There's nothing to say about Montana.
Sam fights off sleep like it's going to drop him into a nightmare again. And maybe it is (it probably is), but it's not the nightmares he's afraid of. Sleep itself is too comfortable; just before Sam passes out of consciousness he feels the remnants of Gadreel's relief, the cool mist of his presence that encroaches and creeps into the foreground when Sam sleeps. It's with a shock and a jolt that he scrambles out of it, out of that sense of safety, because if there's anything he cannot trust--
He tells himself it's just a memory. There is nothing wrong with rest or calm.
In the end, though, all he can't think is that actually, there is. Because if Sam doesn't double down and fill himself with as much information as he can, no one will. If he doesn't hit the books on orcas and orca myths, and the Mark of Cain, and what Dean's supposed to be finding at the bottom of the ocean, only Crowley will--and Crowley's worse than no one. If Sam doesn't gather every single thing he can and throw it into some kind of pattern he can understand, then he's not doing anything, and he can't stand that feeling. He's spent too much time regretting things he should have known already.
Because he should have fought. If Gadreel left trails inside him, he's been leaving them for months. For someone who's spent his life learning to look for paintings that change their form, monsters in hiding, and people who aren't quite right, an angel should have been obvious, and he should have known. But he trusted calm, and he trusted Dean, and he can't let go of how much that trust, that safety, that stupid reticence, has cost everyone around him--how much it's cost him.
When he thinks about Gadreel inside him, he can't help but wonder how the hell he let that happen. How much emptiness did you need to hide an angel inside you? And why hadn't there been enough of him to fill him to the brim, alone.
It's a loose complaint, he knows; physics and metaphysics aren't one and the same, 'volume' in any sense probably doesn't factor in. But Sam feels empty, and he feels useless, and Sam wonders.
They crash westward, the diffused light from the Impala's headlights turning frost and nighttime into an even stream of colorless nothing. The ice mounds lining the highway are gray and long-distorted by the constant splatter of murky backspray, tire-heated.
It doesn't matter how much research Sam does. Like Crowley said, there isn't a myth to follow anymore, or lore to respect. Maybe that's where they started, but they've outstripped what's been written. What they're riding on now is only what they've been able to hobble together out of the refuse. If there was a time when Sam was prepared to stand on that and leap on faith, he's not sure it hasn't passed. He can't seem to keep his focus on Abaddon, and even Gadreel he only hates in phases. They're crashing toward Victoria, and he has this sense that this is the kind of journey they only take one way, but even that can't hold him. He's found he can feel that viscerally, like stones in his chest, and still find himself unable to move on it.
Where Dean falls in all of this, Sam's not sure there's a designated space. Dean injects himself wherever he wants to be, and in places he doesn't even know exist. It's all a little arbitrary anyway, since they're hunting Abaddon but blaming Gadreel, but working with Crowley, and fighting each other. If there's a world where that makes sense--and there is; Sam watches Montana blur into Idaho and there it is--it's the same one where Dean can volunteer to shoulder Sam's guilt, and accept blame, without taking any actual responsibility at all. The one where Sam can be furious and feel utterly betrayed, but never, damningly never, stop trusting.
It's all stupid.
They roll into the bright fluorescence of yet another gas station, even though they still have a quarter of a tank left.
Crowley makes noises about availing himself of the local attractions. "WiFi, weather rock, less suffocating company... no offense."
Everything is still and silent for a moment, his departure a hot breeze at Sam's neck.
"You can't keep lying to me," Sam says suddenly. Every conversation they have is like a shot in the dark--no follow through. The words just keep getting left on the side of the road. "You can't keep doing this to me."
Dean lets out a soft groan as he heaves himself up and out of the car. He shakes his head as if to clear it.
"I know I can't," he answers.
Of course, there isn't a doubt in Sam's mind that Dean will. So call him on it, Sam. Hold your ground. Don't let this out of your grasp.
Sam reaches into the back seat and drags the cooler onto his lap. He pokes at the whale steak's limp remainder and thinks of fail-safes until he isn't thinking about anything at all.
