Disclaimer/ Spoilers: See chapter 1
a/n: And we've come to the end. Thanks so much to all of you who made this latest journey with me. I'm finding myself slowing a bit on the Supernatural Fanfic Writing Machine but I still so very much appreciate that you read and I treasure your comments. There are some days when RL shoves me into a hole and your comments—even if it's just to say hey, Gaelic, I read your story—are the rope that pulls me back out again.
I hope you enjoy this wrap-up to the story that started because of a dream. It's been an interesting exploration of description and sensation.
Tammy, this bookends your Kazcon author's auction contribution. I hope you feel it was worth your hard-earned pennies, and I'd be honored to write for you again.
With that, I leave you to it.
"So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty."
- Haniel Long
They got as far as Salina before Sam's wounded hands refused to grip the steering wheel. He thought to push forward, keep on, get more distance between them and Kansas City, but the constant throb of the split skin across his knuckles was beyond distracting.
Not only that, Dean had begun to visibly shiver, despite the heater being turned on and the black hooded sweat shirt wrapped around him.
Cas…sure hope you were able to cover our tracks, Sam thought with a whisper of desperation as he veered off the Interstate and into the plains town. Dean's fitful sleep was punctuated by soft, incoherent murmurs and an occasional twitch of fingers as if his brother was reaching for something.
Sam could tell Dean's fever was increasing simply by looking. Flushed face yet pale skin, jaw trembling, brow furrowed…Dean had always carried a look of frightening vulnerability when his body broke down around him. It wasn't something Sam would ever get used to seeing.
Morning light still bruising the eastern sky, Sam pulled into a gas station, looking to fill up and get his bearings. He expected Dean to wake the moment the Impala ceased rumbling, but he remained slumped slightly to the side, looking smaller, somehow.
"Dean," Sam called softly.
A line deepened between Dean's brows, his lips folding down in a frown.
"Hey." Sam reached over to gently push at Dean's shoulder.
Dean flinched at his touch, his eyes cracking open, but not completely aware. Sam waited a moment; rushing Dean to consciousness was never a wise idea unless absolutely necessary. This time, though, it wasn't the cornered animal he was wary of—it was a rerun of the broken-hearted fear that Sam had heard in the undertones of his brother's voice back in that wet alley.
Sam kept his hand on Dean's shoulder, frowning at the heat he felt there. After a moment, he flexed his fingers in what he hoped was a reassuring grip. Dean blinked, swallowing audibly, his blood-shot and bruised eyes sliding to rest uncomprehendingly on Sam.
"Hey," Sam tried again.
For several unnerving moments, Dean simply looked at him. Sam barely felt his brother breathing. And then, before Sam could think of something reassuring to say, Dean closed his eyes, sinking back against the door with a sigh. Frowning, Sam let his hand fall away, looking out through the windshield at the gas pumps.
He didn't want to leave Dean alone, but he also couldn't not fuel the car. Pulling the keys from the ignition, Sam locked all of the doors as he exited, moving around to the back of the car. He flipped down the license plate and untwisted the gas cap, keeping his eyes on his brother's still form, watching for signs of life.
The silence that had ridden shotgun since leaving Kansas City was an unpleasant reminder of time past when he'd been away from Dean—either by choice or Trickster-induced circumstance—and had felt the lack of connection. Even when his brother drove him crazy with his irritating habits and ever-shifting walls, Dean had been the one constant in Sam's life.
He resented the fact that a cadre of angels and demons were working to take that from him. From both of them.
Shoving the gas hose back into the pump, he loped up to the station, casting frequent glances over his shoulder. The last thing he needed was Dean to wake from a fever dream and panic. He opened the door of the convenience store doubling as the pay station and took in the sleepy sounds of morning regulars greeting each other, standing in line for their to-go coffees, and debating over the Danishes.
A country music station blared on the overhead speakers causing Sam to wince slightly as he made his way to the counter. A gray-haired man in overalls was catching the clerk up on the latest progress of his corn crop, sounding as if he might be gearing up for a long story. Taking a breath, willing patience to overcome anxiety, Sam raised up to his toes to glance out over the window stickers and gas pumps to peer into the Impala's window.
Dean's silhouette was still curled against the door. Sam clenched his jaw. He was going to have to find a clinic now, before they left Salina. He couldn't risk another eight or ten hours on the road. They were both too beat up to make it further.
Sam jerked his eyes front, realizing the farmer had left. He stepped forward, handing the dark-haired man behind the counter cash for the fuel, not missing the narrow-eyed gaze the clerk raked over his features. Sam knew he had to be a sight; his face still throbbed from the bruises and his hands were killing him. There was also a sharp pinch in his side that he hadn't noticed until he'd climbed out of the car—courtesy, no doubt, of a demon's boots.
"Your change," the clerk said.
"Thanks," Sam folded the cash, dropping the coins into the leave a penny box. "Hey, you guys have a…walk-in clinic or anything like that around here?"
