Yet more slightly cracked out wingfic, part IV of the Turn of the Wheel series. 7700 words, R for language, violence, and wingcest, which is yet again defined as angsty feather-fondling. The other elemental factions start chiming in, and just running from the air elementals becomes the easiest thing Sam and Dean get to do.
March 21st, 1:18am
So, he was blaming Sam for this one.
Hiding underground was fine, it was the best way to keep the air elementals off them. They didn’t like dirt, obviously. Earth vs air, water vs. fire, same old thing. Finding somewhere to hang out from dusk to dawn that kept them alive while Dean had wings, with no one to gawk at him, was his idea of a terrific evening, considering what else they’d spent similar nights doing. Just once he meant to get through unscathed. He didn’t add unmolested to the list because, wings and Sam in the same general vicinity meant...well, he didn’t quantify what that meant, exactly, because few things in life made him squirm with self consciousness like that did. It wasn’t bad but it was weird. And he should have minded and he didn’t.
It should have been pretty damn easy to lay low in a small place like Yonah, Georgia, not many people to take notice of them and plenty of places to duck out of sight. Lots of old cellar holes, an abandoned drainage system that was nice and dry and far underground - perfect. They wouldn’t even have to put the hunt on hold for long to hide. They were there because the vamps they’d been tailing for several weeks had made themselves known again by doing what they did best - raising hell and picking off the locals. The boys were a day behind, though, because the vamps had already pulled up stakes (even Dean hated that pun and Sam had used it four times already) and taken off again, leaving more failed members in their wake.
Great, another thing no one had bothered to really talk about, online or in old texts or anywhere. One more thing they had to experience firsthand without warning. Apparently it didn’t happen often, but sometimes it just didn’t take when a coven tried to increase its numbers. Not all inductees were able to deal with the initiation. This was the third time they were just missing a chance to roust the nest but finding what Bobby called shamblers. Not dead, not undead, not living; shamblers wanted blood as badly as the vampires they were meant to be, but they no longer had the ability to do more than wander around attacking anything that moved. They still looked human, in a crazed-homeless-junkie way, but had lost all speech and sense of self. They starved to death more often than not because they were too damn dumb to hunt properly or cover their tracks. They weren’t smart enough to fear, or plan, but they were so damn strong that they could kill you one-handed and break down pretty much any door. It still took beheading to put them down, and they were, to date, Dean’s least favorite creatures to mess with.
And that was before they’d taken Sam.
So he was out in the open, after dark, wings only half-folded while he ran, begging to be smashed from above while he tracked the creatures that had his Sam. He’d seen what they left behind - hitchhikers or anyone outside any source of light after dark; livestock, pets, anything warm and breathing. They fed indiscriminately by tearing limbs and heads off and drinking whatever sprayed out, and then they gnawed the bodies to shreds trying to get the rest. Sam was a very large snack and the fuckers had obviously already fed or they’d have torn him and Sam all to hell rather than saving Sam for later.
Dean figured he’d been left behind because of the wings. They may not have been certain of what he was, or the wings changed his scent enough to throw them off, or some vestige of memory remained in their fading gray matter that warned them not to mess with anything that looked like a religious icon.
Didn’t matter. He’d play wrath of God all over their stupid vulture asses if they’d done more than scuff Sam’s clothes.
Sam had chosen the spot in the huge concrete drainage system that they’d holed up in, less than a mile from the remainder of the abandoned nest, and they’d been sitting cross legged, playing stupid board games. Sam had thought it was hilarious to pick up one of those little travel kits with a whole range of games in it. It wasn’t like they had a hell of a lot of other options. A small battery-operated radio sat on a rock nearby, and they played cribbage by flashlight on the curved cement floor while listening to the only local station that they could get to come in underground.
It was music, but...fiddles. Bluegrass. Great.
“Wanna square dance?” Sam said, moving another peg.
“Wanna blow me?” Dean said.
“Um, no,” Sam said. He’d been very careful to keep his eyes on the board and not look at Dean since the wings had appeared. Dean had noticed and was waiting for the right moment to bust him for it. Just a little. He saw Sam’s hands twitch occasionally, usually when Dean leaned in to move a game piece, because the wings moved with a soft rustle. He could almost hear Sam telling himself no over and over.
When Sam’s hands weren’t twitching, they were shaking a little.
Dean wondered off and on how much of it was Sam and how much was some unseen incitation that simply came with the curse itself. He’d never seen Sam fondling pigeons or gazing wistfully at National Geographic articles on eagles, so he was left with blaming it on the curse or admitting that Sam was just out of control on this one thing. Hey, it wasn’t something a guy ran into, ever, so where the hell had he picked up a kink for it?