Dean's gassing the car until he isn't. His weight comes down on the trunk of the Impala as he catches himself, and Sam dumps himself out of the car. He doesn't call Dean out on anything.
Dean mumbles something half-witty about Free Willy, which is apparently the only whale movie he's even heard of, and claims he's only dizzy.
"And turning into a whale."
Dean casts a longing glance at the cooler, which is still under Sam's arm. Sam coaxes the car keys out of Dean's fist. "We're still in Montana, man," he says. "We gotta time this--"
"Idaho," Dean corrects. And he says, "D'you think Crowley was talking straight about the whole echolocation thing?"
"Just-- get in the car and think dry thoughts."
But when Sam tracks him down in front of the spirits--cheap scotch--Crowley doesn't have anything better to offer. He has no baseline to work from, either; it's not as though he's had access to Dean's personal and medical histories, and it's not his fault they're almost to hour twenty-four and still landlocked and stateside. Perhaps Rocky and Bullwinkle should have thought ahead more carefully.
"So he's feeling the effects of the spell. At this mile-marker, I wager that's a good thing--he'll have plenty of time to adjust."
"Is that what it is? The spell?"
"What, is there a reason it'd be something else? Or are you keen on D, All of the Above?"
Sam's brow furrows.
"Don't look at me. He's your brother."
"So when you said 'attending,' you meant freeloading. When were you planning to start being useful?"
"Don't undervalue the pleasure of my company; it must get tiresome, always being so alone with your thoughts, Sam. But either your brother skips a dose, or Dean Winchester's role in all this stands to climax altogether too early, doesn't it," he says. "Do you need more from me? Are you that famished for attention?"
Sam doesn't understand why Crowley insists on medicalizing everything. This isn't something Dean needs; it's just a tool he's using. "I've been searching all night. But none of the mythology talks about a blade--they just say 'power,' and whalesong. So what is the First Blade, exactly?"
"It's how you kill Abaddon. And if you're exceedingly lucky, me. What does it matter what the mythology is? You two have already tromped this far. The mythology can't get more bastardized. I don't participate, I appropriate. Did you learn nothing in history class, Sam?"
"Then change me." It's just three words, but they leave Sam breathless and nauseous. He can't let Dean do this alone. There's too much Sam can't count on, too many variables he can't control. There's too much of Dean that Sam can't account for or predict. There's too much of Dean Sam might lose. "Change me, too. Dean's not going alone."
A smile tints Crowley's face. "I suppose that depends on how much you're willing to sacrifice. But I seem to recall a little church in South Dakota that told me you're willing to do quite a bit."
"Yeah, and back then, you weren't so thrilled about it. Don't mess with me."
But Crowley says, "That's not the part I was talking about."
He says, "You are so much like your brother."
Sam's not. He wishes he were and then he's hopelessly glad he's not; but that's always been their problem. "Just change me, too."
"Dean accepted the Mark. Cain is his alone."
"I don't care."
Crowley selects a scotch and samples it, then offers the flask to Sam. "It's possible. Practice does make perfect."
"What do you mean?"
"Merely that you've had plenty of practice being other-than--demons, angels, the fallen Himself. You'd be destined for greatness in the sea."
As ever, destined for greatness. Sam was always meant to be king. Meg, Azazel, Lucifer: They'd all wanted to put their crown on his head, or maybe his on theirs. Even Gadreel wanted to rule the garden again. Sam knows what it means to become something beyond himself, to possess and be possessed.
It could be faster, and easier than Dean's transformation, Crowley assures him. Because the scaffolding's all still there, isn't it. If he let himself become that one more time, he could join Dean; and together, they'd win this war.
Just one more time.
"Of course," Crowley pauses. And in that moment he seems more a crossroads demon than he's ever been before. It's a stage act and a fire sale. "You'd have to turn in your four-years chip. It's four years since the Apocalypse That Wasn't, isn't it?"
(Gadreel loves the sea.)