Dark eyes made another pass over him, coming to rest on his swollen hands. "You in some kind of trouble?"
Sam forced a smile. "No, no, nothing like that…just…my brother and I got a little banged up and need some…help."
It was strange how difficult it was for him to force that word out. So often, they did everything on their own. The hunt, the fight, the healing. But maybe…that was why they were both so messed up. Maybe if they had some real help once in awhile, Sam wouldn't be overly conscious of each minute that ticked by as he was apart from his wounded brother.
"There's a Prompt Care about two miles south of here," the clerk finally answered. "Go left on Riggin and you'll see it."
"Great," Sam nodded, keeping his smile in place. "Thanks a lot."
He moved quickly from the curious eyes of the clerk, his thoughts drifting for a moment to the other numerous times in his life he'd had to shrug off or hide bruises and wounds. They'd lived their lives under the radar, and their deaths had gone unnoticed by the world. Yet they were fighting a war where the world's fate lay in balance.
If they lived as vessels or died as humans…would anyone know? Would anyone care?
He unlocked the driver's side door and dropped into the seat, ears picking up the rapid breathing coming from the passenger side. His brother's nightmares rarely resulted in vocalization of the terror, but sometimes Sam almost wished for some kind of clue as to how to comfort him.
If that was even possible.
"Dean." Sam grabbed his brother's forearm, shaking him quickly. "Open your eyes, man. It's just a dream."
Dean's head twitched to the side and Sam felt him pull away slightly, pressing against the door.
"Dean, wake up, okay?"
On a deep gasp for air, Dean surged forward, his eyes opening wide, his free hand swinging and coming into harsh contact with the dash.
"Easy, easy, it's okay, you're okay," Sam instantly soothed, releasing his brother's arm, and holding both hands up in a gesture of surrender.
Dean ran shaking hands over his shoulder, along his sides, then lifted his eyes to hit Sam's. "Chains," he rasped. "There were…there were chains…."
"No chains, man." Sam shook his head. "You're safe."
Dean blinked at him for a moment, realization slow to sink back into his expression. Sam sat still as his brother looked past him, then around.
"Where the hell are we?"
Sam winced at the way Dean's voice seemed to catch in his chest. He was ready to have his brother back in one piece, ready to fight back. This wounded weakness was not going to win many battles.
Sam rotated toward the steering wheel. "Gas station. Salina."
"We're still in Kansas?" Dean ran a hand over his flushed face.
"Yeah—car needed gas and," he paused, working to grip the steering wheel, "my hands hurt like hell."
"Teach you to go ballistic on a demon," Dean muttered, shifting stiffly in his seat. Sam didn't miss his low hiss of pain.
"I've done it before."
"You were juiced up before," Dean pointed out. "Gotta be more careful, Sammy."
Sam pressed his lips together. Another weakness that got in their way.
"There's a clinic just down the road," Sam said in lieu of commenting.
"They hurt that bad?" Dean asked in a thin voice as he adjusted his twisted sweat shirt.
Sam saw that the bandage he'd placed on his brother's wound in the warehouse was once more tinged pink, the skin around it red.
"That and," he tipped his head in Dean's direction, "you're a mess."
Dean dropped his shirt and canted his head back against the seat. "It's freakin' freezing in this car," he grumbled.
"It's your fever."
"Cas cover our tracks?"
"Hope so," Sam said tightly, turning down the road the clerk had directed him to.
"Since we're stopping here, we should stock up—"
"Dean!" Sam snapped, unable to bear the tight voice a moment longer. "Relax, okay? We'll take care of you first."
"I'm not that bad—"
"You are." Sam pulled to a stop in the lot of the Salina Prompt Care and turned sideways in the seat to face his brother. "You are, okay?"
Dean looked at him, and there was something lingering at the corner of his eyes that pushed Sam into his next confession.
"I was…that virus was bad, Dean."
"No shit," Dean commented dryly. "I was there, remember?"
Sam shook his head. "No, that's not what I mean." He shoved his hands through his hair, then pulled them down his face and dropped them into his lap. His eyes followed, his voice low. "It proved that they can get to us. Both sides. They can find us and they can hurt us."
Dean was quiet.
"What if…," Sam lifted his eyes, looking through the windshield at the Prompt Care sign. "What if next time we can't fight them off?"
"We'll fight them off," Dean replied, the hard edge he shoved against his words tempered by the weakness in his voice.
Sam looked toward his brother but stopped short of meeting Dean's eyes. "What if we can't? I mean…we're only human."
Dean sniffed and Sam saw him look away. Silence was broken only by the sound of the ticking engine and the muted traffic.
"You still know where you want to go next?" Dean asked suddenly, drawing Sam's eyes up in surprise.
"Let's get there. Then we can deal with this."
Sam narrowed his eyes. "You okay?"
Dean swallowed. "Not really."
Goaded by that rare confession, Sam climbed out of the car, retrieved Dean's now-dry socks and boots from the trunk, and moved around to the passenger side. He opened the door and handed the footwear to his brother.
