Title: I Have Worn a Coat of Scars
Beta: the irreplaceable sandymg
Spoilers: Through 5.22 'Swan Song'
Disclaimer: Sadly, Supernatural belongs to Kripke & co. I would take much better care of them…
Summary: Dean's drive from Stull Cemetery to Bobby's
Author's Notes: In the Q&A session with Jensen at NashCon 2012, I asked him why Dean did not have the handprint in the bedroom scene in the just aired 'Slice Girls.' He answered that there had been discussion about it and it was decided that the handprint was erased when Cas healed Dean from Lucifer's beating at Stull. This information demanded a story, and it seems I was chosen to write it.
A/N 2: Dean's recall of Sam's instructions and the scene between Dean and Cas in the Impala are taken directly from the 'Swan Song' transcript.
A/N 3: Title taken from:
"I have walked a stair of swords,
I have worn a coat of scars.
I have vowed with hollow words,
I have lied my way to the stars
-Songs of Sapphique" ― Catherine Fisher, Incarceron
I Have Worn a Coat of Stars
Lawrence, Kansas, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a six-and-a-half hour drive; it took Dean two days. The first time he looked to his right and viscerally understood that his brother was never going to sit on the worn leather ever again, Dean jerked the Impala to the side of the road, flung himself out of the car, and proceeded to puke the little he had in his stomach.
When he stumbled back to the car he hunched sideways in the driver's seat, feet still on the roadside gravel.
"Can't do this, Sammy."
Finally, he twisted back behind the wheel and drove silently for another hour, concentrating on not thinking. The headlights of oncoming traffic, fragmented by the cracks radiating across the windshield, became mind-deadeningly hypnotic in the dusk as the car pulled closer to Omaha, until the violent chatter of the tires over the shoulder's rumble strips jerked Dean from his hard-won nothingness to swerve back into his lane. Without thinking, he turned to ask if Sam wanted to drive, and…
He couldn't breathe.
He veered back onto the shoulder and stopped as those last moments watching Sam jump Lucifer into the pit replayed in his mind, his brother's determination mixed with fear, looking at Dean one last time for the approval he needed, Dean knowing that this was the only way Sam thought he could atone for what he'd done…
It should have been me beat through Dean's body in time with his pulse. How could I have let my brother go to Hell, to Lucifer's fucking cage? Memories forcefully buried assaulted him: the sensation of Alastair meticulously teasing skin from muscle while carefully leaving the nerves intact, the methodical stretching of limbs until joints simply snapped, the shattering of his body over and over and over, all the while being mocked for false bravado in refusing to take Alastair's offer to make it stop.
And Sam in the cage with Lucifer will make that seem like Sunday school…Dean struggled from the car before his stomach heaved again.
Taking the next exit, Dean saw the sign for a liquor store and a neon motel logo at the same time. A quick turn into the first parking lot, and he had a bottle of Jack Daniels in his fist, heading for the checkout, when he stopped.
Sam deserves a better send-off. Dean headed back to the whiskey display and grabbed a fifth of Johnny Walker Blue, paid for by the credit card of Mick Jones.
The disinterested clerk at the motel front desk didn't even ask Dean what he wanted, just handed him the key to room 119. Dean froze when he opened the motel room door to two beds…He would have retreated to the car except that his body was so exhausted he couldn't force himself to go back.
This is it, he told himself, this is your life now.
He hunched on the farther bed don't matter which one anymore and memories of other times he'd slept in a room alone overwhelmed him. When Sam'd been at Stanford and Dean and Dad had gone separate ways…when Sam had disappeared from the hotel in West Texas because Meg was riding him…after Crater Lake, when he'd gone off with Ruby to find Lilith, those three months they'd spent apart when Sam didn't trust himself, and Dean didn't either…but Dean had seen where that would lead and called his brother back…
When Sam had died in Cold Oak Dean had done the only thing he could think of.
Maybe he could…
You got to promise not to bring me back.
It had been Sam's choice. What he wanted. To make up for letting Lucifer out of the damn cage.
Dean twisted open the Scotch and let a swallow burn down his throat.
If Dean hadn't opened the first seal, nothing would have let him out.
I let him out. I got to put him back in.
Wasn't your fault, Sammy. You were played. By angels and demons and you were screwed over from before you were even born.
Dean raised the bottle in a salute to the empty bed.
You did it, Sammy. You did it.
He woke in a stiffened heap, still dressed, one foot dangling on the floor, empty bottle alongside it. The throbbing head and queasy stomach were a relief, though, since the physical misery made it impossible to think about...anything.