But Sam shakes his calm. If it means biting down hard on iron, splintered fear, so be it. "I don't--"
"Sam, if mixing whale meat with some herbs constituted a spell, whales would still rule the ocean. What do you think the active ingredient is?"
Sam swallows. There's a flash of sensation at his throat, hot and metallic all at once. It's not a memory so much as an electric trigger, as the smell and the taste and the temperature flood in and out, like a sleeper wave. It crashes over his entire body and ebbs out of his fingertips, puddles under his tongue.
"Does Dean know?"
Crowley's eyebrows slide upward, an expression of mock-consideration Sam's almost certain he borrowed from Dean.
"He never asked."
Sam's answer is no. He doesn't have a choice; it has to be no.
He never says it, but it has to be no. "Meet us in Victoria, Crowley," Sam orders, as he pays for Crowley's goddamn scotch. "I'm not going to be your valet service anymore."
Crowley says something about Abaddon, the presence of her entourage nearby, and paparazzi, but Sam doesn't care. They started all of this to end Abaddon, but he doesn't care.
He must wear his defeat flamboyantly, because as he approaches the car, even Dean notices.
"Sammy--" he starts, then doubles back, as though he's said something he was not supposed to. "You look like shit."
Dean looks like shit. He's sitting stiffly on the trunk of the Impala, and he looks like even more shit than he did this morning--or is that yesterday, already?--and Sam cannot do anything about it except tell him that it serves him fucking right, that he should feel like shit for all of it, and it's not Sam's fault. But the moment passes him by, and he doesn't say anything. He shoulders past Dean when Dean puts out a halfhearted hand to stop him and slams the door on the driver's side. Guns the engine. They're overdue for ocean.
"Sam." Dean's voice sounds stale, and he croaks when he repeats himself, louder. He sounds fucking exhausted. He flaps another hundred dollar bill at Sam. "Sam, gas station. We didn't pay."
They've paid enough.
Sam stalks back to the mini mart. $67.70.
Crowley's already gone.
Sam has a plan. At least, that's what he tries to tell himself. But it feels like a lazy consolation, and trying to weave it organically into the conversation he and Dean aren't having is miserable.
"So, uh, I'm coming with you," he says, trying to sound nonchalant. It sounds ridiculous.
Dean looks for a moment like he's going to leave Sam out at sea with this. He's going to pretend Sam hadn't said anything, as though he's hoping Sam too will forget. But he must make a different choice, because he sighs and falls into place, reflexively affecting a similar charade. "If you're worried I'll forget to buy milk, honey, you can write in on a Post-It note. Though maybe you should have thought of this a thousand miles ago, don't you think?"
"I'm serious, Dean."
"As opposed to earlier, when you said you wanted to do damage control. That was just a joke."
"You don't have to be an asshole."
Dean doesn't respond.
"My bag is in the back seat," Sam suggests. But Dean doesn't rise to it. He looks wilted.
"I'll take your word for it," he says.
"Okay, well. There's some scuba gear inside. We just need to rent some other stuff, and I'll come with you."
Nonchalant. Sam is so motherfucking nonchalant right now.
Dean's reaction is wary. "You know how to scuba dive?"
"I learned last year."
His wariness quickly adds incredulity and ridicule to its repertoire. "What, off YouTube? When?"
"When I was living in Texas," he explains vaguely. "We needed a distraction. It's not like we were going to golf."
"Seriously? With her?" And Dean berates him. It's too complicated. It's stupid. It doesn't make any sense. And why the fuck hadn't he brought this up sooner?
Which, fine, if Dean feels blindsided, that's his right--but welcome to the club.
The other thing is, Sam knows it's complicated, and he knows it's stupid. Most of his dive experience happened in the deep end of some nearby private college, all of it was in Texas, and all of it took place during one of the longest summers of Sam's life. He's never been deeper than sixty feet, and even if the First Blade isn't in the Mariana Trench, and depth really is as metaphysical as Crowley claims, it's probably deeper than sixty. He doesn't need to be told again how shitty and inadequate this plan is.
But this is all he has.
He can feel the alternative, hot and wistfully metallic at the back of his throat, and he can't do that.
