TITLE: The Shard and the Specter
GENRE: Gen, H/C
SPOILERS: Coda to 10.14
CHAR: Dean and Sam
RATING: PG 13
SUMMARY: Sam brings Dean home after the showdown with Cain.
It’s started to snow—tiny flecks that glint in the moonlight and melt as they hit the driveway and the hood of the Impala. Sam eases Dean into the passenger seat. The old army blanket they keep in the trunk gets put to use as he slides it behind Dean’s back and tugs it around his shoulders. He presses a water bottle into Dean’s still shaking hands.
“It might help,” Sam says, though he’s got no idea. “Drink it, and try to get some sleep, okay? We’ve got a long freakin’ drive ahead of us.”
Dean clings to the bottle, blinks at it and nods. It’s like he’s holding something from Neptune.
Sam pats his cheek. “Good.”
Cas is gone—the responsibility to take care of the blade has been bestowed on him, and he isn’t wasting his time. Although Sam could have used some help getting Dean back to the car. There’d been a few close calls where he’d lost his grip and almost let his brother crash face-first into the gravel.
Long driveway. Even longer drive back to Lebanon.
They start for home, and while Sam would normally be chastised for not keeping his eyes on the road, this time his compulsion to look over at Dean every 15 seconds goes completely unnoticed.
He worries that Dean’s in some kind of shock. He doesn’t speak, just twists a frayed strand of blanket wool between his fingers and squeezes his eyes closed every few minutes. Like he’s trying desperately to remember something. Or forget something.
He only drinks the water when Sam tells him to drink while reaching over and jiggling the bottle that Dean always forgets he’s holding.
When Sam reaches for the radio, Dean bats his hand back and says don’t. Which is reason to be relieved, since it means Dean isn’t completely catatonic. But it’s also another reason to worry. Music, for Dean, is like air.
It’s dawn, Ohio barely in their taillights. Dean’s finally fallen asleep, and Sam listens to his brother’s discordant breathing. They’re in strip-mall land, bright spotlights from the surrounding parking lots disappearing the moon and stars. At a red light, Sam notices how pale Dean looks—stabbed-in-the-chest, dying-in-Sam’s-arms pale. He reaches for Dean’s wrist, a reassuring pulse. The relief is momentary. The light turns green, and as Sam presses on the gas, Dean wakes with a deep, strained gasp. His hands fly out, clutch the seat like a rollercoaster cart.
He recovers quickly—slouches back into the black vinyl and smears his hands down his face.
“Shit. Sorry,” he grunts.
“Don’t be, man,” Sam tells him, eyes darting back and forth between the road and his brother.
He gives Dean a minute to compose himself, and asks, “Dean? Did Cain… what did he say to you?”
Dean lets out a small, pained laugh, and his eyes are suddenly bright with unshed tears. He shakes his head and turns to look out the passenger-side window. It takes a long time for him to answer.
“Nothin’, Sammy. Nothin’ I didn’t already know.” He tries to sound casual, but Sam hears the defeat, the chasm of depression that drops off behind it. The precipice Dean’s inches from.
He wants to pull the car over, stop going anywhere, doing anything, until Dean tells him exactly what’s wrong. The old Sam would do it, too. Because it’s what Sam needs.
But Dean is trying so hard already, just to hang on to himself. Sam can’t risk disrupting that. Stability, constancy—that’s what Dean needs.
“It’s gonna be okay. You’re stronger than he was.”
The strip-malls are gone, replaced by the bare trees along the embankments of the Eagle Creek Reservoir. The moon reappears half full out the back window. Dean, still turned away from him, is motionless. “There’s no cure.”
“What?” Sam asks, his voice cracking because Dean’s caught him off guard with how certain he sounds.
There’s an apology on Dean’s face when he finally looks at Sam. “S’what he said. There’s no way to ditch it.”
A couple of 18 wheelers roar past and Sam veers towards the shoulder of the narrow two-lane highway, his grip on the steering wheel tightening.
“He was trying to kill you, man. He… he could have been messing with your head.”
A moment passes, then a held breath escapes Dean’s lungs, and he gives Sam another one of those infinitesimal smiles. “Yeah. You’re right, Sammy.”
“No. You’re right. I’m just… I’m just really tired is all.”
Sam nods, even though he knows it’s more than that.
By the time they get back to the bunker, Dean’s mustered up enough strength to walk stiffly from the garage to the sanctuary of the bathroom. And Sam can’t think to do anything but sit right outside on the hallway floor and listen to the loud rush of the shower echoing against the white tiles, feel steam seeping through the crack under the door, and just be there, in case something happens. In case…
He wonders how many times Dean has done the same thing for him. Before all of this, he’d never really understood.
The shower shuts off. Wet feet pad across the room. Hair gets scrubbed at with a towel. Something clatters into the sink.
Dean hisses. “Fuck…”
Sam stands up and presses his hand to the door. And then there’s another, louder clattering sound.
“Dean?” Sam hollers. “You okay in there?”
“Fine,” Dean grunts. But it’s followed by another sharp hiss. “Damn it!”
The door isn’t locked. “Dude, you better be decent,” Sam says, slowly making his way inside.
Dean’s leaning towards the mirror with a small pair of tweezers poised over one of the gashes on his forehead, towel wrapped around his waist. His hand is shaking. His torso is half-covered in bruises.
“I’m fine, Sam.” He doesn’t look it. He looks like he’s about to faint.
“Come on. Let me help you, okay?”
Dean sighs, but he holds out the tweezers and Sam takes them.
They were invisible before, but under the bright fluorescent lights, the small shards of glass embedded in his skin almost sparkle. Though it looks like all Dean’s managed to remove are two of the slightly bigger ones—now on the edge of the porcelain sink, coated in Dean’s blood.
Sam draws closer, leans down a little and squints at the cuts on Dean’s face, trying to decide which splinter of glass to pick out first. He can almost fool himself into believing it’s just another early morning performing routine first aid on his reckless brother.
“Dude. Why didn’t you say anything? We should have taken care of this before we left Ohio,” Sam says, plucking a shard from just over Dean’s eyebrow. Dean doesn’t flinch, but he’s holding onto the edge of the sink like he needs it.
“Had other things on my mind.”
That’s an understatement, of course. And this isn’t just another early morning anything. Sam feels like a dick for even thinking it. It’s not Dean who dropped the ball here.
“You’re right. Sorry. I should have had a closer look at you back there.”
The tiny shrapnel makes a light plinking sound when Sam releases it from the tweezers onto the edge of the sink.
“Don’t worry about it,” Dean says.
There was a children’s story Sam read once where a cursed mirror broke into shards and a piece lodged itself into a boy’s eye, turning everything he saw in the world ugly and evil. He became cold and sickly-pale. Whatever Sam imagined he looked like, that’s how Dean looks now.
As the warm humidity from the shower dissipates, Sam pulls the remaining glass from Dean’s cuts.
“Whatever happens? Whatever the mark does to you? I’m never gonna give up on you, Dean. I need you to know that.”
As heartfelt as they are, Sam’s words seem to have the opposite effect he intends them to. Dean looks at Sam the way he did back at the barn, when he told Sam he was scared. Only now he looks terrified.
There’s something Dean’s not telling him. Something happened. Something’s different now. Worse.
Sam worries Dean might break down right then and there. Or make a run for it. But instead he takes a deep breath and nods, trying with what little energy he has to seem vaguely okay. For Sam’s sake.