Characters: Dean, Sam - GEN
Summary: Missing Scene from 10.23, Brother's Keeper. Before The Darkness, after Death, there were moments only witnessed by two brothers. Removing a Mark placed by God is not done without consequences.
Disclaimer/Warning: They're not mine. More's the pity. The title is in reference to Nod, the land where Cain lived after Abel's death, rather than the James Dean movie by the same name.
Author's Note: Right now my head is full of stories. Musketeer stories and Daredevil stories. But something in me wouldn't let me write those stories until I wrote this one shot. This is a bit of a "director's cut" vision, with me as the director. It would have probably had more impact had I written and posted it soon after the finale, but well…life.
As it is, I simply wanted a bit more when the Mark of Cain was zapped from Dean's arm there at the end. If I ruled the Supernatural world, the end scene would have been a bit more like this. I've done even less research than I typically do when writing this; it's purely memory-driven wish fulfillment.
Also? Fair warning: here there be angst. My thanks to thruterryseyes, who once again gave my words a sanity check.
If you read, I hope you enjoy.
And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
There was blood on Sam's cheek.
It ran from his nose and from lips parted with the rasping, ragged breath born of exertion and emotional exhaustion. Dean's knuckles ached and he could feel a bruise forming around his left eye. Sam always went for the orbital bone: a heavy, wide-arched swing that could do some serious damage upon impact.
If he wanted it to.
Dean could remember a moment, literally in another lifetime, when their positions were reversed. When it was he, not Sam, who was bleeding and cowering on the floor, his resistance broken by a brother who was stronger simply because he didn't pull back. Who hadn't cared about how much pain he caused because pain was the only thing he could feel, the only fuel left in his body.
It was the only real thing.
Sam smiled up at him, a broken, tremulous thing that said I'm sorry and I forgive you and I understand and fuck him anyway. Where did he get off saying that it was okay what Dean was doing? Nothing about this moment was okay. Nothing about it was forgivable. It was weighted in darkness and loss and the sin of bad choices. For all he'd survived, for all he'd been through, there was no way Sam could understand the evil burden Dean bore.
It was a snake coiled inside him.
Heavy and dark, venom dripping through his veins and burning him from the inside out. He felt it in the weight of the scythe, the ancient wood splintering against his palms. He felt it in the sting of his eyes, staring at the blood on Sam's cheek bone and the tears on Sam's face. He tasted it like bile on his tongue, acid scorching his voice until he didn't even recognize it.
"Sammy, close your eyes."
His brother stared up at him, his gaze guileless and full of belief. Faith in a man who no longer existed. A man who had once promised to protect him. A man who had once sold his soul to save him. A man destroyed by a curse he'd taken on willingly, blindly, stupidly.
Not knowing the burden.
Not knowing the history.
Dean froze at Sam's voice, the tremble of it, the plea. He watched as Sam reached a shaking hand inside his jacket and pulled out two photos. He knew them before Sam laid them on the ground at his feet. He knew them by the smell, the sight of the worn edges, the fold down the center. He knew them from the hours, days, years he'd spent staring at them, grounding himself in the knowledge that all his suffering was worth it, because of the people captured in those photos.
"Take these," Sam said, clearing his throat, sniffing, daring Dean to look away, his cat-like, hazel eyes filled with a knowing that twisted an invisible knife in Dean's gut. "And one day…when you find your way back," Sam continued, his gaze steady, his faith unwavering, "let these be your guide. They can help you remember what it was to be good."
Dean felt his heart shudder from deep within the coils of the snake.
"And what it was to love."
Pain twisted inside of Dean, a phantom blade cutting around the outline of his heart. There was a time when causing Sam pain would have broken him. When he would have done absolutely anything to keep his brother alive and whole and give him a chance at a life. Now Dean stood before Sam, Death's scythe in his hands, ready to bring an end to their whole, long, tragic story.
For a long moment he couldn't breathe. The thought of taking this step, bringing it all to an end, betraying his promise to his father, turning his mother's sacrifice to ash, was too much. It was right, this choice. It was the only way to save the world.
"It's for family you must proceed, Dean."
Death smelled of moth balls and kerosene. There was no breath against Dean's neck at the words, but he felt Death's closeness all the same. It was as though a hand had been thrust against his back, reaching through the weak protection of skin, bone, and muscle, and grasped his heart in an icy grip.
