Summary: Sam and Dean try to collect themselves after the events in "Shadow."

A/N: How many post-Shadow fics do you need to write before you find one that is even somewhat salvagable? THREE. After two pathetic attempts and lots of patience from my beta, this is what I FINALLY was able to feel okay posting in response to "Shadow." This episode has driven me insane and I have nearly lost my mind trying to figure out how the boys would respond to it (shh! no comments that it is a short trip!). Now I almost want torun and rewatch that ep 50 more times and realize that I am still no closer to answers thanafter my first viewing. So much thanks MUST go to Cati. (You listened to me whine, vent, rant, and held my hand when I was utterly unhinged. You muddled through two pathetic offerings and even this third meager one and I can't thank you enough.)

Disclaimer: Nope, don't own this stuff, never thought I did.

The Darkness Between

The darkness seemed encompassing. It spanned in front of them, stretched behind them, and grew steadily between them as the Impala slipped silently away from Chicago.

The events of the night echoed rawly in the silence. There were so many words, so many questions, so many things that neither brother could bring himself to say.

Flecks of dawn were showing on the horizon when Dean finally pulled off at a nowhere motel in Indiana. He dug in the backseat, retrieved a baseball cap to pull low over his features, before going in to pay for a room.

Mechanically, both brothers shouldered their bags and made their way into the motel. Sam still opted to carry the weapons; Dean noticed but did not comment.

In the room, Dean plopped the first aid kit on the bed. "Before we sleep, we've got to take care of this."

Sam said nothing.

"You want to go first, or should I?"

Sam gathered the kit. "You first."

Dean sat still while Sam cleaned his wounds and deemed them acceptably shallow. Trading positions, Dean began examining Sam's wounds, finding his brother not so fortunate. "These look deep, Sammy. I'm thinking stitches."

Sam again had no reply, but sat unmoving as his brother prepped the needle and thread.

Dean was half finished when the silence finally unnerved him. "Crazy, night, huh?"

Sam kept staring ahead, as if he hadn't heard his brother.

Dean moved the needle swiftly through Sam's skin, noting that his brother didn't even flinch.

"You doing okay there, kiddo?"

"Just sew, Dean."

Dean eyed his brother. "What's up with you, man?"

Sam pulled away. "It doesn't matter."

"Sammy--"

"Look, don't," Sam snapped.

Dean raised his eyebrows. "Whatever, bro." He moved in to finish the job.

The needle went deeper than intended and Sam hissed, jerking away in surprise. "Watch it."

"Sorry--"

"Sorry?" He swatted Dean's hands away. "Just leave me alone."

"Sam, you need to let me finishing stitching this."

"Why?"

"Come on, you know you don't want to scar that pretty face of yours," Dean said lightly.

"What does it matter, Dean. Scars? Is that going to change the way you see me?"

"No, but your lady friends--"

Sam rolled his eyes. "In case you've forgotten, the last woman I was even remotely attracted to just tried to kill us. And it's not like we have time for dating anyway and I'm not about just to sleep with girls to jack off."

Dean licked his lips; Sam was clearly not in a joking mood. "Whatever. Still need to close these up so nothing gets in them. Infections will slow us down and make things messy in more way than one." Dean leaned in, touching the skin, preparing to work.

Sam was still, letting Dean get close. "And why does that matter? This whole mess is going to kill me sooner or later anyway."

Dean pulled away slightly, his hands still near Sam's face, and looked at his brother critically. "Sammy, what is wrong with you?"

Sam pulled away now as his eyes flashed angrily. "What's wrong with me? I don't know, Dean, maybe everything's wrong with me."

Sam's voice hitched toward hysteria. "Maybe I have a dead girlfriend who I see die every night in my dreams and I can't stop it and I can't make it right. Maybe I have powers I can't control and never kick in when it matters. Maybe I've had to spend my entire life hunting something I couldn't understand and when I'm finally on board, I'm told to stay away. Maybe I'm tired of being the weak link and tired of this family quest of ours being more important than our family."

Dean watched his brother in surprise and concern. "Sam--" He reached for him.