Dean didn't look at him when he said, "Dude…I'm gonna need some help."
"I don't think…. I can't bend—"
"I got it," Sam said instantly, doubts of destiny erased by the need to be in action.
Dean pushed himself around and Sam helped him pull on his boots, grabbing Dean's outstretched hand and hauling him to his feet. Dean's low groan shook through his body and Sam crouched, slipping his brother's arm over his shoulders as he kicked the door shut.
"Son of a bitch," Dean gasped, pressing his free hand against his side. "Fucker hurts."
"I told you it was infected." Sam moved them slowly forward, worry digging deeper as the heat from his brother's body seeped through his clothes and into Sam. "Shouldn't have let you go this long without—"
"You did good, Sam," Dean breathed. "Got us out of there. Saved my ass."
"Should've moved faster." Sam berated himself, the memory of Dean's sightless eyes in a panic-ridden face still too fresh in his mind.
Dean stopped him at the door, one hand flat on Sam's chest. "Sam."
The sound of his name in his brother's voice had always caught him. Bellowed, whispered, said with exasperation or hope, Dean always knew how to grab him, hold him, keep him just by saying his name.
"You saved my life."
The tight tremble that had been present in Dean's voice since he'd woken up was gone; in its place was the grounding tone of authority and assertion. The tone that had always made Sam want to square his shoulders and walk tall. The tone that had made Sam proud to be Dean's brother.
They began to move forward once more.
"Added bonus?" Dean said softly, the tremble returning. "You did it…human."
The joy of feeling anything abated quickly when Sam woke him in the gas station.
Dean felt fire roll in a slow burn beneath the surface, but this time it emanated from one specific source: the wound on his side. He felt the fever chewing on him; felt his over-sensitive skin recoil from the touch of his clothes, felt himself shivering from the inside out.
He wouldn't outwardly admit it—he did have the tattered remains of a reputation to uphold after all—but he was indescribably relieved to hear they were heading to a clinic. This time, he knew, they needed help. Both of them.
The look on the receptionist's face when they stepped up to the desk made Dean work to quell his instinctive grin. Her eyes rounded in surprise and she darted a frantic gaze over her shoulder toward an opened door before asking how she could help them.
"Need to, uh," Sam hesitantly replied, "see a doctor?"
Dean knew his face was still bruised from Sly's meaty fist and Sam looked like someone had worked him over and then some. He half expected her to call the police.
"You boys in some trouble?"
"No, ma'am," Dean replied smoothly, this time allowing his grin to slide neatly into place.
Even looking like death warmed over, he knew the power of his grin. It would have been more effective if he'd been able to let go of Sam, but the way his legs were shaking he knew that if he did that, they'd be picking him up off the floor.
She frowned back at him, then handed Sam a clipboard. "Fill this out. One sheet for both of you. Doctor will see you in a minute."
Dean nodded and allowed Sam to turn them around and head to the empty waiting room. They were apparently the first patients of the day. He lowered himself down onto one of the uncomfortable chairs, biting back a whimper. Sam sat next to him and began to fill in all of the standard misinformation.
"Be right back," Sam whispered as he stood to return the clipboard to the desk. Dean didn't miss the way his brother pressed his arm to his side.
When Sam returned, Dean pinned him with a look. "Cracked?"
"Oh." Sam looked down. "Dunno. Maybe."
Dean shook his head. "And you're hauling my ass around?"
Sam arched an eyebrow. "Stab wound trumps cracked ribs this time, Dude."
Dean opened his mouth to retort when a male voice called out, "Paul Cassidy and Robert Longbaugh?"
Sam stood quickly. Dean managed to get part way out of the chair before the slice of pain stole his breath and he was forced to reach for Sam's grip.
"Which one am I?" he asked tightly.
"Paul," Sam replied. "I'm the younger, better-looking one."
"Right," Dean muttered with an abbreviated roll of his eyes.
The doctor was dressed in a blue polo shirt and jeans. Dean couldn't decide which to stare at: the bright orange stethoscope or the gray Mohawk. The doctor's eyes tracked from the form in his hands to the brothers, Dean's arm slung over Sam's shoulders, Sam's free hand pressed against his side.
"Lemme guess," the doctor tilted his head. "I should see the other guys."
Dean's tight grin was immediate. "Something like that."
"Mind if I ask what happened here?"
They answered in unison. Just not together.
"Hunting accident," Sam replied.
"Bar fight," Dean said.
The doctor narrowed his eyes and lifted his chin. "Come on back." He turned and led them through a door and down a hall.
"Hunting accident?" Dean hissed. "What the hell?"
"There's more than one kind of hunting," Sam whispered back.
Dean pointed to his face. "Those other kinds? Don't hit back."
"You, here," the doctor pointed to Dean and a side room. "You," he gestured to Sam with two fingers and a sweep of his arm, "there."
"Uh, doc…," Sam started.