"To be what you are," Death continued, "to become what you've become, is a stain on their memory."
Dean let his eyes fall from Sam's face to the pictures on the ground. They had been his reason, all of them. They had driven him forward when life cut his legs out from under him. When demons stole his parents away, he'd gone on in their place. When demons killed his brother, he'd offered himself in exchange. He'd pushed forward, head down, shoulders in, against the tsunami of resistance flung his way by a universe determined to break him.
"Do it," Death commanded. Dean tightened his grip on the handle of the scythe. "Or I will."
There it was.
Dean was never going to be free of Cain's Mark, not without damning some other soul to the same Hell he'd been living. Not without cursing the world with an evil greater than even the demons. He must be locked away from the world for the sake of the world. To save the world he'd fought so hard to protect, to keep safe, he had to leave. Forever.
And to do that, he had to kill his brother. Just as Cain said he would. He was simply fulfilling prophesy.
Sam was braced, saying nothing to counter Death's words. He stared up at Dean with peace in his eyes, the words he'd spoken before still echoing in the slipstream of time that seemed to pause around them. He believed Dean to be a good man.
A good man.
Long as I'm around, nothing bad's going to happen to you.
That's my job, right? Look after my pain in the ass little brother?
Remember what Dad taught you…remember what I taught you.
I'm not gonna leave you.
I'm proud of us.
Dean stopped breathing. He raised the scythe. Sam closed his eyes.
He felt Sam inhale, as though he pulled in all the oxygen from the room leaving them standing, impossibly, in a vacuum. Air slipped along his bruised cheekbone, the fine hairs on the shell of his ear, on his skinned knuckles. He felt his body lean into the swing, every muscle moving in morbid synchronicity as he brought the scythe down, turning in a perfect rotation to bury the blade.
Dean released the scythe, blinking in frank surprise as Death stared back at him, momentarily still, the blade bisecting him at the chest. Dean had known the moment he lifted the scythe that he was not going to kill his brother, but he had no idea what would happen when he sliced into Death. He was certainly not expecting the placid blink followed by a complete disintegration of the Being and his weapon.
Breath escaping on a sharp exhale, Dean staggered back a step, staring in shock at the space Death had taken up. Sam's harsh chuff echoed his and brought Dean's attention around. He looked at his brother, still on his knees, and blinked away the dizzying stars taking over his field of vision.
"You okay?" Dean asked, his voice rough. He thrust out a hand and was grateful when Sam instinctively grasped it.
"Yeah," Sam replied, leveraging himself to his feet. "You?"
"Fantastic," Dean muttered, releasing his brother's hand. "I think I just killed Death."
He saw the questions in Sam's eyes, each splashing across his brother's expression louder than the last. How is that possible? What does that mean? What happens now? Did you know you weren't going to kill me?
The last practically screamed at Dean, though Sam said nothing, and for that Dean was grateful. Because the truthful answer might have destroyed them both and it didn't matter now. They stood together, no better off than they had been before Dean summoned Death to help him, both slaves to a circumstance of Dean's own making.
He had chosen to take on the Mark – and with that the burden of its dark secret – and he had damned them, and the world, to this reality. If Death could not banish him somewhere the world was safe from him, Dean would have to do so himself. Taking a breath, Dean turned to face his brother, the necessary words to convince Sam to truly let him go crashing against each other in his head.
Before he could utter a syllable, however, he heard a low rumble outside. The brothers hadn't lived most of their life in the Midwest without recognizing the sound of an oncoming storm. Dean saw Sam's instinctive crouch mirror his as they both looked up at the ceiling of the old bar, both braced for an impact.
There was a pressure in the air; Dean felt it in his lungs, slowing his heart beat, burning his eyes.
He tried to take a breath and found it nearly impossible, the force inside of him so great. He stumbled back, trying to keep his feet, for the first time in a long time legitimately scared. He tried to call out to Sam, but his brother was still looking up, out of tune with Dean's non-verbal cues since his return to humanity.
For a moment nothing happened, and then without further preamble, a bolt of lightning defied the laws of physics and cut through the roof of the bar, finding Dean like a beacon. Dean lost sight of Sam, of the interior of the bar, of anything that wasn't the brilliance of the lightning. It thrust him back against the bar, his ribs slamming hard against the well-worn wood.