He's not even sure why it makes him feel so let down, because up until five minutes ago, animal transformation had been the stupidest plan in the room. It's not like it's a prize. But Dean finds his tirade, and it's like he's not even thinking about it enough for it to occur to him to stop; he won't shut up. If he didn't need to breathe, he'd probably just keep going until his voice went out. And there's only so much unfiltered criticism Sam's willing to take.
"You don't even know what you're supposed to be looking for down there, Dean. You're asking me to count on a whale to give a crap about the big picture; like, how the hell am I supposed to trust that you're going to remember anything about the case? Newsflash, whales don't care."
It's not even a case; it's an endgame.
"So this is about you and me, then. You don't trust me."
Sam's fucking scared, that's what this is about. He doesn't now what they're going to find in the water. He doesn't even know what's in Dean. But on the other end of this, he wants his brother, and he's fucking scared.
"Give me one damn reason I should, Dean," he says instead. "This is about finishing the job."
Dean deflates visibly. "You're still being stupid. It's never going to work."
"We've hired cement trunks, thrown ourselves in prison, bought out wholesale stores of borax, talked to sentient teddybears, and oh, also we hunted ghosts for a living. And this is the part that's stupid?"
"We were younger, I don't know--"
"So meeting Dorothy of Oz--that was grown up to you? Talking to dogs? Becoming born-again virgins? Should I keep going?"
Dean takes as kindly to his incredulity as Sam did his. It's like something snaps, and Dean fixes him with a hard, black stare, flinty and impregnable. The derision, inarticulate concern, the hesitation vanish completely. Sam's seen a lot of fury on his brother--and hatred, terror, and despair--but he's never seen this.
"You're going to get yourself killed," says Dean. It sounds more like a threat than an expression of concern.
Sam wants to scream at him, Then what the fuck are you doing? but of course, and yet again, he doesn't. He's been running from that answer for years.
Instead he screams down I-90 and tries to imagine everything they're passing by--what kind of road plants are lying under the snow, what sorts of families lived here, what kind of miracle it would have been if they died peacefully in a world where there were no more demons, and no Hell.
He yelps when Dean droops toward him and digs his phone out from under Sam's ass, but they jump away from each other like polarized magnets. They're just bodies to each other. Dean's hands shake as he checks his messages, so visibly even in the dark Sam catches them.
(Dean checks again. Disappointment is addictive.)
"So... how much experience do you have?" Dean asks eventually, sound rising up like the sun behind them. They're still in Idaho.
He slumps against the window, right arm nestled in his lap, and stares out at the mountains at their flank. "You know, with the whole diving thing."
"Somewhere below exorcisms and above bow-hunting. We're not exactly in a cert and safety line of work, Dean. In the real world, you gotta be up to code. I promise I am."
Sam had always thought it was hunting where you couldn't be careless, or reckless, or go in half-cocked, half-assed, half-hearted. He and Dean keep proving that more wrong. He should have downed more coffee.
But you were offered so much stronger.
Sam winces away from the chill that goes up his spine.
"This is the best I can do," he says.
"Then don't do anything."
Maybe if Dean would take a moment and recognize that almost nothing they've done in the last few years is something the world even recognizes as possible, much less permissible, this wouldn't be such a hard sell. And Dean's the one turning himself into a whale in the middle of fucking Montana. He's not even trying to be okay anymore.
He's not even trying to pretend.
"I'm the one who taught you bow-hunting," Dean objects belatedly.
"Yeah, and Dad taught us how to swim by throwing us in a lake until we figured it out. I'm coming with you, Dean."
"Mmhmm," replies Dean. Then he takes something out of his pocket and pops it in his mouth.
"What was that?"
"A refreshing mint."
"What, a pill? Are you in pain?"
Dean's expression is a parody of deep thought, affected especially for Sam. Crowley's expression, he thinks--no, Dean's. Dean's originally.
Dean doesn't say anything, just smacks his lips like he's trying to get a bad taste out of his mouth.