"Robert, is it?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded.
"You're the one with the split knuckles and sore ribs," the doctor looked back down at the sheet.
"That's right," Sam frowned, glancing at Dean, then back at the doctor.
"Head that way and Emily will get you started. We'll have to do an X-ray to be sure nothing's broken."
Dean straightened slightly, knowing what they'd see on that X-ray aside from any cracks in Sam's bones. And it wasn't something they'd be able to explain away easily. Sam didn't move, apparently thinking the same thing.
"There a problem?" the doctor asked, sounding impatient.
"No, Doc, it's just that—" Sam started.
"He's got this…thing…about X-rays. Kinda goes a little," Dean twisted a finger around in a circle at his temple, raising his eyebrows. "Any other way you could check him out?"
The doctor narrowed his eyes. "Tell you what. Let's fix up those hands first. I'll take care of your infected cut and we'll come back to the ribs."
Sam nodded, then helped Dean into the room the doctor had indicated. The exam table was waist high. Dean swallowed, thinking about how it was going to feel to climb up.
"Use the steps," Sam said softly.
Following his brother's directions, Dean sat gingerly on the edge of the table, listing to his left, away from his wounded side.
"You gonna be okay?" he asked as Sam turned to leave.
Sam glanced back, looking at Dean with careful eyes. "Yeah. You just…listen to him. Don't be a hero."
"Dude," Dean said with a cocky shrug. "It's me."
Sam rolled his eyes and stepped from the room where, presumably, Emily waited to repair his hands.
"Okay, so let's take a look at this cut," the doctor sighed, stepping into the room moments after Sam left.
"It's here." Dean gestured toward his side.
The doctor reached out and lifted the sweat shirt, exposing the pink-tinged bandage. He gently probed the area around the gauze, causing Dean to flinch and suck in air. His frown deepening, the doctor raised Dean's shirt a bit higher, exposing the massive bruise that had resulted from the injection.
"Bar fight, huh?"
"Might've…been a bit…more than that."
The doctor dropped Dean's shirt and stared at him. "Why didn't you go to the ER?"
Dean rolled his lips against his teeth, trying to think of a plausible excuse. He was good at this; lying to strangers came easily to him. He should be able to tuck the vivid memories of Hell and experience of losing of his senses back behind a wall to draw forth a story this man would accept.
The problem was, he hurt. He felt himself shivering and was using all of his energy to hold himself still. The stab wound throbbed and his head ached. If he didn't lie down soon he was genuinely afraid he would tumble off the edge of the exam table.
"Listen, Doc," he managed, hearing the thinness in his voice. "We're not the bad guys. I promise. We just got sideways…of some…people, and…"
He gripped the table as his vision went blurry.
"Easy, easy, okay." The doctor's voice shifted from suspicious to concerned. Dean felt hands on his arm and shoulder easing him backwards to lie on the table. "Jesus, kid, you're burning up."
Dean swallowed, closing his eyes against the harsh glare of the overhead fluorescent lights. Sam's hoodie was too heavy and at the same time not warm enough. He heard the doctor step from the room and tried to listen for Sam, but his body was weighted and the exam table was suddenly the most comfortable thing in the whole world.
Digging his fingers into the sides of the table to keep from slipping off, Dean fought the darkness, needing to stay aware as long as possible. More voices—unfamiliar and anxious—were suddenly in the room, spinning around him. He heard someone calling his name, felt his body lifted, the sweatshirt tugged upwards and off of him.
The last thing he was fully conscious of was the sharp tug and rip as the medical tape was pulled from his belly.
His dreams were jumbled imagines, disorienting slices of life and Hell and memories and fears. He slipped from Sam's laugh to Bobby's rueful grin to John's smile. Images of driving the Impala, lying beneath her, stocking weapons in the trunk rolled into images of a myriad of motels, abandoned houses, and burned-out buildings.
Somewhere in the tangle of buried memories, Dean realized the heat that rolled just beneath the surface of his skin was beginning to abate. He didn't ache as badly, and he could draw a breath without it becoming a battle of wills. Relief began to wear down the sharp edges of his dreams, fading the colors of his memory to a comforting, nondescript gray.
And, finally, he slept.
Breathing deep, he snagged on to the voice. Sam's voice.
"Hey, man, you gotta wake up, now."
His mouth was filled with cotton and someone had glued his lashes to his cheeks.
Running his tongue over dry lips, Dean pried his eyes open, blinking at the blurry outline of the person beside him. Sam.
Forcing his eyes wide, he looked around, taking in the evidence that they were still in the clinic, still in the same room, and he was still on the exam table. However, he was now lying propped up by several pillows, his clothes gone, covered to the neck by soft blankets.
"There you are," Sam said, a smile in his voice.
"Wha—" He was forced to stop, swallow, his throat as dry as sand.
Sam was in silhouette, the room lights dimmed, the place quiet. He saw a cup and a straw tipped toward him and leaned over to drink gratefully.
"What happened?" He tried again.