Power-driven, electrified fingers wrapped around Dean's right arm, drawing it upward until the Mark of Cain was exposed, illuminated, glowing like a brand. Dean felt each nerve of his body stand at attention, their ends exposed as the Mark was drawn from him.
The lighting tore it from him by the roots, the curse's influence having woven through his blood stream, keeping him alive when the angel sword bled him dry, transforming him into a demon in a defense mechanism designed to ensure its survival, interlocking with his soul when his humanity was returned.
Dean felt something inside his mind…splinter, as though he were suddenly two people caged within one fragile, human body. The pain was intense, a migraine of epic proportions, ripping through him as the curse was lifted. He could hear someone screaming and it wasn't until he tried to breathe that he realized the sound was coming from him.
The lightning burned through him, searing his arm, heating his blood, and then, after what felt like an eternity of pain, it was gone. Gasping, Dean clasped his arm against his chest, his knees buckling, his body pitching to the side, sliding down the front of the bar to land in a heap against the legs of the bar stools.
Fighting to pull in air through lungs that had been pressed flat, an airway reduced to the width of a straw, Dean felt himself slipping backwards down a tunnel, sinking into the darkness, suffocating on blood-drenched memories that assaulted him without remorse.
Rudy's pleading eyes, Castiel's blood-smeared face, Charlie's crumpled body….
Someone was calling him, looking for him. Sam? No, the voice was all wrong – too far away, too young. Sam wasn't young, not anymore. Sam was weathered and weary and…oh God, I killed Sam…I killed Sam!
"No! No you didn't…I'm here. Hey, man. I'm here, okay?"
He couldn't breathe.
He fought for it, gasping, flailing, arms reaching for air, but they were strapped down, tangled in barbed wire, in chains, in leather straps…. The rack. He was back on the rack, stripped down, ripped apart.
As he should be.
As he deserved.
"Hey, man, hey, don't…don't do this, Dean."
Pressure built inside of him until his back bowed from it, instinctive demanding he survive. Pain that had been hunkered down in a corner of his mind suddenly surged forward, answering its cue and exploding center stage in a brilliant burst of fire that had him screaming in response. His blood cells were spiked, slipping through his system with blades, slashing him apart from the inside.
He sobbed, helpless to push away from a pain that was all around him, inside him, of him. His body sought the anchor of the Mark, the thrum of power, the fuel that had kept him alive when physics and biology had called for his death. He twisted, arching his back, bowing his neck, fighting still to stay in the game, to keep present, to live.
He heard a voice, someone familiar, but the words were lost to his terror. Part of him wanted to latch onto that voice, to hold it close and hide inside of it, but he couldn't force his shaking body to move. And he knew that it was only a temporary refuge anyway; the pain was a part of him now.
There was no escape.
The rack was gone and there was nothing but the screams of monsters around him. He was cold, it was dark, and the only thing he had left was a need to survive. He was reduced to that one instinct. Whatever came at him, he knew he had to stay alive because…because….
The thought slipped away, oxygen-starved and anorexic.
He had known why at one time, but now there was nothing to protect, nothing to defend. Sam was gone, and it was his fault. He'd failed. And now he just wanted the pain to stop.
He just wanted to stop fighting.
Sparks danced around him as his muscles seemed to slowly release, allowing his back to sink to the earth. He couldn't tell if his eyes were opened or closed, but he could smell something warm and familiar. It smelled like leather and gunpowder, dirt and grease and home.
The pain was receding, like an ebbing tide, his body finally giving in to the loss of the Mark. He dared to look around and saw a small glow of light in the dark, heard a low, familiar laugh. A good laugh, filling him with a peace he'd only felt once before in his life. He wanted to get closer to the laugh, to the person who had made that sound.
He wanted the forgiveness the sound promised. He wanted it all to be over. No more pain, no more fighting, no more.
The Mark was gone. He was free.
He was free…and the world was going to pay the price for his freedom. The Mark was gone and the world would suffer. And it simply wasn't in Dean to allow that to happen.
Dean pulled away from the laugh, from the smell of home and safety, from the enticing assurance of an end…and he fought once more to live.
