Title: Recrudescence

Author: ghost4

Disclaimer: Not mine... and for the first time in way too long I really, really wish they were. I'll fight you for them. I will.

Synopsis: What happened after everything didn't end. Starts as a missing scene from Swan Song and goes from there. H/C. Rating for Language.

Author's notes: Buckle up. This will be a dark ride. Not betaed (yet). I apologize, but I didn't want to stop, and my beta is busy this week.

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can't shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin' down
I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

~Bob Dylan – Knocking on Heaven's Door

The gun lying on the hood of the Impala looked like an accusation.

The bright metal shone marvelously against the dark orange of the old shop-cloth, the sharp light of a full moon running over it like water. The fabric under it was soft and smooth with years of use. The oil that they'd always used to care for the weapons – the same brand their father had used – permeated the weave of the cloth, leaving it slick to the touch. They never threw out old rags. It was only the old rags that had 'cured' properly. It was only the old rags that could be used to store the guns and be trusted to keep the moisture and grit away from the fine metal.

Dean's hands had been shaking when he had pulled the Taurus from the back of the Impala. His fingers wandered the unadorned metal, brushed over the mother-of -pearl inlay, felt the weight of it, so solid…

The memories hit him like a bullet in the chest: Sam, holding the weapon ready; Sam backing him up; Sam cleaning it, kicked back on some anonymous bed in some anonymous town somewhere; Sam, fighting him for the box of rounds as he teased; Sam, gun in one hand, playing rock-paper-scissors with the other for 'first through the door' rights, and always beating him; Sam… just Sam, always Sam. As constant and consistent in his life as the guns, as the Impala that held them. And the world tried to fall out from underneath Dean's feet.

He didn't stagger, through. He closed his eyes, and he breathed, and he let the memories fade with each exhalation. He let them come and let them go, and didn't try to hold them – not yet. Not this soon; not right now…not when he had a job to do.

He swallowed as the emotions settled again, fighting to get past a throat that felt swollen and clogged – but he was still on his feet, and still in control, and his heart might be breaking, but it didn't stop.

Moving almost blindly, he went from trunk to hood, stopping only long enough to break out his cleaning supplies.

He kicked back on the hood -- alone. For a long time that was all he could do… that was all he could handle – sitting by himself on the car, watching the stars slowly spin. The night was so beautiful. So dangerous and so beautiful. The stars were cold and distant and always present – like the deep, relentless ache in his chest and the slow churning in his stomach. The pain didn't fade so much as cycle, cranking up and leaving him breathless one second, and dropping to a vague tightness the next. But it never stopped… not even as his mind finally stilled. Even not thinking, he still hurt.

He didn't mind it, somehow, though. The pain felt…right. It felt proper. He could live with it – not that he had much choice. He understood instinctively that this ache would never fade, that this one was wound that would never heal, not completely. That some part of him would always be raw and bloody and maimed. It might scab over, it might lessen, but he would never heal.

But that was also proper. He understood now that surviving had its own price – as eternal, in its way, as death.

The moon and stars were his only witnesses as he reverently laid out the shop-cloth, the smell of gun oil in it was the sent of family, of home. He bowed his head and began breaking the Taurus apart.

He spent damn near the full night perched on the hood, caring for the gun – sitting alone, cleaning and oiling the machine with fingers that were so meticulous, despite the shaking hands. Being so very careful to be precise, despite the way his eyes just wouldn't seem to stay clear. He held each piece, he oiled and cleaned and oiled again. He polished. He checked and rechecked. He let himself work without restraint – if it felt right to clean it for the third, or fourth or the eighteenth time, he did. He worked slowly, painstakingly. He didn't know how many times his mind had wandered away, caught in memories, in longings, in wishes and what-if's…but eventually the pain of those thoughts would make him realize he was drifting, and he'd drag himself back to the job. He forced himself to focus on the task as the pain in his chest cycled through its tides; washing him out, dragging him back. The task of cleaning the weapon, of preparing it for storage, was an anchor to the ebb and flow of his emotions.

He wasn't stupid. He knew, even as he was doing it, what the gun was standing in for. He felt the ritualistic nature of cleaning the Taurus as clearly as most people responded to the rhythm of a funeral prayer. He understood. And he didn't care.

The work was practiced, comforting, and kept his hands busy. It was a place to fix his thoughts when they tried to stray into dark, cold places; his gut twisting with the hollow agony of knowing…

Knowing things he wished he didn't.

Cleaning the gun kept him steady through that long first night. Kept him grounded when the ground wanted to fall away. It kept him sane.

And it was the one thing he could do for Sam now. The only way he could help… he could make this one, tiny thing right for his brother.

It was morning before he felt like he was through. The sun was beginning to rise, steady and warm and heavy with the promise of summer, by the time the weapon was clean enough to suite him. It was ready to be enfolded and enclosed and packed away, where wind and rust couldn't mar the delicate beauty of its lines, or water get into its workings and steal away its function. It was all he could do for Sam, to honor him… to say good-bye.

It wasn't enough. It wasn't nearly enough.

But it was all he had.

The Taurus, Sam's Taurus, lay on its old shop-cloth, centered and cleaned and as safe as Dean could make it. Unloaded and exposed in the harsh light of the sun, the pistol looked lost. Abandoned.


And he ignored the burning in his throat, the hitch in his breath as he folded the cloth reverently over the gleaming metal. The cloth would protect the gun, keep it dry and safe and whole – something Sam would never be again.

The thought seared him, driving the breath from his chest in an agonizing huff that was so fast and so hard it wasn't even a sob. The bent over the lovingly shrouded gun, his hand fisted in the oil-cloth, and gasped for breath. His lungs were not cooperating, seizing half-way each time he inhaled, so that all he could do was close his eyes and wait, the pain so intense, so physical, that he couldn't even think for a few seconds.

It passed, eventually – washing out of him slowly. And once it was gone he felt hollow and tired and shivery.

And suddenly all he wanted this done. He wanted to be finished.

He fixed the cloth, pulling out the wrinkles where his clutching fingers had tugged at the wrappings, and taped it shut. Once the bundle was closed, he want back to the trunk and slid the Taurus into the depths, hiding it in the shadows, burying it in the safest, best place he knew.

And he already missed his brother…missed him so fiercely that his heart stuttered with it. Missed him so much that, when he shut the cover to the weapons stash in the trunk and he reflexively glanced up – expecting Sam to be standing at the passenger door, head cocked and waiting – the absence of him was like acid washing through his veins. Cold and burning and uncontrollable.

He shivered as the tide came in again, a black wave of loss and anger and hopelessness and despair. Dean held on to the hot metal of the Impala and shuddered through it, waiting for it to pass.

It did. Eventually.

Once he could move again, he closed the trunk and got behind the wheel. He drove away from the field where he'd symbolically buried his brother without looking back. He had a promise to keep.

And he never expected to see the Taurus again once he'd put it away.

Much like his brother.

He was wrong on both counts.