"Well…I think you scared the crap out of the Prompt Care team."
Dean blinked, his eyebrows arching up. "What'd I do?"
Sam leaned a hip against the exam table. Dean saw that his hands were wrapped, his fingertips still exposed, but the rest looking as if he was about to slip on boxing gloves.
"You passed out."
"Huh," Dean frowned, lifting his arm and tracing the IV line. "What's all this?"
"Well, turns out you were running a fever of about 103," Sam said, his tone matter-of-fact. "They got it down after a couple hours."
"Hours? How long we been here?"
"It's the middle of the night, man," Sam said. "We've been here like…sixteen hours."
"They let us stay?"
"I talked them into not calling the police—or an ambulance. They wanted to take you to the ER. Probably should've."
"You okay?" Dean rubbed at his eyes, still trying to get his bearings. "Your ribs?"
Sam nodded, lifting the edge of his shirt. His side was taped. "No X-rays."
"Good. Don't know how we would've explained those…whatever they are on our bones." Dean sighed, dropping his head back and looking up at the ceiling. "What did they give me?"
"Fluids, mainly, and a couple high-powered shots of antibiotics," Sam said. "You were dried out, and that cut…." He shook his head. "It was pretty bad, Dean."
Dean shoved the blanket down, looking at his bruised chest. A large, white bandage was wrapped several times around his belly, slightly thicker over the area where the glass had gone in.
Sam nodded. "They drained the infection, did some other stuff I couldn't see—and didn't want to—then sewed you back up. Shot you full of antibiotics. Your fever started to go down after that."
Lying back, Dean took a breath. "We gotta get out of here, don't we?"
"Doc's sleeping in one of the side rooms," Sam explained. "Don't know if I can't keep him from calling someone if we're still here when they open in the morning."
"Okay," Dean nodded. He closed his eyes, settling himself, then looked over at Sam. "I hate to do this, but—"
"Already done," Sam said softly, lifting a bag and showing Dean the contents of more sutures, bandages, antibiotics, pain meds, IV tubing, saline bags, and needles.
"Sammy Winchester. Boy Scout," Dean whispered.
Sam smiled. "You think you can get up?"
Dean nodded before he was sure of his answer. There only seemed to be one problem. "What happened to what I was wearing?"
"Um…that's…gone," Sam replied cryptically. "But I have some scrubs here you can put on."
"Fabulous," Dean grumbled, swinging his bare legs over the edge of the table. He paused a moment as his chest hitched and his side throbbed once in protest.
"Want some pain meds first?"
Dean nodded silently, reaching out as Sam handed him the pills. He swallowed them with the rest of the water, waiting patiently while Sam removed his IV and pressed a tissue over the small hole until it stopped bleeding.
"You're getting pretty good at that," Dean commented.
Sam huffed out a quick laugh. "I should've gone to medical school instead of law school. Woulda been more practical."
"You would've made a great lawyer, Sam."
Sam looked up at him, surprise in his eyes. "What makes you say that?"
"You argue with everything I say and you always gotta be right."
"No, I don't," Sam instantly protested, then smirked. "Shut up."
Dean slid from the table, grateful that his legs supported him. Pulling on the scrubs Sam handed him, he used the table for balance as he shoved his feet into his unlaced boots. He waited while Sam opened the door, checking the hallway.
"Okay, it's clear." Sam nodded toward the opening, leading the way out.
Dean's body felt oddly hollow, but he was no longer shaking. Squaring his shoulders, he followed Sam down the hall, pausing briefly as they crept past the room where the doctor slept. They slipped out of the Prompt Care and into the night, the ever-present Kansas wind cutting through the thin scrubs and raising goose bumps along his skin.
"Get in," Sam ordered.
"I'll drive," Dean argued.
"Dude, just get in the damn car and let's get out of here," Sam snapped.
Dean's brow furrowed at Sam's tone, but he reluctantly obeyed—mostly because he was freezing his ass off and he didn't want to get caught by the Mohawk-wearing doctor. He waited until Sam pulled out of the clinic before speaking again.
"Find a motel."
"Not in Salina."
"Fine, whatever. Just pull over at the first one you see."
Sam looked over at him. "You okay?"
"I'll be fine," Dean snapped. "It's you I'm worried about."
"Me? I'm not the one that went through hell these last two days, Dean."
Dean arched a brow, tilting his chin toward Sam. "Is that right?"
Sam looked back out at the road.
"When's the last time you slept, Sam?"
Sam was quiet a moment. "Not like you slept, either," he grumbled.
"Got me a nap back at the clinic."
"You were unconscious. Hardly the same thing."
"So we both need some down time," Dean shot back.
"You're a stubborn jerk, you know that?" Sam stated.
"Worked that out all by yourself, did you?"
Dean gripped the dash as Sam pulled out onto the Interstate, keeping a lookout for street signs that would indicate a safe place to pull off for a few hours. Sam's quiet filled the car and pressed against Dean's still-healing body.