Sam blinked in reaction to the brilliance of the lightning, choking a bit on the smell of ozone in the air, and staring uncomprehendingly at his brother as the blast slammed Dean back against the bar. He watched in shock as Dean's right arm was pulled upward by the electricity, the Mark of Cain glowing like a brand.
"Holy shit…they did it," he breathed, fighting to comprehend what he was seeing.
Sam's world had tipped sideways rapidly since he stepped into the old bar to confront his stone-faced brother. He felt wrung out, bruised, and exhausted…but all of that vanished when Dean screamed.
It sounded as though the Mark was being torn from him. Sam had never heard his brother scream like that before. It was pure pain and terror and Sam shuddered in reaction, stumbling backwards and shielding his eyes from the brilliance of the light.
The lightning ended as quickly as it struck, the vacuum of silence left in its wake pressing against Sam's ears. He dropped his arm, staring toward Dean on instinct, but pulled up short at the glazed, shell-shocked look in Dean's eyes.
His brother clasped his right arm to his chest as though it were broken and stumbled to the side before his knees gave out completely and he fell against the old bar stools, his limbs caught up against the wooden legs.
Sam felt dizzy; he pulled in a shallow breath and moved cautiously forward, blinking away the smell of heat that burned his eyes. He was almost afraid to approach Dean; the man had, after all, just been holding a scythe above his head. But this was his brother, the one person who had sacrificed everything to keep him safe.
There was no doubt in his mind that Dean would never have considered this option had the Mark not—
Dean cried out and began to shake, startling Sam from the hazy of his thoughts.
Sam crouched next to his brother, hands hovering uncertainly. This wasn't a normal chill or tremble he was seeing. Dean was practically seizing, his legs shaking hard enough that the heels of his boots thunked against the wooden floor.
"…God…oh, God I killed…Sam…I killed…killed…Sam…."
The rasping, utterly broken tone that wrapped around Dean's whispered words galvanized Sam into action. He grasped his brother's arms at the wrists, shocked at how cold to the touch Dean was.
"No! No you didn't…I'm here!" He shook Dean's arms, trying to get his attention. "Hey, man. I'm here, okay?"
Dean's eyes were open, but it was clear he wasn't seeing Sam bending over him. His pupils were blown so wide Sam could barely see an outline of green. His teeth were chattering and his face was absolutely drained of color. Sam pulled Dean's right arm toward him and noted that the pale skin below the bend of his elbow was smooth and unblemished, as if the Mark had never been there.
"Way to go, Cas," Sam whispered, a smile ghosting across his lips.
Without warning, Dean jerked his arm free of Sam's grip, but it wasn't a conscious motion. His limbs flailed as though he were fighting against someone – or something – arms ending up tangled rather awkwardly in the legs of the barstools, pinning them away from his sides and giving Sam the illusion of his brother being crucified against the floor.
"Hey, man, hey, don't…," Sam grunted as he tried to free Dean's arms, "don't do this, Dean."
Sam shoved the bar stools away, freeing Dean's arms, but it didn't slow the shuddering that seemed to ripple through every muscle of his brother's body, his breathing shallow, labored, rasping through lungs that sounded as useful as deflated balloons.
"Easy," Sam soothed, helplessly reaching for Dean's arms once more as a broken sob slipped from Dean's dry lips. "It's gonna be okay."
He wanted to believe it. He needed to believe it. The Mark was the cause of all their pain and heartache. It had turned his brother into a demon, and even when human once again, it had drained away all that was Dean with the devastation of a house fire.
Sam had been so lost without the foundation that was his brother; all he had to do to get Dean back was rid him of that damn Mark. It had been so clear to him.
He'd get rid of the Mark, get Dean back, and they'd have a chance to be brothers again, the way they'd been before the trials had emptied Sam of his hope, before Dean had been left without a choice except Ezekiel, before Sam had broken his brother's heart…before Dean had fucking died on him.
With a strangled sound that was mid-way between a gasp and cry, Dean arched his back, his eyes blood-shot, tears leaking unchecked down his face as he stared sightlessly forward.
"Jesus, Dean," Sam whispered, suddenly scared. The pain etched into Dean's expression took Sam's breath away. The only other time he'd seen Dean look like this, Hellhounds were ripping him apart.
Not knowing what else to do, Sam gathered his brother close, feeling the unnatural tension in Dean's muscles as his body tensed, his neck arching, as though he were being clenched in a giant hand.
