibly someone's writing a new national anthem, and Dean fists both hands in Sam's hoodie and kisses him back. He presses closer, leaning against Sam the way Sam's leaning against the tree, trapping warmth and breath between them.

It's unfamiliar to tilt his head back for a kiss, to rise up into it, but the way Sam smells is more familiar than anything else in the world, and when Dean sucks on his lower lip, Sam moans. Sam slides his hand down from Dean's shoulder, in under his jacket, under his shirt, and his fingers are cool against Dean's skin, but they warm up fast. Sam's fingertips fit into the groove of Dean's spine with eerie precision, stroking up and down the small of Dean's back.

Dean pulls back, eases up into slow, teasing kisses, brushing their lips together, tasting Sam's tongue with light flicks of his own. Yellow leaves flutter down around them, and one of the leaves slides down the back of Dean's hand where it's gripping Sam's hoodie; it's dry and cool and tickles his skin.

The way it feels makes Dean smile against Sam's mouth, and he lets go of the hoodie with one hand to take hold of the leaf, and then Sam makes a noise in the back of his throat and his hand grips Dean's face more tightly and he kisses Dean like the last scene of an old black and white movie, and Dean feels himself go stupidly dizzy, like he can't breathe, and he tucks the leaf into Sam's pocket and just hangs on for dear life.

A gust of wind shakes the branches above them, and more leaves rain down. Sam lifts his head and his brows draw together. He stares at Dean, and then past him, frowning, his eyes focused on something Dean can't see, and Dean would have sworn Sam was pretty much trapped between Dean and the tree trunk, but Sam just steps away, three long strides and he's disappeared.

Dean's a little unsteady, and he braces himself against the tree trunk for a moment while he looks around. "Sam. Sam!"

But Sam's gone.

A fine white haze is spreading across the sky, dimming the sunshine. Dean bites his lip, and then he turns to hurry back into town, but all the trees are shaking their leafy heads at him and the path ripples under his feet, and he has to hold on as best he can and climb down, more or less, and he falls over three times and skids and gets bruises and scrapes all over. Everything's cold to the touch; when he tries to push a branch out of his way it slides from his grip and then whips back to hit him across the face, and when he steps on a stone it rocks under his foot and sends him stumbling.

It's a long time before the trees thin out and he's walking out of the woods, back on level ground, out of breath and with dirt under his fingernails. And somehow he must have gotten turned around in there, because Dean knows that when he went in, he was just opposite the diner where they had breakfast, and now he's stepping out into the parking lot of the motel, and there's his car, and there's his brother, standing in the door of their motel room, frowning and holding a half-empty bottle of ginger ale in one hand.

Dean walks up to him. "Where'd you go?"

Sam looks exasperated. "I went to the library, Dean. Like I said I would. Where did you go? I came back and the car's still here, and I've been calling you but your phone's off..."

"No, it's not." Dean sticks a hand in his pocket and gets his phone out, holds it up so Sam can see the lit screen. "And you know where I was, I tried to go up to the church, but the bear stopped me, and then I went down and you were there, and then you disappeared again. Did you run down here or what?"

Now Sam looks worried instead; his brows are still scrunched up, but his mouth's softer. "Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm fine," Dean says and takes a step closer. The parking lot sways under his feet, and his knees buckle. "Shit!" He catches himself against the motel wall, and Sam's hand is around his upper arm, steadying him. Dean frowns, because he doesn't need steadying. Except that he kind of does.

"Were you in a fight?" Sam's got hold of one of Dean's hands now, looking at his scraped knuckles.

"No," Dean says, a little put out that Sam apparently thinks he's dumb enough to get in a fight with a giant bear. "I fell. Out in the woods."

"Oh," Sam says, as if that explains everything. "You know, I think there must have been something wrong with our breakfast. I didn't feel good after I left the diner, I was sick in someone's rhododendrons." Sam looks faintly guilty about that. He holds up the bottle of ginger ale. "That's why I got this. You want some?"

"I don't feel sick," Dean says. He steps away from the wall, and the parking lot starts to spin around him in slow little lurches. "Seriously, how did you get down here so fast? You were up on the hill with me five minutes ago. Were you going to the church, too?"

"Dean." Sam lets go of Dean's arm to point. "The church is two miles that way."

"You're kidding me," Dean says, staring in the direction of Sam's outflung hand, and then he leans too far forward and is about to go face-first into the wall. Sam catches him, and there's a lot of awkward stumbling as Sam drags Dean into the room and kicks the door shut and tips Dean onto the nearest bed.