"Just spit it out already, Sam."
For a moment, Sam resisted. Dean watched his brother's bandaged hands curl around the steering wheel as he fought against himself.
"Back at the clinic…when you were…," Sam tilted his head, working his lips in a gesture Dean recognized as holding back emotion. "You were dreaming. Again. And you usually don't say anything. You just…it looks like you're fighting something. But this time…you said…."
He stopped, shaking his head.
"What did I say?" Dean prompted quietly.
"You said, I tried."
Dean looked down. He remembered the mottled mess of his dream, the images and voices twisting and blending into a colored Rorschach test. He didn't remember saying anything.
And he couldn't figure out what to say now.
"I just…I want you to know that…I know, Dean."
"You know what?"
"I know you tried. I know that…that everything Cas said was true. That you were…that you never…went darkside. In Hell."
Dean slid his eyes to the side. It wasn't something he'd realized Sam worried about. His going darkside. Becoming a demon. But as gears suddenly fit into place in his mind, he kicked himself, knowing he should have realized it. He should have figured it out.
"I just…," Sam took a breath, dropping one of his bandaged hands into his lap, his eyes narrowing against oncoming headlights. "When you told me about climbing off the rack…and that you enjoyed torturing those other souls…."
Any words Dean had thought to say dried up in the back of his throat.
"I thought maybe you'd get it…y'know, why I did what I did."
"Jesus, Sammy," Dean whispered, shaking his head in the dark. His brother had been searching for forgiveness all this time—not from the angels or God or the world. From him. And he'd missed it.
"I know there's no way I can make up…y'know, for Lucifer," Sam hastened to say, completely misinterpreting his curse, Dean realized. "But I thought maybe…if you'd been there…felt that…power. You'd get it."
"But I…," Sam interrupted him. "I didn't understand until all this happened. It wasn't the act of torturing you enjoyed—it was the freedom from the pain."
The car was quiet once more. Dean swallowed, trying to find the words that would offer his brother the solace he needed without belittling the raw sincerity of Sam's confession.
"I was good at it, you know," Dean revealed quietly. "That's why they came back to me—the angels. With," his almost choked on the name, "Alistair."
"I know," Sam replied, his voice husky.
"You're right about part of it, Sam," Dean said, tipping his head to the side, resting his forehead against the cool glass. "About the freedom from the pain. But…there was more to it than that."
He saw Sam's surprise glance out of the corner of his eyes. He didn't move. He simply continued speaking. "Somewhere inside of me…someplace I don't want to think about…it felt good. Doing what I did."
Dean lifted his head, looking over at his brother. "And I think that's why what you were doing with the demon blood was so…." He shook his head, unable to pinpoint the words that would be enough to describe what he felt, what he meant. "It was like seeing the dark inside of me. And I hated it, man. You know what I'm saying?"
Sam nodded without speaking.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Dean said sincerely.
"What for?" Sam asked surprised. "I'm the one that's sorry."
"I missed it. I was so caught up in…in everything I could still remember about Hell and all this shit with the angels and…I missed what you needed from me."
Sam worked his jaw, his eyes suspiciously bright in the reflection of the highway lights. "Well, I'd say we're even, then."
"I, uh," he cleared his throat. "I kinda took for granted that you'd…y'know…dealt with it. With Hell."
Dean shook his head, looking out through the window. "Don't really think that's something you can cross off a checklist."
"Yeah, well, I didn't pay attention. Even your nightmares have started to get…well, kinda normal for me."
Dean tilted his head in concession.
"Took a demon wanting revenge to show me that it's there with you. Every day."
Dean simply took a breath, leaning his head back against the window.
"Y'know…maybe I was wrong," Sam said, breaking the quiet once more.
"Goes without saying," Dean replied immediately.
"I'm serious, man. Maybe…well, maybe Cas had a point, y'know?"
Dean heard him take a breath.
"I mean, that's kinda been the whole point of this, hasn't it?" Sam's voice grew in strength as he fastened on to this new conviction. "You never let go, Dean. In all that time, with all the torture, you never lost your soul. You were always human. And that's what she tried to take away from you."
"Almost did it, too."
"No." Sam's tone was decisive. "No way, man. She might've taken away your senses, but you didn't let her win. You said it yourself, remember?"
Dean looked back at him, brows lowered.
"You said that other angel—Adonael—he gave you another chance to say yes."
"Sneaky bastard," Dean grumbled.
"Yeah, well, Cas said that Michael would have made you whole—returned your senses."
"Not me. He would've just fixed up his packaging."
"But you still said no," Sam reminded him. "You held out. And you beat her."
"Thanks to you and the magic antidote."
"I'm just saying…maybe our humanity really will be the only thing that gets us through this fight."
"Yeah, maybe," Dean conceded softly, truly tired of trying to figure out the answers to questions that were above his paygrade.
As they drove on into the thin hours of early morning, Sam's words rattled around Dean's head like pin balls, bouncing against the barriers he'd constructed to keep him sane, and keep others safe.