Not to say Dean actually thought about things like that. Much. Really. No big deal.
“Cribbage is for old ladies,” Dean said. There was a faint, cold echo off the rounded edges of the concrete. They’d been playing backgammon prior to then, which Dean had complained bitterly about once Sam beat him three times in a row. He was beginning to think Truth or Dare would be a better time waster.
Sam didn’t answer, eyes on the board, hands folded white-knuckled against his crossed ankles. He was too distracted to pick up on Dean’s way of saying hey I want you to talk to me but I’m not going to make it easy.
Dean sighed and leaned back to stretch arms and wings at the same time, grateful that he had room to do so. It was easier to lower them to the ground than to fold them back up, so he draped them in around the outside of his knees, creating a half-circle of feathers around his side of the gameboard, wingtips just barely encroaching on Sam’s side.
When Sam glanced up, Dean was grinning at him, elbow on knee, chin propped in hand.
Sam’s face was impassive, but when he glanced down at the feathers closest to his foot, there was a moment of something torn and sad in the twist of his mouth and the way he drew his brows together.
“Hey, hey,” Dean said. “Just messing with you, Sam.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “You are. It’s a lot harder to resist than it was the last time we went through this.”
Dean frowned. “One of the elementals hit you,” he said. “Feel different?”
Sam shook his head. “Not like I’m gonna sprout wings or anything, no. Something would have probably happened just after midnight if it was going to.” He looked back down at the board again.
Dean kept staring at Sam. He really needed to quit teasing him if it was bugging him that bad. But no sense admitting it was a lot harder to stop than it had been before. Whatever that meant or stemmed from, he wasn’t going to be figuring it out then and there. He wasn’t quite himself when the wings appeared - or, he was more himself - and he had to admit that even Sam had limits on his self control. Poor kid had actually broken into a sweat.
“Are you gonna take your goddamn turn or not?” Sam said.
“I’m pretty sure I just did,” Dean said. He was not talking about the game.
“You need to figure out how far you want this to go,” Sam said, and he wasn’t talking about the game either.
“It’s a temporary thing, Sam,” Dean said.
Sam lashed out, catching a handful of trailing wing-edge, watching Dean slam his hands down onto the concrete to brace himself and flutter his eyes closed. “Not really,” Sam said, tugging a little and leaning in to press the feathers against the side of his face with the flat of a palm.
Limit of self-control. Right. Dean would have liked to try and figure out what the hell Sam meant but he was busy rolling his eyes up in his head under closed lids because Sam had turned his face and was pressing his mouth to the feathers and breathing on them, and man he’d have said yes to anything right then, hey Dean let’s paint the Impala pink and start selling Mary Kay products and he’d have said God yes please. It all built and built and he had no idea where it was headed, and didn’t really care because his entire existence had dwindled to the point where Sam’s lips met feathers, and -
It didn’t really matter because they’d actually chosen the shambler’s hideout to hang out in. He heard Sam gasp and he opened his eyes long enough to get a glimpse of them, and then Sam was gone and he was waking up on the cement. Listening to Bluegrass.
It was so easy to track them that he wasn’t having a problem with it even in the dark.
He’d left the flashlight behind because he knew vamps had great night vision but wasn’t sure about shamblers, and he didn’t want them to see him that far off if he could avoid it. The drag marks weren’t continuous but he could see where Sam had caused them a serious problem, even against things as strong as the shamblers. At some point they’d knocked him out - he had to believe Sam was unconscious, not dead - because the marks changed. Instead of an intermittent struggling-drag, it was a long continuous disturbance in the rocky dirt. Then it was gone, lost in the beginnings of a long gradual upslope of grassy hillside. It was maybe half a mile of wide empty meadow leading into a dark wall of trees.
He thought about the Wendigo in Colorado the year before and how it had dragged him off, over rocks and uneven ground, then up into the trees. He’d known Sam wouldn’t have forgotten his tracking skills, but he’d tried to make it easier for him while he’d still been conscious. Sam would have done the same if he’d had half a chance. In the dark, it was almost impossible to tell because the meadow was wild but the grass and weeds were too low to leave a discernable trail without good light.
He briefly considered taking to the air, even if he was bad at it, even if he might break his neck trying it. He might gain back lost time, but he’d never see them in the trees from the air.