Most of the hundred-dollar bottle of booze reappeared in the toilet when Dean forced himself to get up. He scooped a couple handfuls of water to rinse the bilious residue from his mouth, swallowed four Tylenol, and decided there was no point in trying to eat anything.
The blaring ringtone of his phone spiked his brain and he fumbled it to silent, too jarred to even curse properly. Squinting to read the screen, he saw the missed called was from Bobby. Probably wondering where the fuck Dean had gotten lost.
There was no reason to call Bobby back. Dean would get to Sioux Falls when he got there. It didn't matter. He pulled his duffle up onto the bed and slumped next to it, feeling for the gun he had shoved in it a lifetime ago. Its solid weight in his hands penetrated the fog in his mind and he shifted it back and forth, wondering if he could do it.
You go live some normal, apple-pie life, Dean. Promise me.
He hurled the gun across the room, not reacting as it shattered the mirror by the door. He hadn't answered Sam, he hadn't promised to keep on living…but Sam asking him to do that was the shittiest thing Sam could have done.
Asking Dean to live the normal life Sam had desperately wanted.
The abrupt shock of his phone ringing again almost had Dean flinging it after the gun, but he stopped himself just before it left his fingers. Answered it instead.
"Dean, where you at, boy?"
He looked at the notepad with the motel name. "Bloomfield's Motor Inn, Bellvue, Nebr…"
With his familiar rustle, Castiel appeared before him, asking, "May I speak to Bobby?" Cas took the phone from Dean's hand without waiting for a reply. Voice calm and solemn, "He is uninjured. Although from his appearance, definitely inebriated." A pause. "I will tell him that. Do you wish to speak with him?"
Bobby's 'no' was audible from where Cas was standing, and he closed the phone and held it out to Dean.
"Bobby says to tell you to 'don't be an idjit' and 'get your ass up here before I come down and get it.' I believe he was…we both were…concerned something had happened to you on the way to Sioux Falls."
"I'm fine, Cas." Dean started as the angel's fingers reached out and grazed his forehead. The welcome punishment of his hangover evaporated. Dean slapped Cas' hand away.
"What the hell'd you do that for?"
"I was merely ameliorating the effects of your over-indulgence in alcohol. I am aware of their unpleasantness."
"I didn't fucking ask you to do that!"
Cas quirked his head and studied Dean for a few moments. "Do you intend to see to your personal hygiene before continuing your journey?"
"What the f—are you my babysitter now, Cas?" Dean ran his palm over his face. He did not want to deal with Cas. Or anyone else. Now. Ever. He just wanted…
His brother back.
And he was never going to get that.
"I am going out that door, getting in the car, and taking however long I fucking feel like to get to Bobby's, okay? And you can fly your feathery ass back to him and tell him that."
"You should eat something before you resume driving."
Irritation trumped inertia, and Dean shoved himself to stand and glare. In typical fashion, Cas took a step too close and peered at Dean with that damnable blue stare. Seeing right into the hollow where Dean's heart had been.
"Out of my way, or I will go through you, Cas."
"Sam asked me to take care of you, Dean. When he asked, I was cut off from heaven and did not have any way to do so, but now I—"
He couldn't handle another second of that compassionate gaze directed at him. He wished Cas had left him broken in the cemetery. Because he'd let Sam …
"Do. Not. Say. Another. Word."
Something flickered in the angel's eyes, and he moved away from the door so Dean could pass. Seizing the handles of the duffle on the unused bed, Dean stomped out, scooping up his gun as he did. The eddy of displaced air against the back of his neck told him that Cas had gone.
Less than thirty minutes later, Dean was passing the outskirts of Omaha, and the stretch of chain restaurants flanking the highway activated hunger pangs. Which he didn't believe he could have, but the grumbling of his belly defied the clawing hollowness that said he would never want to eat again.
Fine, he would stop at the next place he saw, have some coffee.
Except the next damned sign was for a Biggerson's. Dean's appetite vanished, along with his ability to drive. He pulled into the gas station next to the restaurant and turned off the engine, sitting rigidly while he tried to get himself under control again. That was how it was going to be, now, fighting every damn minute to not think of Sam because the hole he'd left was bigger than Dean's whole life.
He couldn't park in front of the gas pump forever, though, so Dean swallowed and forced himself out of the car. Pumped in half a tank of gas, went in to the building to pay, and grabbed a six-pack.