Dean lies back on the dark brown bedspread and watches the ceiling spin while Sam wanders around the room and kicks the wood paneling and mutters and goes into the bathroom and back out again. Then Dean pushes himself up and sits back on the bed, leaning against the headboard, just as Sam comes up to him with a crappy plastic mug full of ginger ale.

"Here, drink this."

The ginger ale's a bit flat, and the taste reminds Dean of kissing Sam, out in the woods. He closes his eyes and drinks slowly, not because he thinks he might get sick, just to try to collect his thoughts.

"The waitress in the diner told me I should go up the hill to get to the church," he says, opening his eyes but looking down into the empty glass. Sam's sitting on the bed next to him, drinking out of the bottle. "She lied to me?"

"She must have," Sam says. "I just don't understand why she would."

Dean nods slowly. His thoughts still need some collecting, but he's getting there. "She lied to me. If the church isn't up on that hill, no wonder I never got there. But if the church isn't up on that hill, I don't get why the bear was trying to stop me."

"Uh." Sam puts the back of his hand on Dean's forehead, then pulls back fast before Dean can bat him away. "This isn't exactly bear country, Dean. Did you eat anything else after I left the diner this morning? Drink anything?"

"No." Dean collects a final stray thought. "Yeah, coffee. But it was out of the same pot. I got a refill from the waitress and then she told me to walk up the hill." He rubs at his face. "To the church. But the church isn't up on that hill."


Maybe he can stop now, because he's starting to recognize these thoughts from before. "And there was no bear."


"And you didn't kiss me." Sam chokes on his ginger ale. Dean figures that means no. "You think we were drugged?"

"I think you were. Are. You're the one who's been seeing bears," Sam says. He looks a bit flushed.

"Yeah, and you're the one who barfed in someone's shrubbery." Dean pokes a finger into Sam's side. Sam was always a more finicky eater, never could handle anything past the expiration date. Dean's starting to think that the ability to keep just about anything down might actually have its disadvantages. "That doesn't sound like a coincidence to me."

"Maybe not," Sam says, taking his time with the words. "Maybe it would be a good idea to talk to that waitress again." He stands up, then sits back down, brows drawing together again as he looks at Dean. He's going to get wrinkles. "But I don't think I should leave you alone here."

"What are you talking about," Dean says, swinging his legs off the bed on the other side, "I'm coming with you." He stands up. The room dips, but he manages to stay on his feet.

"I don't think that's a good idea. Look at you, Dean, you can barely stand up." Sam gets up, too. He goes around the foot of the bed and reaches out and pushes lightly against Dean's chest, and Dean staggers backwards until he's leaning against the wall, hands braced against the wood paneling, with a print of a dead stag on his left side and a print of two dead rabbits on his right side.

"I could if you didn't go around shoving me into walls," Dean says and straightens up again. One of the dead rabbits nods in agreement. Dead rabbits can be pretty perceptive. "Come on, Sam, time's a-wastin', gotta catch her before her shift ends." He tries to check what time it is, but the hands on his watch are spinning idly backwards. Dean bends closer to get a better look, and then suddenly he's face down on the bed.

"Yeah, I don't think so," Sam says. "Just stay there, okay?"

Dean rolls over on his back and watches the ceiling again as Sam gets his phone out and calls the diner that's two minutes' walk away and tries to explain that he wants to talk to a red-haired waitress whose name he doesn't know. Sam's usually good on the phone, but this time he's not getting anywhere at all. He swears and puts the phone away while Dean looks more closely at the dead stag, but it doesn't move.

There's a knock on the door. In the time that it takes for Dean to try, and fail, to sit up, Sam's already over there. "Wait," Dean says, and Sam opens the door. Dean closes his eyes for a moment, because the spinning ceiling is distracting; it ripples like leaves in the wind. With his eyes closed, he can get his feet on the floor, and then he sits hunched forward on the bed with his hands fisted at the edge of the mattress and tries to listen to what Sam is saying.

"—some information about Agnes Gornitzka. I'm sure you can tell us where her grave is."

Dean waits for a reply and hears a low rumble, and there's a familiar smell in the room now. Dirt and leaf-mold and wind, and something else. "Sam." He gets up and wanders over to the door, and whoa, it's like being really, really drunk, and he grabs Sam's shoulder with one hand and the edge of the door with the other. "Sam, that's the bear."

"Dean, you shouldn't be up," Sam says. "This is my brother," he adds to the bear, and the bear cocks its head and makes another deep rumble of sound, dark and amused.