He got down on hands and knees and felt the grass for indication of a sudden change of direction that might tell him which part of the trees they’d entered. The dewpoint hadn’t been reached by that time of morning, so he couldn’t gauge a disturbance on the grass that way. The shamblers were so fresh that they hadn’t begun decomposing yet, so there was no reek for him to follow.
Sam’s aftershave was just barely discernable on the grass, though. Even sixteen hours old on Sam and maybe twenty minutes old on the grass. He’d let that puzzle the hell out of him later. Right then he ran for the trees ahead, gun out, fairly certain he’d be able to rip their dumb heads right off with his bare hands if he had to.
He didn’t even pause when he hit the trees, even if it was darker in there then it was in the meadow, even if they’d probably hear him coming. The small branches they’d bent and the brush they’d broken through was obvious. He folded his wings back to keep from getting snagged, ducking low and holding the gun out in front of him, knowing he’d only be annoying and distracting them by shooting them. He hoped for at least that opportunity.
When the brush vanished and left an expanse of tall older trees and a better glimpse of the sky, he scouted for drag marks again. He started to his left and circled, glancing up and down at regular intervals to watch for any movement. At least they hadn’t dropped Sam just inside the trees and started noshing. They’d really taken off with him. No point yelling for Sam if he was unconscious, either.
He heard something - a twig snapping, maybe, almost too soft to pick up, off to his right. Could have been anything, but he headed in that direction, pausing to listen again after about fifty yards. There was a scuffle of dirt and a scraping, the same sound squirrels made running up the sides of trees. Nocturnal predators of all kinds would be out and he’d just have to sort through them. He had the gun in a two-handed grip, arms extended, watching the dark so hard that tiny patterns of false sparks burst in his vision. Something moved a ways to his left and he snapped his wings out as he turned.
He made out Sam’s shape flat on the ground on his back, jacket gone, light colored button-down open over a darker t-shirt, arms outflung. Two darker humanoid figures crouched close over him, posed as if waiting for something. He couldn’t tell from there if they were male or female and didn’t really care. He headed straight for them in silence, wings out, teeth bared in a snarl.
He was a good fifteen feet away when they sensed him, and he shot the one on the left in the head as a greeting when it turned toward him.
They both started shrieking, and that close he could see and hear that one was male and one female. The vamps that had spawned them obviously sucked at converting others because they just kept leaving these half-dead things around and Dean was getting really tired of them.
He shot the one on the right - the male one - as it came for him just to make sure it didn’t feel left out, and when the female paused at the sight of his wings he rushed her at full span, howling at the top of his lungs. She cowered down but didn’t run, and caught the kick he aimed at her. He was lucky she didn’t break his damn leg, and as it was he ended up rolling away to save himself. The male was already on him, and was slammed head first into the tree behind Dean when Dean got both feet right in the center of the thing and launched it over him. He heard something crunch, and hoped it wouldn’t be able to use as much of the body after that. He rolled up while it untangled itself, barely missing the fingers reaching for his throat when the female made a grab for him.
She got hold of his left wing instead, not even a good grip, but the pain that exploded through Dean’s entire frame as a result strangled him more than the throttling he’d just avoided. Something dead and wrong had hold of something that couldn’t be more natural, even if humans weren’t meant to wear them, and he never would have copped to the sound that came out of him even if presented with a recording of it. Pain was nothing new so he shot her four more times in quick succession, dead center, just trying to get her to let go of him, knowing the other one was getting up and shit she twisted it and those bones broke easier than any of his others.
He was on his knees when the other one grabbed his head between its hands and started to twist, and it was going to be a mercy when his head came off because the pain from that wing was enough to reduce him to mindlessness.
There was a whump of sound and a lot of heat at his back that he didn’t register for long moments, not even when the male shambler let go of his head and the female one started shrieking again and backed away. All he really cared about was that she’d let go of his wing. The pain was still high on his tolerance scale but he could think through it again, enough so to be amazed when she burst into flames right in front of him.
He retreated from between them, dragging the left wing and watching the male shambler take off at a full run, burning faster as he went. The female screamed and kept screaming, burning from head to toe, batting at her own head and face.
Dean didn’t see anything else coming at him, so he went for Sam.
He could see Sam in the flickering light of the burning shambler, and he didn’t see blood or anything twisted at an odd angle. He checked Sam over, finding a good strong pulse and one hell of a goose egg and not much else in the way of injury beyond the scrapes and bruises he’d expected. Still, Sam did not respond to Dean slapping him or cradling his head or pulling him up to sit against the wide trunk of the nearest tree. He held Sam there with one hand against his chest and watched the female shambler collapse to her knees. She quit screaming right about then and Dean turned his face away when a whiff of the stench of burning meat and hair made it to him. No amount of barbecue sauce was going to make that easy to handle.