He knew better…but he needed something to dull his mind. He'd only drink one…
It didn't take long for multiple beers on an empty stomach to insulate his mind from his senses, force him to concentrate on the wavering lane markers on the highway to the exclusion of everything else until his delayed realization that there was a stopped car ahead of him ignited a surge of adrenalin and he stomped the brakes while turning the wheel wildly, bracing for the hit…
With a screech the Impala careened sideways, stopped inches from the other car. "Shit, shit, shit," Dean mumbled.
He inched his girl onto the shoulder, thanking her for saving his butt, then pulled the keys from the ignition and huddled behind the wheel. Oblivious to everything beyond the inside of the car, Dean passed out.
He was too hot, and sticky, and why the hell was he parked out in the open on the shoulder of the highway? Dean squinted as the piercing sunlight ricocheted off the hood into his eyes, and groaned as he untwisted himself. His head pounded and Dean closed his eyes again, then moving as little as he could, leaned over and felt around the glove box for some sunglasses.
"You are not gonna puke in the car," he ordered himself sternly. Whatever had brought traffic to a standstill was gone, cars were once again travelling over the speed limit, and he waited for a cluster of semis to pass before pulling out.
The throbbing in his head now trumped the hangover Cas had banished however long ago. When Dean saw the highway sign for 'Food/Lodging 8 Miles' he knew it didn't matter when if ever he got to Sioux Falls, and he parked at the first motel.
"Single bed," he had the presence of mind to say to the middle-aged woman at the desk. She handed him the key with a smile that Dean ignored, and in the room he dropped on the bed.
A long, smoky corridor…Sam was ahead of him…Dean began to run but razor-sharp shadows tore Dean's arms, caught his legs…He called his brother's name but the words evaporated in the pulsing darkness…Abominable shapes slithered down the walls, a gathering crowd of nightmares creeping closer to Sam and Dean couldn't warn him, couldn't stop them as they jumped on Sam's back and began to gouge pieces of flesh from his body, and yet Sam kept walking as they shredded him and Sam turned, and though half his face had been peeled to bone Sam smiled and he said, You promised…
The pain that tore through Dean was worse than anything Alastair had ever done to him and he thrashed to consciousness, the image of Sam's destroyed face seared into the real world…
With agitated hands, Dean pawed through his bag, desperately needing something to anesthetize his mind, obliterate the terrible real vision from his brain…choking on the whiskey Dean tried to not exist…
The dim daylight eeking through the patchy drapes when he registered things around him again indicated time had passed. His head ached, and he couldn't decide if the roiling of his stomach was needing to puke or needing to eat. He was intimately familiar with the discomfort of clothes that had been worn too many days, the sour stink of his body…but he didn't care.
Dean dragged himself to the diner across the parking lot, disregarded the wary look from the blonde waitress, and ordered toast and coffee. He knew he'd regret anything more, but he did need to eat something. Because Sam would want him to.
If he closed his eyes he could see Sam bitchfacing about Dean's negligence in taking care of himself. "You're gone, your opinion doesn't count anymore," Dean muttered bitterly as he gripped his coffee cup with both hands, the wave of anger at Sam taking him by surprise. The waitress set his toast down just then and quickly backed away. He couldn't blame her—unkempt and talking to himself was not going to earn him favorable treatment.
He left a twenty on the table to compensate, the tip would be bigger than the bill. In the motel room he wiped his face, swallowed more Tylenol, swished some water around his mouth, grabbed his bag, and left. Bobby's was just a couple hours away, and he could not-sleep there as well as anywhere.
Castiel's appearance in the front seat startled Dean, but for a little while the angel's silent presence returned Dean to those few months when Cas had ridden shotgun while Sam was on his own. For the briefest moment along a blank stretch of road, the loneliness eased.
Still, even sitting quietly, Dean could feel the power now emanating from Cas, so very different than when he had been on the lam from heaven.
"What are you gonna do now?"
"Return to Heaven, I suppose."
"With Michael in the cage, I'm sure it's total anarchy up there."
And that was that. Sam had just stopped the Apocalypse so Heaven was back to top priority. It shouldn't be a surprise and it shouldn't sting.
"So what, you're the new sheriff in town?"
"Yeah. I like that. Yeah, I suppose I am."
"Wow. God gives you a brand-new, shiny set of wings, and suddenly you're his bitch again." He covered the unexpected hurt with scornful words.
"I don't know what God wants. I don't know if he'll even return. It just…seems like the right thing to do."
And Dean Winchester had had it with God playing games with his life.
"Well, if you do see him, you tell him I'm coming for him next."