If demon blood did for everyone what it did for Sam, he reasons, demons would have taken over vampire turf years ago. Dean's probably fine. If Sam forgets about the Mark of Cain and everything he knows about his brother, Dean's probably fine.
Bitterly, Sam hopes Dean knows how it feels to be left to the vortex of wild, meaningless speculation he leaves behind in his wake. And he wonders if Dean's fine with throwing Sam down into that.
Before they hit the Washington border, whatever's kept Dean going this last week extinguishes completely. The kinder, resilient part of Sam finds this a relief. And he takes them down the straight, flat, white fields along the highway, and doesn't have any thoughts but his own. It's quiet.
Fifteen minutes later Dean rouses himself, still pale and shaky and bag-eyed. God, he needed that, he admits, at least. But then he asks, are they almost there?
He never goes back to sleep.
In his pack, Sam has his fins, mask, and a dive light. This side of childhood, they're the only impulsive thing he's ever bought; at the time, that had kind of been the point. He pays for the rest of his rental gear in cash just before they ferry over the border.
Dean won't look at him, and they don't talk about the plan. Sam's not sure if the avoidance means Dean's angry or chastised. But the crossing is smooth--they catch the evening ferry and stay with the car. Crowley's there to meet them, in lieu of passports. If it weren't for the executive treatment and the cowed woodenness of Crowley's border officers, Canada under Crowley didn't seem at all like Hell adjacent. It's gray, quiet, and obedient.
Still, Sam can't shake the claustrophobic tension gathering in his head. Doing anything on Crowley's turf is a major risk, and Sam finds himself mistrustful of everyone on the street, and every congregation huddled under the eaves outside of each chic restaurant. He has to assume everything is two-faced. After all, it had somehow escaped their notice that an entire country was being run by a demon; it hadn't ever occurred to him to check the Canadian papers. Like sending that pishtaco back to Peru, Canada was out of sight and out of mind.
Now that Sam's called himself out on that, it's too easy to feel the city's eyes on them as he navigates the streets down to the marina. And Crowley's, too--it's like he's waiting for Sam to fold.
"My god, what are you so paranoid about?" Dean grumbles. When they docked in Victoria, he'd eaten the last strip of whale, and was apparently disappointed by its effects, or lack thereof. Now he's irritable and anxious. "Do you even know what a kilometer is? At least go speed limit."
Sam pulls into a deserted parking lot, under a pale sign that reads "Sealand of Victoria." It doesn't look like much; just a warehouse on the waterfront. Tall stadium walls block part of the bay from view. It's been empty for so long Dean's phone thinks it doesn't even exist. But all that means is Sam's paranoid for all the right reasons; if anything threatens to go to hell tonight, Sam's going to catch it well in advance.
Of course, they're a tardy 33 hours out of Kansas. They're already edging towards disaster.
Once inside, Crowley announces, "This is Sealand of Victoria. Or the blubbery carcass of it."
There's a hitch to Dean's breath as they step down into what, at one point, had probably been the performance arena, but he recovers quickly enough to ask, "Nice digs. But what's with you and the whales? Is there something wrong with just sticking to torture?"
Sam looks out.
The whale pool connects directly with the sea, the enclosure netting long past degraded. Sam's not quite sure why they had to be here, but it's private. If this is where the First Blade is going to have its first showdown this century, that gives them some buffer.
The clouds sit over the water on the horizon in a way that makes sea and sky almost indistinguishable, especially now that the light's gone down. The higher clouds streak a darker shade of black into the lower cumulus assemblage and the wind whips up. The livewire urgency of exactly how impossible success seems kicks to life in his stomach.
(Sam does not love the sea.)
It's go time.
He and Dean snap to action in silent synchronization. Dean strips down carefully, as though he's not quite sure how to move his body; Sam struggles with his neoprene. By the time Sam has his wetsuit on, Dean's shambling toward the edge of the pool in his T-shirt and boxers.
"What about the rest?" Sam and Crowley ask together, and it leaves a bad taste in Sam's mouth.
"Like hell," Dean barks at Crowley. "The rest is just gonna have to take one for the team. This ain't a peepshow."