The shambler collapsed to one side and went on burning. Dean did a quick check of what he could see by the light of the flames, finding his gun about ten feet away and not seeing any sign of anything else that might attack them. Shit, if he’d thought the shamblers just expired by spontaneously combusting, they could have been saved a whole trip. And a lot of wear and tear.
The flames climbed a little and sparked, then settled, and when the ripple the heat was causing in the air began to coalesce into a coherent shape, Dean shook Sam a little. “Be a good time to go, Sammy,” he said.
A gathering breeze pulled the flames and heat-ripple slightly to one side, bending them to Dean’s right, so the figure that pulled itself together out of the heat was leaning as it faced him, not quite humanoid, only a suggestion. The voice was nothing more than hiss and flame-crackle.
“For what?” Dean said. “Thanks for the assist, but, elementals don’t seem to do anything for charity.”
Mortals that survive our touch are very useful.
He didn’t want to ask, so he assumed that when it said ‘our’, it meant elementals in general. Being blown through a plate glass window and sprouting wings wasn’t really his idea of being ‘touched’, but he’d let it slide. “Useful for what?” he said. “Seems you guys wouldn’t be any happier that I knocked off a couple of your air-cousins than they are.” It felt like Sam’s breathing had changed under his hand, but he didn’t take his eyes off the fire. It didn’t seem like a good idea.
The breeze picked up considerably.
Walk where we can’t. Fight for us instead.
Okay, if the elementals were battling with each other and that was why the one Dean had originally killed had been lost and running around destroying things, he was going to be pissed. If he guessed right, it looked to the air elementals like they were fighting for another side and had been marked as such. To the fire elemental he was talking to, he probably looked like the accidental bystander and opportunity he was, because they seemed a little smarter.
“Are the elements at war?” Sam said.
Dean still didn’t look at him, but he thumped him on the chest in greeting before dropping his hand.
Things are changing and one must rule.
“If we decide to bow out and play Switzerland on this one, are you gonna roast us?” Dean said.
Accede or abjure.
Dean hesitated. He had to wonder what would happen if he just agreed to help them long enough to get himself and Sam out of there. But he knew better than to screw with stuff like this, because something this base and primal could bind him with spoken agreement alone. He thumped Sam on the chest again and left his hand there when Sam covered it and held it in place. “Abjure,” he said.
Then I leave you for the others.
The flames spiraled for a moment in the breeze; then the fire guttered and went out. The resulting dark was ominously silent.
“Others,” Sam said. “Can’t wait to find out what that means.”
“I can,” Dean said. “Let’s get the hell out of here. Can you walk?”
“Yeah,” Sam said, but as he started to move, the smoking corpse of the shambler sat up.
Sam and Dean both froze.
It scooped up handfuls of dirt and held them in midair. “Ashes to ashes,” it said, throat too burned to make the tone clear. “Dust to dust.”
Sam rose and pulled Dean with him, watching Dean trail his left wing. Dean eyed his gun again, knowing it wasn’t the body’s original owner or the shambler speaking. No telling what else had come along. “So which one are you?” he said.
“Pyrkagia is so impatient,” it said. “So hungry. You are useful as weapons but we’ll do fine without you. We can keep aenai from destroying you if you align with us.”
“Who’s ‘us’?” Dean said, keeping his tone even.
“Gi,” it said. “Aenai has ruled long enough. You may use your stolen power against it. It works well.”
“We’re kind of busy with a few other things,” Dean said. “We’re gonna have to say no. Nice to be asked, though.”
“Accede or abjure,” it said.
“Abjure,” Dean said.
“Then there is no further use for you,” it said.
The body slumped back to the ground, still smoking.
“Jesus,” Dean said. “That was different.”
“What happened to your wing?” Sam said as Dean went to retrieve his gun.
“That,” Dean said, pointing at what was left of the now-silent shambler, “...broke it.”
“I didn’t think they were...breakable,” Sam said. He sounded worried. “It’s gonna have to be tied back so you can hold it up.”
“Let’s get the hell out of here first, before anything else decides to - “
The ground slid beneath his feet, a sudden but minor avalanche of loam. It stopped before he could lose his balance. He picked up his gun and tucked it away, watching the ground in mistrust. The trees around him hadn’t moved, and he wasn’t on a slope. He looked at Sam, unable to see him all that well but knowing Sam would be looking at him in return. “I can’t run with my wing the way it is,” he said.