"No!" Sam recoiled violently, moving from the bed. "I can't do any of it right. I couldn't then and I can't now and I never will. I'm selfish and I finally see it because I don't want this, Dean. I can't do it. It's going to kill me and you and Dad, and you asking me to stay is tantamount to suicide. Don't you see that? This whole life is a build up to disaster."

Sam was pacing now, in uneven, jittering steps. "Max was right, Dean. There's only one way to end this."

He stopped and looked squarely at his brother, his eyes bright. "I can make it fast or I can make it slow, but this ends only one way."

Placing his needle and thread aside, Dean rose from his chair. "Sam, stop--"

"Stop? Stop what? You told me it never stops, there's always something else. Well, if there's no way out, then who cares what happens? Who cares?" Sam was pleading. "Let it end, let all of it just end and let's save ourselves the trauma of living it. Just please, let it just get infected--" Sam scratched at his face, his fingernails ripping at the stitches Dean had already meticulously sewn into place.

Blood was oozing now from the freshly open wounds. On impulse, Dean lunged at him, unable to watch his brother hurt himself. He'd seen too much of Sam's blood and couldn't bear to see Sam spill anymore. Quickly, he was on the other side of the bed, grabbing his kid brother.

Sam struggled against him, thrashing, but the emotions and the tiredness had taken their toll and Dean thrust Sam to the bed, landing on top of his brother. He straddled Sam, holding his brother's hands firmly above his head and not letting him rise. Sam bucked and squirmed, but was no match for his brother's determination.

When the struggle finally ended, Sam was crying, hot tears mingling with the fresh blood.

"Geez, Sammy."

With eyes full of pain, Sam looked up at him, his face quivering. "No chick flick moments, right, Dean?"

The words stung Dean, and he swallowed hard. "You have to stop this. Now."

Sam looked away, his jaw twitching as he tried visibly not to blink. "Why?"

"Because I don't want to watch you die, Sam." Dean spoke with such anguish that Sam's replies were momentarily silenced. "If something were to ever happen to you--"

"It'd be another reason to fight," Sam said quietly. "Foot soldiers die all the time. Expendable."

"Sam, you're not expendable. Don't you get it? I don't exist without you. The time you spent away at college were the loneliest years of my life. I don't want you to leave again but this--Sam, we can't do this."

Sam's face was crumpling now, barely restraining a full out breakdown. "What other options are there?"

The question made Dean stop. He studied his brother, took in Sam's battered appearance, Sam's broken eyes, and realized how close he had come to losing his brother in every imaginable way. "I don't know."

"When will we ever know?"

"Maybe when we kill it."

"You said it yourself. That won't change anything."

The impact of his own words was palpable now, and he felt an overwhelming twinge of regret. He'd only wanted Sam to stay, to make him understand. He hadn't wanted to destroy Sam, deconstruct the optimism and hope that made his brother who he was. "Maybe I was wrong, Sam. Maybe I've been wrong about a lot of things."

Sam met his eyes, the pain mixed with hope. Sam was trembling beneath him, wanting to believe these words as badly as he wanted to let the others go.

It wasn't much for Dean to offer. It wasn't much for Sam to hang onto. But after a lifetime of lies and half-truths, it was just possible that an honest maybe was enough. For now.

Sam relaxed, just enough for Dean to feel confident in letting go.

"Will you let me fix your face?"

Sam nodded.

Slowly, Dean released his brother and eased off of him. Sam sat up, perched again on the edge of the bed. Dean silently retrieved his abandoned first aid equipment. He pulled the chair back up, sitting mere inches from his brother. Carefully, he took the wet rag and mopped at the new blood, sponging it away until the gashes were visible. Gently, he swabbed the area with alcohol, noticing the tremors in his brother's body as the liquid stung.

Then he took the threaded needle and smoothly ran it through his brother's skin. Sam winced but said nothing as his brother administered each even stroke, neatly cinching up the gashes.

When he was done, Dean checked his work, then began to clean up his materials. Sam sat on the bed, feeling the even stitches. He couldn't help but thinking maybe his face wasn't the only thing Dean had fixed. "Thank you."

Dean stopped and looked briefly at his brother, wishing he could offer him a whole lot more. "It was nothing, Sammy."