"I didn't know," Sam confessed, tears choking him. "I swear I didn't know it would do this to you."
Dean gasped again and his hands shook, the tremble racing up his arms and chattering his teeth until Sam could barely hold him.
"I just wanted you free, Dean," Sam said, curling Dean's shaking body close to him and using the flat of his free hand to wipe the tears from Dean's face. "I wanted that fucking think off of you. I wanted you back, dammit! I needed you back!"
It had never occurred to Sam that the Mark would be linked to Dean physically. On some plane of understanding, he had known the only reason Dean was alive now was because the Mark had not allowed him to die. He simply hadn't allowed himself to think that there would be any other result except Dean, back the way he had been, the way he really was.
Dean's lips were turning blue, his skin now so pale it was practically translucent, as though he were bleeding out from somewhere. Sam felt a sob escape and he curled Dean closer to him as his brother's body jerked and thrashed against him, fighting to live, fighting to die….
It was all Dean really knew: how to fight.
"I didn't know," Sam whispered again, as Dean's thrashing slowed.
He stared hard at his brother, watching as Dean's weeping eyes gazed blankly at the ceiling, his blue-tinged lips slightly parted, air rasping in and out so softly Sam felt as though he were imagining that he heard it. Dean's trembling eased further until it was nothing more than a tremor beneath Sam's grip. Had he not been holding Dean against him, he wouldn't have felt it.
"Please," Sam choked out, turning Dean's face toward him. His brother's skin was like ice, his chest no longer moving, though Sam could detect a slight wheeze of air. "Please don't do this, Dean. Please."
Dean had warned him, had told him that the Mark was more than just a curse. It was a punishment for a sin Dean had never committed. It was more than any one human could bear.
Dean had made the choice to take it on thinking he was out of options, thinking that he'd been abandoned by the one person who should have loved him no matter what.
"I do love you, dammit," Sam growled, sniffing as tears slipped from the corner of his eyes to drip from the end of his nose and splash onto Dean's pale cheek. "You're my big brother, man. I've always loved you. Please don't let it win, Dean. I need you. The world needs you."
He couldn't do this fight alone; that had been his driving force as he sought a cure for this curse. He needed Dean by his side. But it had never once occurred to him what losing the curse might do to Dean.
"No," Sam shook his head once, as he heard Dean wheeze. "No, this isn't right. This isn't fair."
He lifted his eyes to where the lightning had slammed through the roof of the old bar.
"You hear me!" he roared. "Don't do this to us, not now. Not after everything…." He choked a bit on a sob, looking back down at Dean, unable to tell if his brother was still breathing. "Not after everything," he whispered. "Please."
Sam bowed his head, resting his forehead against his brother's cool skin, his tears mixing with the blood from the cut on his cheek, placed there by Dean's fists just moments ago. They ran, pale and pink, down his face and dropped onto Dean's face. Sam watched them with detached fascination, feeling the fight drain from him as he held his brother's cold, still body once more.
He couldn't do this again. Not again. He couldn't come so close only to lose Dean again. He wouldn't survive it. He didn't want to survive it.
A thin, shallow breath stirred Dean's chest, forcing Sam's head up. He sniffed, staring at Dean's still-unblinking eyes, daring to hope—
There. Another breath. And this time, Dean blinked once, twice, bringing air into his body, color into his face once more.
"Ha!" Sam exclaimed, feeling his entire body relax as Dean closed his eyes, his brows drawing together over the bridge of his eyes. He licked his lips slowly as though waking from a long sleep, and pulled in another deep lung full of air. "That's it, Dean. Come on back."
Color flushed through Dean's face, his lips no longer blue, as he stirred, shifting slowly in Sam's arms.
"What the-?" He blinked uncomprehendingly up at Sam, his eyes once more green and warm, despite the confusion.
Sam barked another laugh, causing Dean to jump, startled by the sound. He didn't resist when Dean pressed his forearm against Sam's chest, pushing his upper body away. He simply braced Dean's shoulder as his brother twisted sideways to slump against the underside of the bar, blinking rapidly.
"Son of a bitch," Dean groaned, rotating his right shoulder gingerly. Sam sat back, tenting his arms on his bent knees, and watched. "You get the plate of the truck that hit me?"