“Last one was an earth elemental, right?” Sam said.
“That’d be my guess,” Dean said. “If it’s gonna be like that, you run for it.”
“Abjure,” Sam said.
“Hilarious,” Dean said, then stepped away from the uneven ground. He walked away from Sam, back toward the break in the trees and the open space. “C’mon, let’s see how much - “
The earth liquefied under and around him in a whirlpool, taking his feet out from under him. Dean stumbled back, wings and arms lashing out reflexively, and the moment his back hit the ground, dirt flowed over him and submerged him like water, pulling him down.
By the time Sam reached the spot, Dean was long gone. The earth was sealed and solid again.
Sam dropped to his knees and ran his hands frantically over the ground, looking for a soft spot, finding only the same rough, stony surface that already surrounded him. He pounded on it with the side of one fist, and there was nothing hollow about the sound it produced. Dean was buried alive.
“Let him go! You can’t do this!”
He grabbed for the nearest branch, scoring the ground with it, trying to break it up. He began digging, nails scrabbling at the dirt, never feeling them split. His hands were already bleeding and he was only inches down, breath coming in panicked gasps that were no longer audible over the wind.
The air elementals had found them and would pulverize him long before he could get Dean free. The pressure changed around him and he kept digging anyway right up until a tree barely missed him, the crack of the trunk too loud and close, the ground jumping as it hit just yards away.
The trees around him were bending under the force of the wind, branches whipping, and Sam slammed a fist against the ground again anyway, voice no longer heard over the noise as he shouted for Dean. Nothing smashed him from above even as more trees began falling, no yellowish lights appeared. He couldn’t keep his eyes open with all the dirt and debris flying around, finally, couldn’t do anything but crouch with his head down and his hands splayed flat on the ground. Dirt began to whip around him so hard that he finally had to cover his face to keep from breathing any of it in.
It felt like minutes passing, even if he knew it wasn’t, because Dean was suffocating. Dirt and rock scoured at the exposed skin of his hands.
When it died down to something he could lift his face into, he shielded his eyes and tried to ignore the pounding in his head.
The fact that it was dark didn’t keep him from seeing that he was perched on a pedestal of dirt over a very wide hole that dropped maybe six or seven feet down. The earth around him was scored away by wind for a fifty yard radius and trees lay like toothpicks in a fallen spiral except for one that had tipped behind him. Its branches just touched his shoes as he sat on his knees high above.
He wiped sweat and dirt off his face and tried to look below. Against the dark ground was a single flare of white, out of place. When he jumped down, the world swam for a moment, but he didn’t try and steady himself. He dug with his hands, uncovering Dean’s right wing and then pulling up on his shoulder, dragging Dean’s upper body out of the dirt.
Six feet down, under tons of dirt. The weight would have crushed his brother.
The wind was still whipping around him but it wasn’t nearly what it had been. Still, he could tell Dean wasn’t breathing. Sam pressed his fingers into the cool skin of Dean’s throat and found a pulse, thready and fading. He laid Dean flat on the ground again and tilted his head back, pinched his nose shut and breathed for him, not the first time and likely not the last. “C’mon, Dean,” he said between breaths. “It was just a little dirt. C’mon.” It seemed like so long but it was only five breaths and twenty-five seconds before Dean dragged in a breath of his own. Sam grinned against his mouth with relief and let it become a laugh when Dean tangled a hand into his hair. He pressed his mouth to Dean’s a final time for an entirely different reason and then rested his forehead against Dean’s.
“Sammy,” Dean said. “I’m not buried.”
“Right,” Sam said. “Good morning, Captain Obvious.”
“Did you just kiss me?” Dean said.
“No,” Sam said. “You wish.”
“I like oxygen,” Dean said. Sam helped him sit up and drag himself out of the rest of the dirt that covered him from the waist down. Sam helped him up, slowly, since he wasn’t that steady himself and he knew the left wing was broken but not how badly.
Dean looked around. It was a bit lighter with so much more sky visible. He stared at the pedestal of dirt that stood at what had been ground level the last time he’d been above ground. “We get bombed?” he said.
“I think...I did it,” Sam said.
Dean was silent. Whether it was out of shock or pain or just typical stoicism, Sam couldn’t tell in the dark.
It took some time and care to navigate the fallen trees. They paused a few times to rest, Sam with his pounding head and Dean too tired to keep his wings from getting snagged. By the time they’d cleared the trees, all they could do was sit in the open space in the breeze and rest. Dean was covered from head to toe in dirt, but the wings were spotless. When Sam stood, Dean let him give him a hand up.
