Summary: A tage scene for "Shadow" - my take on what happened after the brothers parted from their father.
Disclaimer: Defintitely not mine; otherwise, there would be a lot more hugging.
With utmost gratitude to Faye,who took time out of her spring break to beta. You are the yin to my yang, the peanut butter to my fluff, etc.
Out of the Shadows
Darkness seemed to swallow them as they reached the outskirts of the city and headed west. The familiar route signs for Interstate 80 barely registered, the car seeming to turn on automatic pilot. There was no music this time. They had nothing to celebrate and there was no sound loud enough to drown out the memories of what they'd left behind.
Dean kept his chin ducked, eyes intent on the road, hands fused to the steering wheel. Don't think, don't think, don't think was a mantra he'd had to repeat a lot over the years. It had been a long time since he'd embraced the words this desperately. Don't think . . .
Sam's silence was unexpected but appreciated. Dean had no words for him. No comfort, no quips, no lies of wisdom to let slide from his tongue.
Miles slipped past and he risked a glance at his brother. He'd forgotten about the blood – his own, his Dad's, Sam's . . . none of them had been left unscathed. But he'd ignored the sting of the cuts, the itch of drying blood, the tightness of damaged skin, sensation in general – pushed it all away.
From the look of things, Sam had, too. He stared ahead, unblinking, but Dean was pretty sure he wasn't watching as the landscape flew past. Instead, his gaze was turned inward in a way Dean hadn't seen since the night Jess died. The claw marks on his cheek were deep, the side of his face covered in a curtain of red where they oozed. Definitely stitches. Even then, there would likely be scars, permanent mementos of what they'd survived.
As if they'd need a reminder.
Dean pulled into the first rest area they came to. He left the car idling – ready – as he reached into the backseat to grab the first aid kit. As he pulled his arm back, Sam looked at him. Dean shuttered himself against the emotions he saw in his brother's eyes. They were too close, too raw. And in the instant that it had taken for Dean to react, Sam had shuttered himself, too. Taught you well, Sammy.
He pulled the sutures from their case, and Sam moved to take them. "You need stitches?"
Dean just shook his head. "You do."
When he saw Sam's confusion, he grasped his chin, tilting it toward the mirror so Sam could see. Four perfect lines, marking him from hairline to cheekbone. Sam's voice was hollow, and faintly surprised. "Oh. Okay."
The process was awkward, with no good angles or light.
"Maybe a doctor should look at these," he started to say, but Sam cut him off with a single shake of his head. Dean tried to keep the stitches small and even.
He hadn't realized how numbed the night had left them until he noticed that Sam didn't even flinch at the pull of the needle through his skin, that the cuts on his own fingers didn't burn from the seeping alcohol as he sterilized Sam's wounds.
When he was done, he poured more alcohol on a pad and dragged it over his forehead and eye. Sam reached to help, but Dean pulled away. "They're just scratches."
Sam didn't force the issue, but he did gather the used cotton and gauze, squeezing them into a ball in his hand. He opened his door, walking toward a rusted garbage can as Dean watched him in the rearview.
He slid back in the passenger seat, pulling the door shut behind him, and they drove on. I-80 slashed through the middle of Middle America like a belly wound, and they had driven it more than any sane person should. Almost any turnoff would have been acceptable, but Dean continued west. The impossibly long, bleak stretch of highway might be a blight on the landscape but he could drive it fast. Fast was good. Whatever would put the most distance between them and Chicago.
A few more hours, a few hundred miles and then they'd stop. Regroup. The words seemed foreign and cheap somehow. This was not a planned retreat but a hasty, hell-bent-for-leather escape. Not the Winchester modus operandi, and it threw him a little. He focused on the green mile markers, the sleepy blur of non-towns edged at the exit ramps, the grating familiarity of tires thumping over pavement lines, as he tried to find an equilibrium.
Sam was still silent, and Dean was tired enough that it didn't seem strange anymore.
Miles and more miles slipped past.
They pulled off in the blue-black hours before dawn. By unspoken agreement, they turned on every meager light the motel room had to offer, scattering flares on the tables and salt along the window and door frames as they went. Dean offered Sam the first shower, but Sam repeated his single head shake and Dean accepted without comment.
The showerhead was a malicious, old-fashioned torture device that beat needle points against his bruised body. In the hiss of too-hot water, he was reminded that the demons had cut him more than once. A pale pink stream circled the drain, and when he dried off, he left smeared trails of red on the towels. Something for the maids to talk about in the morning.
Considering what they'd just dealt with, he was relatively intact. Most of his wounds had stopped bleeding, and the ones that hadn't were easily covered with square adhesive bandages. I'll live to fight another day, he thought darkly. Not like there's much choice.
He dressed slowly, pulling on the layers like they were new skin.
Sam had brought in the bag of weapons and bottles of water. He offered one to Dean, who took it gratefully, tipping almost all the contents back in one long swallow. He sat on the edge of one bed, and Sam mirrored him on the other, elbows on knees, both of them staring back in time.