"That's an understatement."
"He helped. Maybe even more than we realize."
"That's easy for you to say. He brought you back." Dean fought to keep his voice level. "But what about Sam? What about me, huh? Where's my grand prize? All I got is my brother in a hole!" Dean thought his heart would explode as he said the words out loud.
"You got what you asked for, Dean. No paradise. No Hell. Just more of the same. I mean it, Dean? What would you rather have? Peace or freedom?"
I want Sam, is what Dean wanted to scream. I don't want my freedom alone!
But when he turned to say it, the seat was empty, Cas was gone.
"Well, you really suck at goodbyes, you know that?"
Good-bye, Team Free Will. Gripping the steering wheel so fiercely his forearms ached, Dean kept driving.
It was midnight when Dean pulled into the salvage yard. He might have stayed in the car all night, but Bobby heard the engine and came out.
Whatever Bobby had opened his mouth to say, he reconsidered at the look on Dean's face, just dropped a silent hand on Dean's shoulder and walked with him to the house. In the familiar haven, Dean collapsed on the couch, staring at his hands until Bobby handed him a glass of whiskey.
"To you and your brother, stopping the end of the world together. Despite what the god-damned angels and the devil and all those demon bastards planned!"
Dean couldn't bring himself to toast, just drained the glass and Bobby obligingly refilled it.
When it became clear that Dean would sit on the couch and drink Bobby's booze forever, Bobby took it upon himself to get Dean moving.
"No offense, boy, but you're ripe. You go on up and take a shower, get cleaned up some. Then if you want to drink all night I'll keep you company."
Dean shook his head but Bobby overrode him.
"I mean it, Dean. You're hurtin.' I get that. But you ain't the first person to lose someone close to them. I know what Sam meant to you, but he wouldn't want you givin' up. You know that, better'n anyone, what he wants you to do. Keep going. For him, if not for you. So come on, get cleaned up." Bobby paused. "I won't lie to you and say you'll feel better tomorrow. You'll never feel all right again. But you'll keep going, and one day you'll realize you're living again without realizing it. So, shower. Go on."
If Bobby had glared, Dean wouldn't have gotten up. But he didn't want to face that sympathetic gaze, too much danger of breaking down in front of it…Dean couldn't do that.
He staggered upstairs. As the shower water warmed, he stripped, dropping his clothes on the floor. He turned to step in the tub and his right shoulder reflected in the mirror. His smooth, unmarked right shoulder.
I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition.
Castiel's handprint was gone.
Dean looked at his other shoulder, thinking for a moment the mirror was playing tricks on him…Then he hesitatingly touched the skin that had been a puckered scar since he'd…come back.
Maybe none of this was real? Maybe he was still in Hell and Alastair was mind-fucking him and Sam was still alive…And it wasn't even surprising how quickly Dean seized that thought as the preferable option.
"Game's over!" he yelled at the mirror.
Nothing. He pulled his knife from the pocket of his discarded jeans, flicked it open and ran the blade across the inside of his left arm.
The burn of pain, ooze of blood…Dean watched as the red line trickled in a tiny river until it dripped from his arm to the sink.
Sliced a second time, parallel to the first cut, again watched his blood well out of the slash, feeling the fire of injured nerves protesting what had been done…and Dean knew that this was real because the pain was finite, grounded in his skin, a different lesser quality than what Alastair had been able to inflict…and he shivered in defeat, yet also terrified that he would have surrendered himself back to Hell if it meant everything had been an hallucination.
He looked in the mirror again and realized that not only was Castiel's mark gone, but all the scars collected since he'd come back were missing—the gash on his arm from the shattering glass in the gas station to the damage suffered in the beating from demon-possessed Brady...he twisted for a glimpse of his upper back, and yes, the scar where Bobby'd stabbed him to kill the siren was gone.
He'd been restored to new model specs…again…except…he hadn't fucking asked for this—
Cas should have left him to die.
Dean shut his eyes, held on to the sink at the realization that the absence of his angel's mark signified that Dean no longer mattered to Heaven…or Cas…Dean was yesterday's Apocalypse.
His emptiness was magnified beyond endurance…
You go find Lisa. You pray to God she's dumb enough to take you in, and you…you have barbecues and go to football games. You go live some normal, apple-pie life, Dean. Promise me.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Cicero, Indiana, is a twelve and a half hour drive. It took Dean a week. Because really? He had nothing left but the echo of the promise Sam had wrung from him. And a woman who, if he's really lucky, will take what's left of him in for a while.