“You were out for....what, twenty minutes? That’s not good,” Dean said.
“They hit me like three different times,” Sam said.
“Oh, that’s better,” Dean said. “Now I gotta be waking you every hour, if we ever sleep again.”
“I just need some ice,” Sam said. “And a handful of Excedrin. It’s not like anything’s broken. What the hell are we gonna do about your - “
Dean turned fast on the ball of one foot and nailed Sam right in the shoulder with a fist, sending Sam a step back from the force of it. His first choice had been the face but Sam had already taken enough blows to the head for one night.
Putting one hand to his shoulder and shaking his head a little to clear it, Sam said, “What the fuck was that for?”
“You get upset enough to find out what your little parting gift from the elementals is, and save my dumb ass, but you couldn’t do that neat little trick when you first got grabbed?” Dean said, bracing his hands on his knees, mildly proud of himself for not passing out from the pain the sudden movement had caused him. “You couldn’t goddamn save yourself before you got dragged off?”
“Hey,” Sam said, “It’s not like I had any idea. And I guess consciousness helps. So screw you, Dean.”
“We’d’ve heard ‘em coming if you’d kept your hands to yourself,” Dean said, softer but angrier, straightening and dropping his head forward to glare at Sam from below.
“Like that hasn’t come out of the mouth of every girl you dated in high school,” Sam said. “You can’t help it any more than I can. Quit acting like you aren’t hoping I’ll touch you.”
Dean shook his right wing as if shaking water off it, a gesture of disgust. Then he turned his back on Sam and walked away. “We gotta get back on the trail of that coven.”
“You can’t walk around with your wing like that,” Sam said.
“You can’t walk around with your hair like that,” Dean shot back, “But you manage somehow.”
Sam stripped off his button-down and chased after Dean. “C’mon,” he said. “It’s gonna be a lot easier if I sort of splint it. I’ll try not to touch it.”
Dean paused. “Why aren’t the air elementals out here?” he said without turning. Turning would move the wing and moving the wing was out of the question anymore.
Sam hesitated several feet away, winding the shirt into a rope between his hands.
“You see any of ‘em earlier?” Dean said.
Dean sighed. “I’m giving you a chance to sneak up on me, Sam. Can’t you just - “
Sam gathered the trailing wing and folded it gently, lifting it high enough that Dean could balance the weight of it again and hold it up without moving the broken outer joint. Normally Sam grabbing him like that would have felt good as hell; right then it should have hurt like a bastard, and it did neither. It felt like nothing. Sam cancelled out the pain for the moment and the relief was almost enough to buckle Dean’s knees, but he stood still while Sam used his shirt to tie the wing in place, mantled and balanced.
“Maybe the others scared them away,” Dean said, but he didn’t really care. He was glad to be standing there with Sam, breathing and not trailing that wing anymore.
Sadly, sooner or later he had to let go.
They found a motel to settle in for the remainder of the night. Sam wrapped ice in a towel for his head and endured Dean poking at him to see if he needed stitches. He looked Sam’s hands over in silence for a long moment, then suggested he soak them to get all the dirt out of the scrapes and from under the quicks of what was left of his nails. Sam cobbled a makeshift splint together for the wing, using gauze from their first aid kit to immobilize it against Dean’s neck and shoulder.
“Does it hurt?” he said.
“No,” Dean said, and right then he was telling the truth because Sam had his hands all over it. “I heard you, you know.”
Sam paused in tying the gauze in place. “What do you mean?”
“When I was underground. I could hear you pounding on it,” Dean said. He wasn’t sure if he just wanted Sam to know that, for whatever reason, or if he just didn’t want Sam to move away yet because the wing hurt so damn bad when he wasn’t touching it. He sure as hell didn’t want to think about being trapped or suffocating, or how he’d felt every ounce of dirt weighing down on him, but somehow none of it had been as bad as listening to Sam hit the ground with everything he had.
Before Sam could respond, he added, “And I knew you’d never dig me out in time and I wanted you to know it was okay, it wasn’t your fault. So. When I die, I really don’t want to be buried, okay?”
Sam smoothed the feathers down on both wings. “Okay,” he said, voice rough.
“How come I got wings, and you ended up with some huge wind-tunnel power?” Dean said. “I get to look like a freak, and you get...wait. You already look like a freak.”
Sam snorted. “They’ll be after me, now, too,” he said. “Suppose there’s really a war of the elements?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Dean said. “So long as they keep it to themselves and quit bugging us about it.”