"Neither of you are having anywhere near enough sex," says Crowley. His tone is mostly dismissive, but Sam doesn't miss the note of abstracted, uncomfortable pity in there, too. If he and Dean are being pitied by the deposed King of Hell, Sam can't imagine how wrong they've gone in their lives.
Sam feels anxiously sick, in a way he doesn't think he's felt in a long time. The ground hasn't felt solid beneath him months, and he can't help but feel that this is where it swallows him. This is where it swallows them both. "Dean, if there's anything you want to say to me right now--"
"I'll write you a message in a bottle."
It's one more moment when Sam tells himself to say something, to fucking shout it, and he doesn't. And it used to come so easily to him.
Then Dean yelps.
"What? What's wrong?" Sam scrambles for his gear.
"Cold-- The water's cold--!"
"Wait, that's it?"
"F-fuck you, Sam."
But Sam's relief is fleeting. Either Dean collapses or he just wants to get this over with, because he drops boneless onto his stomach, face first. There's no real ceremony to it. Dean just gives himself over to the ocean, with a thirsty intensity that makes Sam wonder what his brother's head's been filled with all this time. The watery black of his T-shirt seems to expand, and Dean slips into the depths and vanishes from sight. It's difficult to see much in the dark, just the ripple of the water, which flashes like cuts of obsidian, the suggestion of someone below the surface. As the chop smoothes out and marches into a gyre, the back of Sam's mind whispers, The primordial ocean.
The gyre takes up scraps and leafy bycatch, plastics from the wrack zone. It twists and braids and it's water and it's becoming--the spray pelts Sam with a frigid hail, so cold and unexpected it burns. Don't stand too close, or risk being caught in the maelstrom. Don't step on that fish.
(We all came from the sea.)
Slowly, slowly, the semblance of a whale begins to take shape, breach the water like a gelatinous floating mass. It gains dark substance, a dorsal fin. Sam watches his brother change and his throat collapses in on itself; Sam takes a deep, painful breath. His brother's just a whale; it's no problem. This, after all, has been the plan all along. This is the plan, and it is nothing to worry about. Dean's gonna be in and out; he'll be back with the Blade and come back to normal. If they had a normal. If there's even a baseline to recover.
Dean's floats in the water, immobile. Then he starts to twitch and flail, a great black uncoordinated piñata of motion. Then he sinks.
The logistics of this plan had been sketchy at first, speeding across the country, pre-loading a spell that was apparently still in preliminary testing, but it occurs to Sam now that Dean actually cannot be a whale. And if he can, whales sure as hell don't care about the Blade, or Abaddon. If there is something Sam knows he cannot do, it is save a whale from drowning.
"Crowley, we need to go help him."
Crowley throws up his arms. "The dumbest bloody whale--" And then he stops. Sam goes still, trying to sense if Crowley's heard something, but there's nothing but the knocking of boats in the marina and the shudder of rain on the aquarium's old roof.
"Have a little more faith, Sam," Crowley says anyway.
Sam resists the urge to tell him to fuck off; Sam's not going to have that lecture, and certainly not from Crowley.
"Well, is he even still in the pool? Could the current push him into the ocean?"
"Oh, for the love of-- He's an orca, not a dinghy."
Suddenly, Dean breaches. Surges, really, right up to the edge of the pool and then against the edge of the pool. The wake that spills over the side of the marina is filled with a confetti of plaster.
"You swim like you drive, Squirrel," Crowley calls, some twenty yards from the pool.
Sam feels the hand of relief at his shoulders. That's good. That's a good thing. Though "squirrel" isn't anywhere near an accurate nickname, even less so than before, because Dean is enormous. By Sam's estimate, his dorsal fin alone would have been as tall as Sam, if it weren't curved over. Even in the murky storm light Sam can see the wrinkle of scars down Dean's body, like fissures in black tar. Twenty feet maybe.
