Supernatural isn't mine.
This is it, guys, the last one! Thanks so much to those of you who've been following along -- your support has meant a lot :D. This is sort of a companion piece to The Second Tragedy, but you don't need to read that to understand this. Spoilers for season one. I've had a blast this week, hope you've all enjoyed it too!
A Time to Every Purpose
For years, Dean marked time in the scars on his skin. The raised ridges and faint white lines were like words on the pages of a notebook, telling stories of pride and pain, close calls and stupid mistakes and times when he'd won through despite it all. Each one had its own voice, its own tale to tell, and Dean knew them all, and sometimes even told them, when a woman would trace her fingers along them and ask in tones rich and smoky with sex and satisfaction. Some of them were too old, too faded or too small for them to be noticed in the yellow glow of lamplight, and those stories Dean kept to himself, but he didn't forget them; he never forgot a single one, because each was the measure of a life lived to the full, each had helped to make him the man he was. His scars were a story, and it was a story of success.
Later, Dean marked time in the scars on Sam's skin. The angry puckers and snaking streaks, bound in black until the stitches came out, places where Dean had had to tie Sam's flesh together to stop his brother from leaking away: each of them had a tale, too, but their voices were different. No-one ran their fingers along Sam's scars, and Dean never told the tales to anyone but himself, and only then in the depths of the night when it seemed like morning would never come. He didn't forget them, though, he never forgot a single one, because each was a measure of a life unwanted, each was a time when Dean had failed to keep away the darkness. Sam's scars were a story, and it was a story of failure.
They were in Missouri the first time it happened, less than a hundred miles from Lawrence, and it wasn't even a hunt. Sam wasn't looking, wasn't paying attention, (he wasn't, he wasn't), and got clipped by a car, just clipped, nothing serious, and it was only because Sam hadn't been paying attention. The driver didn't stop, but Dean made a silent vow that one day he was going to track that bastard down. Sam's hip was bruised pretty bad, but it would fade in time, wouldn't even leave a mark. They were less than a hundred miles from where it all began, and Dean imagined a red line on the map, connecting them to their past, a hundred miles and twenty-two years, fire and loss at either end. They'd come a long way, and no distance at all.
In Utah, the Great Salt Lake desert stretched into forever, and Sam was torn shoulder to thigh by a black dog. The blood dripped onto the sand, red against white, and Dean didn't think about the way Sam had hurled himself forward just a little too recklessly, because Palo Alto was only two months behind them and Dean didn't want to make that connection. It was cold, too cold, and the sand was dazzling, the sunlight bouncing off it like needles of fire; there wasn't enough water to clean the wound and keep them hydrated, and by the time they got back to the car Dean's head was aching and swimming, and the cold that radiated from the surface of the world made him feel like he was wading through ice water. The cut wasn't bad, not as bad as it had looked, but Sam's face was drawn and tight, and they didn't talk. Dean had seen murder in the creature's eyes, and it had terrified him, but what he thought he might have seen in Sam's eyes was so much worse that he couldn't think of a thing to say until after the stitches were in and Sam was drugged into semi-consciousness. There were no new scars on Dean's skin, but that didn't mean he would forget.
In Washington State, Dean was dragged under by a kelpie, and when he jerked to consciousness again, coughing water out of his lungs and trying his best to curse, Sam was leaning over him, face stretched in fear and streaked with blood. Dean's heart contracted, and he tried to reach up, but Sam batted his hand away saying it's fine, it's fine. Dean wanted to insist, but he was half-drowned and exhausted and not ready to argue, not ready to do anything but crawl out of his wet clothes and into bed. When he woke up, Sam was shivering with a fever that didn't go down for two days, and Dean didn't think about the fact that it didn't look like he'd even cleaned out the gash on his temple. Sam whispered and moaned, and Dean took care of him, and it was almost better that way, because this was something Dean could do, something he could help with, and he had to stop himself before he was accidentally happy that his brother was sick. The gash barely left a mark, at least on Sam's skin.