Sam moved away and sat down on the edge of one of the beds, holding the ice to his head again. When he looked up, Dean was pale, too pale for him to ignore. “You okay?’ he said.
“Yeah,” Dean said, turning away toward the bathroom. But he winced at the motion.
“You said it doesn’t hurt,” Sam said. “The wing. So did you maybe break something else getting buried? That was a hell of a lot of dirt.”
“No,” Dean said. “I’m fine, Sam. Get some sleep so we can get the hell out of here in the morning. I’ll wake you every - “
“My head is fine,” Sam said. “And you’re not gonna hide in the back of the car all day with a broken wing while we try and find that coven. No way.”
“Gotta catch up with them somehow,” Dean said. “And they’re probably gonna leave more shamblers behind again while they try and get more members. So don’t tell me what I’m gonna do.”
“I’d love to see you try and drive with wings,” Sam said.
Dean tried not to think about what that would entail. Left one would have to go out the window, and - “Leave it alone, Sam.”
“You didn’t even flinch while I was splinting it,” Sam said.
“Goddamnit but you’re annoying,” Dean said. “Get some sleep before I knock you out for the fourth time tonight.”
Sam stood and approached again, and when Dean didn’t jerk the injured wing away, he pressed each hand on either side of the wing. Dean folded his arms and closed his eyes. Sam didn’t miss the relief on his face or the sweat on his forehead.
“Why didn’t you tell me it hurt that much?” Sam said.
“None of your business,” Dean said.
Sam wanted to roll his eyes but his head hurt enough as it was. “You’re bent on waking me every hour anyway. Be a lot easier if you stay close enough to let me hold the wing until pain meds kick in.”
Dean opened his eyes and smirked. “You just - ”
“Don’t make some big smartass thing out of it,” Sam said. “C’mon, it’s temporary, right?”
Dean woke Sam twice on the hour before leaving him alone, fairly certain all the knocking around Sam had taken wasn’t too serious. He had a lot of time to lay there and listen for anything that might smash the roof in and think about the nature of elementals and the force it had taken to do what Sam had done to the ground and trees. More than enough time to think about what had been said and not said by creatures that likely predated life on the planet, that were the planet, and what it meant to have turned them down when asked to join up. They likely no longer existed to the earth and fire elementals, and if the other factions were showing up, then the air elementals would soon be too busy to waste time chasing a pair of boring humans.
It’d been easier thinking they were only chasing him, not Sam.
Sam murmured and shifted in his sleep, passing a hand over the injured wing he’d cradled against his chest. Dean thought about hassling Sam in the morning about taking him under his wing or whatever, but it probably wasn’t going to seem as funny once he was fully awake.
He patted Sam’s shoulder and drifted off to sleep.
“They used bastardized parts of ancient Greek to describe the types of elementals,” Sam said. Fully awake with one hand pressed against Dean’s broken wing and tap-tapping at the laptop with the other, he was too focused for a guy who’d been popped in the head three too many times the night before. Dean sat with his back to him, holding his coffee in both hands like it was his last hope. He ached all over and bed and coffee were the only things he needed.
Okay, and Sam, keeping him from screaming by holding his busted wing.
“In singular, like one elemental was all the elementals,” Sam said. “Gi, pyrkagia. But then they both used Middle English to ask us if we wanted to join up. Accede. Abjure. Both coined around 1400-1450.”
“So they throw a dictionary around,” Dean said, keeping his face close to his coffee.
“There are a lot of accounts of total weather-related devastation during that period,” Sam said. “Wiping out whole armies, destroying areas of the world. Earthquakes, wind - “
“There are a lot of accounts of bad weather for the entire history of history,” Dean said. “Point?”
“I think the elementals have been at war before where humans could see it,” Sam said. “Maybe the choice of words last night had a lot to do with the last time they talked to humans.” Sam clicked the laptop shut. “‘Walk where we can’t’,” he said.
“We don’t want anything to do with whatever they’re fighting about,” Dean said.
“We’re already in,” Sam said.
Dean glared over his shoulder. “How hard did the shamblers hit you?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Who’s the walking 80's song?”
“Shut up,” Dean mumbled. “Fuckin’ thing better heal itself by the next time it appears.”
“It did, from the last time,” Sam said. “One of ‘em bit you, last time, and you don’t still feel that, do you?”
“No,” Dean said. “They reset, then. Good. Be nice if the rest of me reset every morning.” He paused and listened to Sam be far too quiet and felt him staring. The hand on his wing was trembling. “Anything in there about how to ward the bastards off if they start humping our legs again?”