"Hell of a night." Dean didn't want to talk about it, but he couldn't take the silence anymore. He just wanted to break the spell the night had over both of them and go to sleep. Things would look better in the morning. They sure couldn't look much worse.
Sam didn't respond, though, and when Dean looked over, he was still drawn in and shadowed.
"Hey." Dean cuffed him on the arm, trying to get his attention. "You okay?"
Sam glanced at him and then looked down again. "Yeah."
Dean stumbled over half a dozen different platitudes, finally settling on, "He'll be fine."
Silence pulled at them again. Once again, Dean was the one to break it. "Sam – "
Sam, interrupted, seeming to read his mind. "It's alright. I mean, it will be. As long as he's safe."
"And at least I know . . ." He paused, struggling. "He doesn't hate. . . He's not still mad."
"Told you, bro. He's proud of you." Dean forced a grin. "I mean, after all, you saved the day back there. Flares – that was good thinking."
Sam laughed once – low and humorless. "Right . . . "
Dean warmed to the topic. Talking about the one thing that had gone right kept him from thinking about all that had gone wrong. His father, walking away. His brother, saying he didn't want things to be like they were. His family, torn apart again. "I'm serious. That was pretty slick, driving them out with the light. I forgot those things were even in the trunk."
"Geek Boy to the rescue." It was obvious now, from his tone and posture, that Sam was being self-deprecating, rather than accepting of Dean's rare praise.
Dean eyed him, not quite sure what to make of his mood. He started to say something undoubtedly brilliant and insightful but Sam stood and went into the bathroom.
"I'm going to take a shower," he said, unnecessarily. The door closed, effectively ending any conversation. Dean couldn't exactly say he was disappointed.
Sam leaned over the sink for a long time, he head bowed. He didn't want to look in the mirror, didn't want to see himself and what he'd become. Or what he hadn't.
Useless. It's all useless.
He clenched his fists until his wrists ached, but it didn't help. Nothing happened.
He peeled off his bloody clothes, unmindful of the way his t-shirt clung to the leaking cuts on his side and back, the skin yielding only reluctantly. He turned the water on as hot as it could go and leaned his head against the ancient tiles as it scalded him.
He reached for the shampoo bottle, focusing all his energy on one simple thought.
Open. Open. Open! OPEN!
And suddenly, the bottle . . . remained exactly how it was, cap in place. Telekinesis had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was now a twisted, misshapen piece of plastic in his hand.
He let it drop to the bottom of the tub, listening to the change in sounds as it fell under the spray, and tried to keep from sobbing.
The only good thing that had come out of the whole spoon-bending thing was that he had saved Dean. He'd done it without even thinking about it; seeing Dean in danger had been enough. The experience had been painful, and more than a little scary, but there'd been victory in it.
Yet, tonight . . . there had been nothing. No nightmare, no vision, no psychic punch. Just the three of them, fighting against the shadows like they always had. And all he felt was failure. Every other time he'd had an opportunity to really make a difference, he'd had failed to follow through. The weight of Max and Jessica's deaths was nearly overwhelming. And now, he'd lost his father again, for the same reason.
True, they'd walked away, more or less in one piece . . . thank God that having a cache of the right kinds of toys and being quick on their feet counted for something. But Sam's newfound power, ability, gift, curse, WHATEVER, had turned out to be . . . useless.
It's all been for nothing. When the chips were down for the two people who mattered most – the only two who really mattered at all – he'd had nothing to offer. And because he couldn't protect him, his father had had to leave.
That was the thought that hurt the most. He'd waited so long – years, really – to be with his father again. To know that things were okay between them after all. And since Jess, it had been a mission to find him, to say, Dad, I understand now. About Mom, about hunting this demon. I understand. It's my fight, too. I'm here.
He'd nearly choked on the fear and doubt and need that had swirled inside him, seeing his father again and being so uncertain of his reception. To feel his arms around him, forgiveness in his touch if not in his words . . . Sam had felt like he was finally home again. After so very long. And then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
"He's safer without us," Dean had said. Because I couldn't protect him. Sam didn't think he'd ever loathed himself quite this much.
The water had gone cold and the headache that had been skulking at the base of his neck – non-vision related, of course – was on the move, now beating against his temples. He felt suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue, and hoped he be able to manage his way back to a bed. It struck him that it would be cruelly poetic if his dreams this time were ones of prophecy. He blocked the thought – and every other thought besides – from his mind.
Dean looked up as Sam re-entered the room. Sam was still closed down, and Dean found he was more relieved than anything. Their last heart-to-heart had hardly been a success in his book, and he really wasn't up for another. Back to the old Winchester standbys: deny and repress. That's what would see them through.
But blood couldn't be ignored as easily as awkward conversation. Dean swore when he saw the stain spreading across the gray of Sam's shirt. "What the hell, Sam? Why didn't you say something?"
Sam's brow furrowed. "About what?"
"This, Clueless Wonder." Dean grabbed the hem of Sam's shirt and wrenched it up, exposing a long slice that followed Sam's rib line from back to torso.
Sam regarded the mark with clear surprise. "I didn't know it was there."