Remnants of tears slipped crookedly through the scruff along Dean's jaw and Sam watched as his brother lifted a clumsy hand and swiped at them distractedly.
"What do you remember?" Sam asked, forced to clear the emotion from his throat when Dean looked at him sharply. "You remember where you are?"
Dean frowned again, but this time it simply looked puzzled, not the fierce, frightening scowl that had been at home on his face for far too long.
"Some bar?" he muttered, looking around. He eyes landed on the pile of black ash that had once been Death. "I get whammied by a demon or something?"
"You could say that," Sam replied, dragging a hand down his face smearing the blood and tears drying there.
Dean watched the motion with careful eyes and Sam saw his gaze light on the cut along his cheek. Dean looked down at his scuffed knuckles, and then back at the pile of ash and Sam watched the memories hit him.
It was like seeing someone get sucked under by a riptide.
Dean went momentarily pale once more, then his face flushed and he took in a sharp breath, eyes darting from his hand to the ash several times before he turned his right arm over to see the smooth, unblemished skin where the Mark had been for far too long.
"Sammy, what did you do?" he breathed.
"It was killing you, Dean," Sam said, emotion making his voice tight and thin. "And you…you were going to kill me because of it."
Dean lifted tragic eyes to his, the devastation there like a punch to the gut. Sam swallowed, waiting. On a weak exhale, Dean curled inward, shoving his fingers through his short hair and gripping it tightly. For a long minute neither of them moved nor spoke. Sam barely breathed.
"What did you have to give up to save me?" Dean asked, so quietly Sam wasn't really sure if he'd heard it.
Nothing he wanted to say. Everything he almost replied.
He followed Dean's gaze toward the pile of ash and realized the answer the same time as Dean: the world.
Sniffing, Sam pushed to his feet, waving unsteadily for a moment as his blood pressure leveled out. He was exhausted, emotionally spent, and scared. But none of it mattered. Because he wasn't alone. No matter what came from this curse being lifted, he wasn't going to have to face it alone.
"Here," Sam said, reaching down.
Dean took his proffered hand, his grasp solid and warm. Sam balanced him a bit once he was upright, the ordeal having taken more out of him than either of them registered. Leaning forward, his free hand propped on his knee, his other hand gripping Sam's tightly, Dean hung his head a moment, simply breathing.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Yeah," Dean replied automatically. Then, "No. I don't know." He straightened and staggered backwards until he was leaning against the bar, still holding tightly to Sam's hand. "I'm alive, so there's that."
"You…," Sam stopped, looked away, cleared his throat. He couldn't meet Dean's eyes. "I thought…. I mean, you stopped breathing."
"Feel like I went a couple rounds with Ali," Dean groaned, rubbing the back of his head.
"I didn't think about…," Sam shrugged, unwilling to release Dean's hand until his brother pulled away. "I just wanted you to be free of the Mark. I didn't think about how it might…affect you. Y'know. Physically."
Dean was quiet for a moment and Sam braced himself for the rebuke. That's the problem, Sam. You didn't think. You've always been selfish, but this one takes the cake. Who are you to decide I was more important than the world? Some fine mess you've made. The world will die, but Dean Winchester gets to live. Hoo-friggin-ray.
"It's okay," Dean replied softly, his hand no longer gripping Sam's. He didn't move away, though. He just released his fingers. "I'd 've done the same thing." He huffed a slight, self-deprecating laugh. "Hell, I have done the same thing."
He glanced to the side and Sam caught his breath at the light he saw held in his brother's eyes. It had been so long since he'd seen it he'd actually forgotten that it was there. That this was how Dean looked, full of light and fight and possibility. Even when the world beat him bloody and stood on his neck, Dean had held onto that light. He'd believed in the fight and he came out swinging.
The Mark of Cain had taken that from him. It had bruised him and killed his light, turning his fight inward until all he'd been was pain and anger. Seeing this Dean, his Dean, staring back at him now, Sam realized it had been way too long since he'd stood beside his brother.
There you are, man.
"What?" Dean asked, confused. "Why're you staring at me like that?"
"I just…I missed you, Dean."
Dean arched an eyebrow at him. "I've been right here," he said, turning sideways so that he rested against the bar, but was able to fully face Sam.
Sam shook his head. "No you haven't," he said, letting his gaze fall to the arm that had one bore the Mark.