“No,” Sam said. “Everything I’ve seen is mostly how to summon them for protection. Unless you wanna pull a few in for a talk, which I don’t think would - “
“They’re not all that big on talking,” Dean said. “You heard ‘em. We’re not good for much unless we - “ He paused and looked over his shoulder st Sam. “They gave us a choice.”
Sam raised his eyebrows. “They didn’t threaten us or anything, they actually asked.”
“Not to be polite, either,” Dean said.
“‘Mortals that survive our touch are very useful’,” Sam said. “Remind you of anything?”
“Vampires,” Dean said. “And the vamps have been having a real bad time getting any mortals to survive their touch so they can keep from dwindling.”
“If it’s unnatural, then it’s backfiring,” Sam said. “Makes sense if the elements are awake and reordering a few things.”
Dean sighed. “Going to war,” he said.
They stayed put for the day and watched crummy TV and ate junk food, propped together on one bed so Sam could tangle his fingers in feathers and Dean could still pretend it wasn’t happening. And, you know, avoid thinking about war between the four main forces of the world. Stuff like that.
“Dude,” Dean said. “Don’t get Cheetos dust on the goods.”
“Nothing sticks to ‘em,” Sam said.
Dean eyed him.
“Not mud, or dirt, or Cheetos,” Sam said without looking back.
“You know a lot about these things,” Dean said.
“They tend to stay pretty damn pristine,” Sam said.
Dean quirked a brow at him. “We’re just gonna back slowly away from that whole topic,” he said, looking back at the TV. “It’s not bad enough you’re sitting this close, you gotta use words like pristine.”
“Can’t believe they came out of you,” Sam said.
“They are me,” Dean said, then frowned because he wasn’t sure where that had come from. It wasn’t even a good comeback. What the hell. He had to be very careful not to look at Sam because there would either be jeering at the lameness of what he’d said, or something weirder like big sincere eyes and agreement. And that led to thinking about exactly what part of him they stemmed from, and what that meant, and whether that was why Sam couldn’t keep his hands - “You know. Like my toenails.”
Sam was suspiciously quiet and it strained Dean’s neck to not turn his head.
“Except for the part about feeling them,” Dean said.
Sam’s fingers were still.
“And the occasionally getting ingrown part,” Dean said. “Yeah, so...shut up and watch TV and don’t get your goddamn Cheetos on my feathers.”
If it was possible to feel a smirk he couldn’t even see, then, Dean felt it.
He fell asleep at some point and woke up in the dark without wings. His back was to Sam, who had a hand pressed against his left shoulderblade, still trying to protect him in his sleep.
Sam awoke to find himself being wrapped in newspaper. Like that wasn’t bad enough, Dean was nearly sitting on his chest to do it.
“Jesus Christ, Dean! What’s - “
“Read the goddamn paper,” Dean yelled at him over the crash of abused newsprint. “Look at the goddamn paper, X-Man! You’re front page.”
Dean propelled himself off Sam and started packing. Sam sat up and finger-combed his hair back and laid the pages out so he could see what had his brother bouncing around the room. It took him a moment to re-sort the paper until he could find -
“Aw, please,” he said. “This is...oh, come on.”
TUNGUSKA, PART II? the headline screamed. Possible Comet Fragment, Or Random Downdraft?
“We actually made our own urban legend,” Dean said, throwing stuff into his bag without the care he usually took. “C’mon, we gotta go look at it in the daylight. No way the picture does it justice and it was too dark when -“
“Dean,” Sam said. “This isn’t funny.”
“Am I laughing?” Dean said, throwing Sam’s bag at him. “You’re the one who tried to dig to China. We gotta catch up with those goddamn vampires now that they can’t make more. What else do you suppose can’t be made, if nothing unnatural - “
“Velveeta,” Sam said. “Listen, I don’t even know how I did it, or if - “
“You’ll just have to practice,” Dean said. “Come on already, let’s go.”
“With that kind of power - “ Sam said.
“Don’t you say it,” Dean said., pointing at him. “Don’t you start the Peter Parker bullshit, I don’t wanna hear it.”
“I was going to say ‘comes bigger, more pissed off elementals’,” Sam said.
“Just wait until we find those vamps,” Dean said. “Suck, blow, it’s all semantics.”
Sam crumpled the newspaper around his own head in both hands in an effort to block out his brother.
Dean picked up another copy of the paper and clipped out the article for the journal. He tried to make Sam autograph it, but was unsuccessful.