Dean glared at him as he sat him rather forcefully on the bed, muttering under his breath as he once again gathered the first aid supplies. Sam pulled the shirt over his head, his skin chilling in the open air.
He winced at the first bite of alcohol, nerve endings finally awakened to the damage they had suffered.
"Don't be sorry, just quit moving."
Sam bit his lip and sat, trying not to flinch as Dean fixed several butterfly bandages over the wound. Everything hurt now – his side, his face, his head. One big ache, throbbing in time from his knees to his skull. He embraced it as his due.
Dean's hands stilled briefly, his eyes seeking Sam's. But Sam's eyes were closed, and it didn't appear that he planned to open them. Dean rolled the words around in his head, trying to decide what they meant. For saying I'll have to let you go? 'Cause I don't think I can do it, Sammy, not this time . . .
But guessing wasn't as good as knowing, especially with his brother. Sam could get some strange ideas sometimes, and seeing how'd he reacted so far, there was no telling what he might be thinking.
Dean put another bandage in place, voice gruff as he asked, "For what?"
"For not stopping it."
"Not stopping what?" His hands stilled again and he watched Sam more closely.
"I didn't see it. And I couldn't – when I tried, nothing happened." Sam seemed to shrink, folding into himself.
"You want to try some complete sentences there, College Boy? I'm not really up for a game of find the subject."
Sam's hands curved into fists, and he dug them into his thighs. "I didn't have a vision, Dean! I didn't see any of it coming, and once it was happening, I couldn't stop it!"
"You did stop it. Flares – remember? All you. That's what got us out of there alive."
"Yeah, barely." Sam opened his eyes, once again staring at nothing. He shook his head as if to clear it and then stood and abruptly started pacing. Pain had taken a back seat to the nervous energy now coursing through him.
"Sam – "
"I just don't get it. Dad was in danger, you were in danger and nothing happened. Nothing!"
Finally, it started to make sense. "Sam, I told you that whole TK thing was a fluke. We didn't expect it to happen again."
"I did." He drew a ragged breath. "That's why Dad had to go, because I couldn't – I couldn't control it. I couldn't make it happen. I couldn't protect him."
"What are you talking about? That has nothing to do with it! Dad left because we're safer apart – all of us."
"But don't you get it? If I could focus it – learn to, I don't know, channel the visions or whatever,"
"Sam – "
"Figure out how to make them happen. If I could figure out how to – "
"Sam – "
"- move things or stop them from moving by thinking about it . . ."
"I should have been concentrating on this. I should have known."
Dean finally grabbed him and shook him once, hard, forcing him to stop.
"Would you knock it off already? It's too early in the morning for this!" Dean ran a hand through his hair, trying to calm himself as well as his brother. "Plus, you've pulled the bandages loose. Nice going, Francis. Sit down."
Sam just blinked at him for a moment before dropping to the mattress. All of the energy seemed to leave him at once and he was deflated. He barely felt Dean's hands on him, wiping up the blood once again trickling down his side and reapplying bandages.
"It never crossed your mind, that maybe this was something we could use?"
Dean barely let him finish. "No, Sam. It's not that kind of thing."
"But Max – "
"Not for you," he said more forcefully. "It only happened once. Once. And the visions? I told you – they were connected to you. Our house. Your girlfriend."
"Will you can it with the Max stuff? It was a fluke, Sam. All of it. Not something designed to make you a weapon or whatever it is you're thinking, so just let it go."
"But what if – "
"Sam, listen." Dean sank next to him, their thighs touching. Sam's head dropped, staring at his hands. "This sucks, okay? None of us wanted it to go this way." Least of all, me. "But it's not your fault. There's nothing that you could have done, that you should have done, that you didn't do."
He could feel Sam breathing, slow and controlled, like he was using every ounce of energy to keep it together. He empathized. But now, it was time to get things back on track.
"On second thought –" Dean paused and he felt Sam stiffen, "You could use better taste in women." Dean nudged his shoulder and was rewarded with a gasp he chose to interpret as a laugh. The intent was there, at least.
"I mean, have I taught you nothing? Always avoid the buckets of crazy."
"Dude, shut up." But it was too late – Dean had seen the brief flash of dimple and knew he'd won. For the moment.
A different kind of silence fell between them this time. A little more companionable. A little less shell-shocked. But they both knew the wounds would not heal quickly
"Look, I'm beat. So are you. Lay down – and try not to bleed all over the sheets, okay? We have enough laundry to do as it is."
Sam felt his brother get up and he rolled back, not bothering to pull the covers down. As pressed his head into the pillow and his palms over his eyes, he heard Dean settle on the opposite bed. In the quiet, he willed sleep to come for both of them.
"I missed him, you know?" Sam's voice was so soft Dean almost didn't hear it. But it was there, whispered like a secret.
Dean swallowed thickly, all at once finding it hard to speak. "I did, too."
"It just felt really . . . it was good to have him back."
"Yeah, it was."
Dean felt the sting of tears for the first time in a long time. Maybe there was hope for his family yet.