Dean followed his gaze. "Yeah," he said quietly. "It was like I was…banished. I knew what was happening, I was just…somewhere else. And I didn't know how to get back."
"You're back now," Sam said.
Dean looked up at him, his eyes tracking the cut on Sam's cheek, then back up to his eyes. "I guess I am."
He smiled slightly and Sam felt something loosen in his chest in reaction. He knew that with everything looming in the wake of the Mark's removal that was as close to a thank you as he was bound to get. Before he could say anything too chick-flicky, however, he saw Dean frown, looking up and around.
"What?" Sam followed his directionless gaze, feeling an odd sort of pressure in his ears.
"You feel that?" Dean asked.
"Feels like…a storm?"
A muscle along Dean's jaw flexed. "Grab your stuff."
Sam glanced around the bar at the dirty mugs and congealing taquitos. "Um…."
"Skip it," Dean swiped his jacket from one of the downed bar stools. "Let's go." He was tense, fidgety, acting like he wanting to escape this place and Sam found he couldn't blame him. "How long was I…y'know?"
"Not long," Sam replied. "Maybe fifteen minutes?" They stepped outside and Sam took a breath. "Dean, this is good," he tried to reassure his now anxious brother. Dean was rubbing at his arm like he could still feel the Mark. Or like he was regretting the loss, which was worse in Sam's estimation. "The…the Mark is off your arm," he said as the door of the bar closed behind them. "Nothing crazy happened."
Dean shot him a look.
"Well, nothing universally epic, anyway."
Dean eyed the Impala with a look of longing and Sam grabbed onto that.
"You get your baby back," he cajoled, wanting Dean to release the breath he could feel his brother holding.
"Yeah," Dean conceded, a worried frown coloring his tone. "I'm sure everything's perfectly fine."
The pressure on Sam's ears intensified and with it came a familiar, unwelcome smell: sulfur. As one, he and Dean looked to the west as a great crack of electricity echoed across the dusty, barren land surrounding the bar. In moments a great, seething cloud of black smoke emerged from the earth and Sam gaped, uncomprehendingly.
"Holy shit…." He heard Dean breathe.
"What…what did Death call this?" Sam choked out. "The Darkness?"
The cloud grew, groaning and crackling with power off-shoots spiking skyward, arching far beyond their line of sight. Sam knew this was the origin of all demons, this Darkness. He felt the pull of the energy, sucking the light from inside him. He felt wickedness unlike anything they'd ever encountered seep into the very air he breathed.
"Get in the car," Dean ordered, his tone leaving no room for argument.
"Yeah," Sam agreed helplessly and ran to the Impala.
As the cloud grew, the earth shaking in reaction, the sky groaning with the burden of darkness, Dean shoved the Impala into reverse and flattened the accelerator. When the back wheels caught in the mud, they were tossed forward into the dash. Dean shoved the gear into drive, then reverse once more, trying desperately to get clear and give them a chance.
"Let's go, let's go!" Sam shouted helplessly, eyes on the roiling black cloud growing rapidly closer. "Dean!"
Dean said nothing, his entire body tense. He tried once more to free the Impala and then he simply stopped, hands on the wheel. Sam gasped, his body tight with fear and anticipation, a small corner of his mind soaked in guilt and regret. He'd done this. He'd brought this darkness to the earth. And it looked like he was going to be one of the first ones it took.
As he should be.
As he deserved.
But knowing that didn't make him any less afraid.
"Dean!" Sam shouted, one last, desperate time.
He felt Dean's hand grip his jacket, twisting the material in his fist and holding Sam tight. Instinctively, Sam reached back, grabbing hold of his brother, his anchor, the one light in all of this darkness.
"I'm here," Dean called back to him as the cloud rushed forward. "I'm not gonna leave you."
And The Darkness consumed them.
a/n: And now…we wait. Or…we look for other fic writers who'll speculate on what happens after those last few heart-stopping moments of the finale.
I know it wasn't much, but I wanted to offer something to the SPN world before I slipped back into another fandom. I've said I'll write "the cave story" that several folks chatted with me about via my weekly episode reviews, and I will at some point. But it'll be later this year, after a few other stories are purged and there's room for the muse to stretch her wings a bit.
As always, I thank you for reading.