"Motel, five miles," Sam said finally.
With Dean was still in scrubs, Sam went inside—bandaged hands and all—to get a room. Dean unlocked the motel room door as the key was a bit hard for Sam to manage, and they tumbled silently inside, dropping their bags and weapons, locking the door and falling into their beds without another word to each other.
When Dean next opened his eyes, light spilled bright and hot into the room. Sam was snoring, sprawled across the other bed, clad in only his boxers, his hair sticking to his face in sweaty strings. Rising stiffly, Dean made his way to the new medicine bag, swallowed some pain meds and antibiotics, then took a change of clothes to the bathroom.
As steam from the shower filled the small room, he regarded himself in the mirror.
Had it been enough to try? What about now? Would it be enough to try to hold back an angel, resist his demands? Dragging a hand down his face he saw the answer staring back at him. If they were going to come out of this on the other side—whole, complete, human—he was going to have to do a damn site better than try.
Showered, shaved, and starving, he exited the bathroom to find his brother still sleeping. Jotting down a note, he grabbed the Impala keys and snuck out of the room in search of food. His body felt as if it finally belonged to him once more. Taking a heady breath of the mid-morning air, he slid behind the wheel of his car, his eyes rolling closed with pleasure for a brief moment as she roared to life.
"Better than sex, baby," he whispered to the dash. "And I should know."
His hands felt right as they held the wheel, the tender muscles of his chest and belly relaxing as the powerful machine vibrated beneath him. As long as he had this car, he knew he'd be grounded. He knew he'd be able to come home.
"Want me to take a shift?"
Dean shook his head, his fingers bouncing against the steering wheel to the beat of the music. Sam had noticed he'd kept the volume at a respectable level, not cranking it up as he so often did when he was getting back behind the wheel after an extended absence.
He'd slipped in the Led Zeppelin anthology Sam had given him a couple of years ago after a particularly trying hunt in South Carolina where Dean had been temporarily deafened in an explosion. Sam had smiled as he'd watched Dean dig through his cassettes to find that particular one. Traveling Riverside Blues faded and D'yer Mak'er geared up, pulling a smile across Dean's bruised face.
"You gotta be getting sore," Sam tried again.
"I'm good," Dean replied. "Do I want to take 287 or stay on 40?"
"What do I look like, Rand McNally?" Sam replied.
"Dude, you're the one that said you had an idea."
"Which is why I should drive," Sam pushed.
"Fine!" Dean reluctantly relented. "I'll pull over to gas up and you can take over then."
"Good. Take 287," Sam told him, sitting back with a satisfied smile.
When Sam took over, he let the music play on, enjoying the memories of drives when he was small enough to curl up on the back seat, the open windows drawing in a zephyr as the Impala cut through the growing darkness. His father and brother had been close—often times right next to him—and a virtual arsenal had been behind him. He'd never been safer, more protected.
And Zeppelin had played on.
"Uh…Dude. Where the hell are we going?" Dean finally asked as Sam veered from a country road to a dirt road.
The dark was thick, dragging against the windows like a lover's parting fingers, and the Impala jostled across the rough ground.
"With all the fun to have, to live the dreams we always had, with all the songs to sing, when we at last return again…."
"Told you I had an idea," Sam replied, grunting as they cleared a deeper pothole.
"Was it to strand us in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire?"
"Just…chill out. We're almost there."
He ignored the way Dean gripped the dash with one hand and pressed a hand against the roof with the other. He ignored the clenched jaw and muttered curses. He just let the music play and watched for the opening.
"There," he said softly, turning the wheel hard right and threading the trees with the large Chevy.
"What the fu—"
"Trust me," Sam interjected, grinning as they broke through the tree line and spilled into a large clearing. He stopped the car, turning off the lights but left the engine running to fuel the music, and sat back with a smile as he looked over at Dean.
"I don't get it." Dean frowned.
Shaking his head Sam leaned forward across the wheel, looking out through the windshield as the star-sliver grass bending in the soft Colorado wind.
"Remember when the virus first hit and you said you could smell grass?"
Dean nodded slowly, his eyes beginning to widen with memory.
"And you remembered that night we camped out in a clearing and got drunk off our asses?"
"No way," Dean breathed in soft realization, his hand on the door. "No way you remembered the clearing."
Sam grinned, watching as Dean climbed stiffly from the car and leaned on the opened door.
"I'll be goddamned," Dean uttered softly. "How the hell…?"
"I didn't remember where it was straight off," Sam said, climbing from the car, then moving around to the back and opening the trunk. "But I started thinking about sensory memory. Like," he paused, hesitating sharing this small bit of information, "how the smell of lilies reminds me of Jessica."
He closed the trunk, a case of beer in his arms, to see Dean staring at him, starlight tossing shadows across the plains of his face.
"I never knew that," Dean said, his tone apologetic.
Sam shrugged, plowing forward. "How could you know? I never told you."
