Title: Lighter Than Air
Rating: PG - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: "Who didn’t worry about the end of the world anyway? The thing was that there was plenty of world to go around and it seemed like everyone was assigned their own tiny piece..."
Sam wasn’t sure if the steady constants that comprised the universe were a great thing or not.
It was hard to really figure out what to do with knowing that certain things would fall into place in each of his inevitable hours. The player would always jam the same tapes right at the same time on the same songs. Traffic would inexplicably slow to a halt whenever it was the hottest time of year and the air conditioning didn’t work. The shower would unwaveringly go berserk whenever it was used simultaneously with a flushing toilet. At least there was at least some mystery there. The water went either artic circle or molten core lava. He supposed that was always one guaranteed exhilarating moment of the day.
Sam stared down at the plastic covered menu that looked like it hadn’t been wiped off in a few months. He didn’t open it. There were absolutely no surprises glowing magically on its insides that would make him point and smile in wonder. Nothing miraculous was concealed in the well worn collection of deep fried, pan toasted, over baked, under cooked and indelicately poached. The entire deal was half way between deeply comforting and some overwhelming desire to slide the barrel of his best pistol into his mouth.
He listened to his brother order without bothering with the list of options either.
Sometimes he wished he smoked. There were periods of time, well, long spans actually, that he found himself having nothing much to do besides letting his gaze linger out a window. If he kept his reading collection out of sight as usual, he was left with little else but his own thoughts while his food was going from raw to edible. He had quite enough of that endless nonsensical bullshit in the car and trying to get to get to sleep at night. Looking despondently at the closed laptop he considered opening it in hopes of finding some rogue hotspot of a signal. It wasn’t an impossible dream. There were college types all around them and even these kind of joints had caught up with the demand to have access any time anywhere. That would at best allow him to know what became of all the real world land of sports that he never had much luck to catch in real time. Maybe even some news of the global variety. When he stopped to think about the planet in terms of outside of his peculiar personal 24 hours, there was a war going on after all.
The sandwich didn’t actually look that bad.
Automatically checking to see if Dean’s food didn’t win the silent contest of ‘better’ that he privately played in his head, he saw that the fare was actually a little nicer than the usual they had come to expect and almost like. Hunger was a nice consistency he enjoyed and dreaded on a daily basis too. It wasn’t exactly every day that they got to sit down and get as close to hot and good as they could. Biting into the grilled garlic bread and tasting something decent, he thought maybe he should try to start trying to be more grateful. Even if it was just in his own head.
Sam eyed the lemon wedge sitting on the edge of his water glass. Noting the continued silence as his brother obviously also found his chow scoring higher than average, he glanced around the crowded place wondering if the proximity of the town’s college had something to do with quality control. It wasn’t the cleanest place he’d ever unfolded a napkin but the people sitting around them weren’t dressed like they were. Sam knew the like. White dress shirts worn a little too long with ink spots on the pockets. Shoulder bags stuffed with loose paper and thin laptops that most of their owners would rather save first off a cliff than one of their cutest kids.
Professors. Student assistants. Grad’s with a year worth of thesis to go. Exploratory science and temperature controlled computer labs. Never ending all nighters and research grants. The air was thick with low voices punctuated with the low fervent urgency of the studious intellectual.
“Did you hear that?”
Sam looked up, his immediate and natural alarm rising out of his lackadaisical calm from the series of words that didn’t usually mean anything pleasant.
Dean was turned almost completely to his side, listening Sam realized, to a discussion in the booth directly behind him. His brother was generally a little better at eavesdropping than the blatant display he was performing at the moment. However, from the cast of confusion on his face and general posed set to his previous indifferent sprawl made Sam more than a little curious.
It was about then that the topic of conversation rose high enough to be heard easily from even where Sam sat. A young man was questioning another slightly older one with about as much seriousness as a person could have. They were both going gray way before their time and they both had the haggard look of the sleep deprived scholastic. The voice was frayed. Fretful. On the verge.
“...what the hell are we going to do about the global helium shortage?”
Sam halted mid-chew with a slight rise of his eyebrows. His mind was anticipating maybe a whispered dialogue about some magnificent accident or small details of some baffling murder. For some pretty good reasons he had been expecting something a lot less periodic table of elements.
“There’s a helium shortage?” Dean asked quietly around a mouth full of chicken parmigiana.
Sam wasn’t actually aware there was one but he supposed it made sense. Natural resources weren’t the most properly supervised products on the globe. Petroleum. Forestry. Name one thing that came out of the dirt below and you had a pretty bleak story. A school town like this probably had more than a dozen labs that used and wasted thousands upon thousands of liters of the stuff a year.
“Nothing lasts forever.” Sam sighed. “When the mines run out, they just run out I guess.”
“You get helium from a mine?” Dean looked less confused and more annoyed by the concept.
“Where did you think it came from?” Sam honestly wanted to know.
Dean paused taking another fork full of his dinner to his mouth.
“I dunno. I thought they just made it. You know, like everything else.”
“Nope.” Sam confirmed. “It comes from the ground.”
Dean wasn’t ever very shy of giving a listen when there was something that he didn’t have much of a clue about. Sam always kind of appreciated that quality of unhindered and unashamed humility to his brother. There was a wisdom to it that he found some of the greatest scholars of his purported time hadn’t mastered. But more importantly, Sam also just secretly coveted the moments when he could actually interest or engage his older brother in just about anything at all. It felt like showing off. It felt like being ten years old and having a new trick on the monkey bars.
“Most natural gas mines?” Sam continued tentatively, knowing anything resembling a lecture would make Dean shut off like someone yanked his cord from the wall. “They let the helium just bleed off right into the atmosphere just to get at what they really want.”
There was another bout of silence as his brother absorbed this information. Sam could almost see his sibling’s thoughts turn on the suspended city that Lando Calrissian ruled floating up in the clouds. Sam was glad that there was a cinematic image to break up the probably tedious reality that was what really was out there in the world. Big loud machines busy drawing the breath from the earth itself. Picking up his food again, he watched Dean carefully compose his assured return question. That was another thing Sam always kind of liked, no one in his family was ever afraid to just go ahead and ask no matter how stupid it might come off. The practice that had mostly embarrassed him when he was younger no longer had the same affect. These days he now saw it for what it was.
“If it’s so tragically rare?” Dean raised a fork for added emphasis. “Then why are they putting the shit into goddamn balloons?”
Sam smiled a little.
He hadn’t really expected the irritation and minor outrage that his brother had managed to convey in his circle of common sense. He wished he could give some kind of answer that would satisfy on the same level. Flicking his lemon into the glass, he had to admit it was pretty funny how it took someone from so far on the outside of a thing to see how fucking preposterous it all was.
Digging into what looked like it might be couscous instead of the typical pile of greasy rice on his plate, he thought that maybe having their own brand of worries wasn’t all that different from just about anyone else’s. Who didn’t worry about the end of the world anyway? The thing was that there was plenty of world to go around and it seemed like everyone was assigned their own tiny piece.
Dean had resumed the eradication of his food but he was still expecting an answer.
Sam hoped maybe he’d get lucky and overhear one while they waited for coffee.