It's just standing there, right outside the door, and it's still really big, and well-groomed, and has really big teeth that Dean can see really well because its mouth is partly open and it's really, really close. He tries to push Sam back, but Sam is immovable; the door swings away from his grasp, though, because it's not nearly as stubborn, and Dean tilts to the left before Sam catches him.

"Sam." Dean tries it more slowly. "Why are you talking to the bear?"

"You'll have to excuse him," Sam says to the bear. "Something he ate. So you know about Agnes."

The bear growls, and Sam nods. Bear breath just doesn't get any nicer with more exposure, Dean thinks and grabs the ginger ale away from Sam. He drinks deep and watches how the leaf-shadows ripple across the bear's fur, although there are no trees up close to the motel, and the white haze covers almost the entire sky, hiding the sun.

"Are you sure you can handle it?" Sam says, and the lines across his forehead are back. "Because we'd be happy to help." The bear sounds very emphatic. "Okay, okay, that's good. But if there's anything that, you know. Give us a call."

Dean tries to picture a bear dialing a phone, and snorts a little and almost gets ginger ale up his nose. "See, he's just like I told you," he says to the bear, and the bear looks straight at him and nods. "But what about the waitress?"

The bear growls a bit, teeth prominently on display, and Dean would take a step backwards except Sam's in the way. Then the bear makes a rumbling sound directly at Sam and turns around, graceful as a really big, hairy ballet dancer. It lumbers off like it's dancing, too, going across the parking lot and into the woods at the far end; trees rise up around it until it disappears from sight. Dean looks up at the white sky, and then at Sam's face. "That was the bear," he says, in case Sam missed it. "What did he say?"

"That was the priest," Sam says. He puts the back of his hand on Dean's forehead, and Dean bats it away. "He knows about Agnes. He's going to deal with her ghost."

"Yeah?" Dean frowns. "So where was he when she was scaring people half to death by the roadhouse?"

"On vacation in Florida." Sam shrugs. "I figure we can stick around another day, make sure." He looks at Dean. "Eat somewhere else."

"That waitress sent me up there," Dean says.

"She's been fired." Sam shrugs. "I can't say I'm surprised."

"But what did the bear say about her?"

Sam rubs his forehead. "Dean. Maybe you should go lie down again."

Dean finishes the ginger ale and drops the empty bottle on the floor. When he glances across the parking lot, the trees have retreated again, and the Impala's looking really good, glossy and shiny, even though she ought to be covered in dust; he remembers thinking about washing her. Maybe he really did. She looks perfect, just like his baby should.

He turns around and walks into the room, pleased when he stays upright. "So there really was a bear."


"Bear," Dean says. He knows a bear when he sees one. "Did you really kiss me?"

"No," Sam says. He walks past Dean, then turns around and stares at him defensively, crossing his arms. Leaf-shadows move across his face. "I wasn't even there."

Dean stares back. "But did you?"

Sam shakes his head, not exactly saying no. "That wasn't real. I was in the library the whole time."

"I told the bear about you," Dean says, looking at Sam's mouth. He looks over Sam's shoulder, and the other dead rabbit in the print is nodding and cheering him on. "Didn't he tell you about that?"

"We just talked about Agnes."

Dean walks closer, concentrating on each step. This is Sam. This is Sam's hoodie. This is the pocket of Sam's hoodie, and Dean reaches into it and pulls out a dry, crackling leaf, yellow and veined in orange. It feels light and familiar against his fingers. "Yeah, you were in the library the whole time," he says. "Did you really kiss me?"

"Dean." Sam's not looking away, and he's standing up straight, and he's doing that thing with his mouth, and his eyes, and right now he's twenty-four and Dean would do anything in the world for him, except he already has. "You're totally high, dude. Maybe we should talk about this later."

"This is later," Dean says. He's very clear on that. This is his one hundred and twenty-seventh last wish, he's been keeping count. Or maybe his first. "This is all I've got left." He tucks the leaf into Sam's pocket again so it doesn't get lost, and wonders if he can get Sam to go out and pick up some more ginger ale in a while. And some beer. Maybe some tostitos.

Sam makes a face that almost, but not entirely, hides the flash of pain and grief in his eyes. "I didn't think it was real," he says, but when he puts his hand on the side of Dean's face, it's like he's done it a thousand times before. He pulls Dean in and kisses him, and at first he's hesitant, and then he's not. Dean feels the borders shifting again, and it's much too late to do anything about that. Sam tastes like ginger ale and sunshine, and over on the wall, both the rabbits punch the air in victory.

The trees just rustle, softly.

* * *

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