Spidering across his right flank is Castiel's handprint, stretched into thin, white, skeletal streaks. It's a mark Sam hasn't seen in a long time, and had almost forgotten. Usually it's a flash as Dean's pulling a T-shirt on; it hasn't been an object of inspection since Alistair, probably, helping Dean out of his hospital gown and back into his civs. A long damn time ago, in any case.
Dean does a barrel roll in the water, his anti-possession tattoo freckled across his white underbelly. And there, like new pink incisions on the underside of Dean's pectoral fin, Sam sees the newest addition to Dean's menagerie of histories and imprints. Large and stretched like that, the Mark looks alive and overeager.
Dean appears to discover neutral buoyancy, and when he does he takes several laps around the pool, at pace if not entirely graceful. He waves at Sam with a fin. Or at least Sam thinks it's a wave; to a whale, he supposes it could mean anything. He tells himself it feels like Dean, though; inasmuch as a whale can feel like Dean.
Sam feels like a sixteen-year old, wondering if his dog really was his best friend ever, or if he was just a fellow stray who also liked apples.
Sam feels like he's thirty, alone and rudderless--trying to listen for Dean's voice, his life, even when he's certain that anything that can kill a Leviathan can obliterate a human.
He feels like yesterday, when he stood in a room with Dean and wasn't sure if Dean was really there or not.
Then Dean's gone. He slaps his fluke on the water's surface and submerges.
Sam gets the wicked impression that Dean's not going to wait.
"Are you planning to make your paycheck just standing there? What are you supposed to be, eye candy?" Crowley asks, when Sam keeps still for too long.
Sam doesn't dignify that with a response. He tries to finish dressing himself. He straps on his BC and runs reassuring mnemonics through his head. He closes his eyes and pushes everything else out of mind. He can't think about Crowley, or Abaddon, or Gadreel, or any of the myriad concerns that have attached themselves to him. Most of all, he cannot think about the limpet mines piling up between him and Dean. They're on the job, and they can't afford to overcomplicate things.
Sam puts on his face mask, his hood, and his gloves.
"You know," Crowley starts, and Sam is mostly sure he's about to overcomplicate things. "I've always figured you for a different aesthetic. For obvious reasons--motor oil and dust and the terrestrial wild. Where did this come from?"
Sam's weathered his share of insidious, probing curiosity, and Crowley is a classic case--that is, nothing special. Crowley can be as curious about Kermit, Texas as he wants. It won't get him far.
"Do more research, Crowley."
Sam whispers mnemonics under his breath. Weights, release, air, final okay.
"This isn't you, Moose."
"Don't tell me who I am." Sam glares witheringly at Crowley from behind his dive mask. Crowley doesn't fucking get to tell him who he is. No one does.
Unchastened, Crowley invites him to revisit the alternative. "I can turn you here and now. Even if you jumped in with that ridiculous get-up right now, there's no way you'd ever find your brother--not as a human. What's one more step?"
Sam sets his jaw. "Everything. 'One more step' is always everything."
"It's just a little step."
"We don't get do-overs, Crowley. There aren't takebacks. I can't believe I'm even having this conversation with you."
With a nostalgic affection Sam associates with other people and their family reunions, Crowley says again, "You are so much like your brother."
Sam regards Crowley with incredulity. "That doesn't sound anything like Dean."
Dean's the one who does over and over and over.
"Hold still," says Sam, as he stuffs their evacuated clothing in a duffel and withdraws a can of spray paint.
"Tagging, really? This is a national treasure."
"Wouldn't want you to 'avail yourself of the local attractions' at the wrong moment."
Crowley cocks his head petulantly towards the sky and its rain. "And when something happens to you, what's your brother going to do if he needs my help? Thwack at it with a pectoral?"
"Dean doesn't need your help," Sam insists. But he doesn't finish the sigil.
"Relax, Sam," Crowley says. "Big business is all about making the right concessions. No one has ever gotten anywhere on the back of unimpressive compromises."
"Bite me," says Sam, and puts his regulator into his mouth. There are lengths Sam won't let himself go to--not for Dean, not for anyone--and there are lengths Sam will. He's not going to sell himself short.
Sam takes a giant stride.
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