Dean simply watched him a moment, his eyes unguarded.
"He used her, you know," Sam choked out.
"Lucifer. Used Jess." He stopped. It was harder than he'd thought it would be to share this with his brother. To simply speak this out loud.
A line buried itself deep between Dean's brows and his lips thinned as he opened his mouth to no doubt tear the night with a stream of obscenities.
"I told you I dreamed about her—about Jess—when I was…away," Sam reminded him.
Clenching his jaw, Dean nodded. Sam felt an ache he hadn't been consciously aware of begin to ease as he let Dean in on the secret.
"That how he found me—through my dreams. Through her."
"Son of a bitch," Dean spat, looking away, the starlight playing with the jump of his jaw muscle. "I knew that demon bitch found a girl that looked enough like her to…." He bit off the rest of what he was going to say. "Guess the bastard knows how to find our weaknesses, huh?"
"He found a good one," Sam replied softly.
"I swear I'm so going to gut that snake." Dean's words dripped venom through teeth clenched in quiet-burning anger.
"Get in line," Sam huffed out a humorless laugh. He was quiet a moment, watching his brother looking out over the clearing, knowing that instead of gently blowing grass he saw the death of their enemy. "Feels good to tell you that."
Dean looked back at him, still holding on to the door, his eyes now shadowed. Sam moved around to the front of the car, setting the beer on the ground and letting Zeppelin fill the space between them. He looked up at the myriad of stars spread out above them in the velvet expanse of a moonless sky.
"And if you feel that you can't go on. And your will's sinkin' low. Just believe and you can't go wrong. In the light you will find the road. You will find the road."
"Anyway," Sam said, picking up where he'd left off. "After you brought it up, I tried to remember that night in the clearing, but when I thought about the smell of grass, all I could think about was…."
"What?" Dean pushed gently when Sam paused.
"The night I buried you," Sam revealed quietly.
Dean looked down.
"But I wanted that memory—the one you had," Sam continued. "I wanted it back, and that's when I remembered the hunt we'd been on when we ended up in the clearing."
"Witches?" Dean tilted his head in question, moving away from the door and joining Sam at the front of the car.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, watching as Dean bent, one hand pressed against his tender side, and grabbed two bottles. "I was kinda…claustrophobic after they locked me in that trunk."
"Yeah, I remember," Dean nodded, smiling as he handed Sam an opened bottle and twisted his own cap free, tossing it back in the box.
Sam had purposely bought twist-off caps since they lacked Dean's ring to remove the tops. He wasn't sure when his brother stopped wearing it, but he hadn't seen it for some time. One more mark on the tally sheet of things that had changed in the past several months. He slid up on the hood of the car, hooking his heels against the front bumper. The car shifted slightly as Dean joined him off to the side.
"You made it like this…adventure," Sam chuckled. "Just like when we were kids and Dad would be gone for longer than normal."
"Well, you were so squirrely; I had to get you grounded so we could sleep inside again."
"I don't think I'd ever been that drunk before," Sam said, sipping his beer and lifting his eyes to the stars.
"Leaves are fallin' all around, time I was on my way. Thanks to you, I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay. But now it's time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way…."
"Maybe not before," Dean said, a grin in his tone, "but you sure as hell made up for it after."
"Bite me," Sam grinned, glancing over his shoulder at his brother, watching as Dean's eyes tracked the stars.
Dean dropped his gaze to meet Sam's, and he raised his beer. "To memories."
Sam thought of the night drives with his dad, Dean, and Zeppelin. He raised his beer, but Dean wasn't finished.
"And to never forgetting," he added softly, his eyes on Sam's.
A lump lodged in his throat, Sam nodded, clicking the neck of his bottle against his brother's.
"Thanks, Dean," he said quietly.
Dean's half-grin seemed to erase years from his bruised face and his eyes reflected the starlight as he tipped his beer up for a drink.
The night wrapped around them like an old friend, the forgotten light of the stars illuminating the clearing with a silver glow. The music kept them company as they worked their way through the case of beer, tension leaking free in the silence.
They had a battle ahead of them still, and both had survived too much to think that one night of peace would heal over a year's worth of invisible wounds. But as Sam sat on the hood of the Impala, his brother next to him, both with eyes lifted in silent regard of the night sky, the hours slipped past with nothing but music filling the quiet, and he found a little bit of hope for humanity.
"Oh, war is the common cry, pick up your swords and fly. The sky is filled with good and bad, mortals never know…."
a/n: Thanks for hangin' with me. As promised, I have posted some extraordinary manips by Thru Terry's Eyes and a fantastic vid by LovinJackson to the song "Call Me" by Shinedown, specifically made for this story over on my LiveJournal:
Replace the (words) with the symbols as per usual. The talent of these ladies blows me away and I'm ever so thankful to have their skills add to the flavor of this story. I hope you enjoy.
Travelin' Riverside Blues
Achilles Last Stand
In the Light
The Battle of Evermore