Dean had been to St. Louis before, but he was pretty sure he would never go again. Visiting his own grave might have had novelty value, if it wasn't for the finger-marks around Sam's throat, the cuts on his face, the way he'd looked at Rebecca like she was something he could never have. A thing with Dean's face had been the cause of some of that, but that excuse would only go so far. Sam said I never really fit in, and Dean smiled and joked, but the resignation in his brother's voice cut deeper than any accusing look. No, Dean was never going back to St. Louis.
It rained for hours in Massachusetts, rained so hard Dean started to think maybe they would drown, and Sam came back from the store soaking wet and nursing a split lip. It was nothing, he said, and later, he was asking for it, and Dean wondered where his little brother had gone.
Sam wasn't saying anything, but Dean knew he still had a headache; how could he not, when he'd had three visions (visions, Christ) in two days? It was pretty obvious he wasn't all there when he managed to slice his hand open when trying to sharpen a knife. Jesus, said Dean, Jesus, let me look at it, and Sam held his hand out without saying anything and didn't pull away when Dean reached for it. I didn't do it on purpose, he said, his consonants thick and sluggish, and just the fact that he said it at all made Dean believe him. The cut was deep and left a red line that eventually faded to white, but Sam said it wasn't too bad, and Dean agreed.
They didn't talk at all between Chicago and Kentucky. They cleaned themselves up as best they could in a gas station bathroom, and then Dean checked them in to a motel because he looked better than Sam (though that wasn't saying much). It was the middle of the night, and Dean's eyes felt gritty with fear and exhaustion, and Sam dropped his head and said we shouldn't have let him leave again.
Dean didn't say anything, but when he went to start stitching up Sam's face, Sam didn't push him away; in fact, Sam grabbed his wrist and held tightly. You OK, man? he asked, and Dean just stayed there for a minute, letting the warmth flow from Sam's hand into his body. Yeah, he said, I'm OK.
There was a nest of harpies in Northern California, and they cleaned them out OK, but they counted wrong and when the smoke cleared the road was strewn with feathers and Sam was trying to hold his guts in with his hands. He was out for three days, and Dean sat in the hospital and thought about a red line between there and Palo Alto, nine months and barely two hundred miles. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but the roads they travelled were twisted and puckered like the scars on Sam's skin, and each of them had a story. Nine months ago and barely two hundred miles away, something had come to an end and something had started (or started again), and here, in this hospital, Dean could only hope that neither of those things would happen again.
Dean barely slept, but when he did, he dreamt of smoke and white feathers streaked with red, and when he woke he thought of standing alone in the world, of having no scars to count but his own, no stories to tell and no-one to tell them to. He thought of all the things he'd forgotten and all the things he never would, and he counted the beats of the heart monitor until the numbers made no sense any more.
On the third day, Sam woke up and blinked blearily down at his stomach and said guess that's gonna scar. Dean was almost hallucinating from lack of sleep, and it struck him as the funniest thing he'd ever heard. Dude, he said, you're practically Frankenstein, and Sam stared at him for a moment and then started laughing, head rolling on the pillow, and Dean laughed too, and neither of them stopped until Sam started to gasp with pain. Dean wiped the tears from his eyes and made a crack about a national shortage of surgical thread, and Sam snorted and said you're the one who's always saying chicks dig scars.
Five days later, the Impala pulled out of the hospital parking lot with Dean gunning the engine and Sam bitching about the music. The road stretched out under the sky, curved and ragged like the scars on Dean's skin, and there were plenty of stories still to be told. They passed a sign pointing south to Palo Alto, and Dean thought that if you drew a red line on a map from here to there, it wouldn't begin to tell the tale of how they came to be where they are now. That story was told in the scars they bore, inside and out, and it was a story of survival.
Dean turned north, and the sign was behind them. They'd come a long way, and no distance at all.