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Title: Of Gathered Shadows and Shattered Glass
Characters: Dean W. and Sam W. with mentions of Cas and Crowley
Spoiler Alert: Deals directly with the events of 10x14: The Executioner’s Song
Pairings: None
Word Count: 9,448
Rating: PG
Genre: hurt/comfort, missing scene
Disclaimer: Supernatural and her characters are the property of Eric Kripke and the CW and I am in no way affiliated with either.

Summary: Dean's head falls forward, settling into the shallow hollow between Sam's shoulder and neck.  Harsh breath splays over his collarbone. "Hold on, Dean," he pleads, cursing the keys. "Almost there."

A missing scene from 10x14.

Many thanks to the incomparable LadyReisling who has so graciously agreed to become my beta. Without her gentle guidance, this would be much, much messier :)

Part One

Sam detests barns. They remind him too much of the past. Of sleepless nights spent huddled against his brother for warmth, when they made their beds on moldering piles of carelessly raked hay that smelled slightly of cat urine and the disinterest of the second generation. He can remember lying on his back with one arm crooked behind his head, blinking up at stars through jagged holes in neglected roofs and wondering if their father would even make it back alive from his latest hunt. Back then, they were still a family with something to lose. Monsters could still make them orphans, so sometimes Sam would stare up through those holes and try to wish on all the stars. His developing, pre-teen sensibilities always made sure to hide this fact from his brother, of course, but Sam can admit now that sometimes he even prayed.

Barns were always these colossal, rotting structures that seemed ready to collapse down around him at any moment. He would huddle next to Dean in the darkness and wonder at tinsel strength and the true power of ancient oak cut down long before things like chainsaws existed in the world. He realizes now it's just because the supernatural things his father hunted rarely occupied the new and well constructed, but back then, as a kid, he always just assumed that barns naturally came this way.

Sometimes they were red, with timber so degraded it looked as though the barn had rows of jagged, bloody teeth at its base. Other times they were whitewashed so heavily he could lie back on his smelly pallet of hay and watch little bits of it flake from the walls and ceilings and float to the ground in the moonlight. Every so often they would catch in some invisible vortex of a draft and he would follow them with his eyes until they disappeared into the shadows that always seemed to crowd into the corners of places like these. He spent a great deal of his childhood waiting around in barns, and it seems as though this tradition will be carried on into adulthood.

The barn he waits in tonight is old and whitewashed, the ghost of an old, distant memory coming back to haunt him again. Time and gravity have peeled away the whitewash so badly that the ancient grey wood beneath has begun to take back over. The paint coils away as if it's being physically repelled by the wood and he has this sudden urge to sweep his hand across it, imaging the whitewash would come away like the beaded condensation on the Impala right after the rain. Every few inches, the rusted carcass of a forgotten farm tool hangs from a dilapidated nail. Sam tries to find some meaning in their haphazard organization against the wall, but he can't make sense of it. His usually analytical mind is far afield tonight, but he still tries, because anything is better than thinking about what's going on in the loft above his head.

In his mind's eye, Sam floats up the crumbling staircase behind him. He rips back the heavy barn doors and enters the fray, guns blazing. This Sam in his mind is bold - bolder than he'll ever be - and arrives in the nick of time to save the day and rescue a beholden older brother. This is the scene that plays out over and over again in his mind as he forces his feet to stay firmly planted on the hay-strewn flagstones of the floor. He flinches every time a cry floats down from above, muffled by heavy beams and the closed door at the top of the stairs. He sighs each time a thud shakes the structure around them so soundly it sends bits of white dust floating down around their shoulders. Sometimes Cas even stops behind him to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid, but Sam never does (for once). He made a promise. He'll stand on these stones until it's over and try to destroy whatever comes down those stairs - if it comes to that.

Memories flash though his brain. Images of a Dean with obsidian eyes that don't so much reflect the light as devour it, overtake him. Sam tried to save his brother back then, and it worked, but Dean has to kill Cain tonight if he can't talk him back over from the Dark Side. And this time, when that blood runs down the First Blade and soaks into his brother's hands to settle into the microscopic crevices of his skin like Lady McBeth's stain, Sam's not entirely certain he'll be able to wash it all away.

"I need you three out here to take out whatever comes out of there.

And I'm serious. I mean whatever comes out."

But if history has taught Sam anything, it's that he will do whatever it takes to save his brother. Despite the unspoken promise passed between them mere moments ago, he'll chain his brother to a chair deep in the bunker dungeons. Down where screams echo along stone walls but never find escape. He'll pump him full of sanctified blood until that blackness burns away like the morning fog after a sunrise. He'll do all of it until Dean is Dean again and he doesn't care how long it takes. He holds tight to this internal pact he makes inside his own mind and clings to it even as thunder rumbles in the sky outside and his brother lets loose a bellow so tormented, Sam comes apart a little just hearing it.

It takes a few moments, but heavy footsteps soon sound on the rickety staircase behind him. He's still turned towards the whitewashed wall, trying to divine from the crumbling, flecking façade the outcome of his brother's battle. The footsteps behind him are slow and laborious and Sam knows he should turn around now for they don't sound familiar. If Cain has won the fight, if he's managed to do what countless creatures and demons (hell, even a few angels) haven't been able to do, then Sam is in some serious trouble. He's pretty sure none of them are on the first brother's list, but Cain doesn't strike him as the kind of man who will easily forget a slight. They tricked him with the boy, caught him with a cunning sleight-of-hand, and Sam's convinced they'll die for it.

The footsteps echo with heavy finality with each thump of a boot on a stair. The dull reverberation concusses the air around him and Sam swallows hard against the dread. It claws up the back of his throat, this spindly, unrelenting thing that doesn't seem to stop even when it reaches the top. It embeds long talons into his skull and projects across his brain all the terrible things he might see when he finally turns around.

If Cain won… well, maybe that's better. Maybe it's better than turning around to find his beloved brother transformed. Sam has pulled him back from the brink of so many things, but this is different. This is serious, because it goes against the Winchester nature to become the one thing they hate.

Sam closes his eyes and tries to conjure up moments from the past to combat the anxiety; brotherly moments of sacrifice and love. A hand clapped on a shoulder, making sure wounds aren't that deep. A light touch to the cheek and a promise deep in the eye to destroy whomever did it. They used to touch each other like that all the time, reaching and groping for the only thing they could be sure was real. But Sam's not sure what's real anymore, Dean included. It's like he doesn't even know his own brother. Such is the power of that Frist Blade.

He's like a foundling, a fairy thing left behind while the real Dean is spirited away to live in that place where all supernatural things dwell.

As much as Sam would like to stay lost in the ache of old memories, simpler times when it was just saving people, hunting things; the family business, he forces his eyes open when those boots hit the turn in the stairs and pause. From the corner of his eye he watches Cas take a concerned step forward and in wake of that movement he makes himself turn. Dean, First Blade clutched in one hand, favorite hunting knife in the other, stands on the landing surrounded by a pool of dim, dusty light. Blood runs down each blade in dark rivulets, gathering at the tips before pattering to the ground like raindrops. They splatter onto the rough-hewn boards beneath his brother's feet and make splashing noises when they land.

Sam is expecting to find madness in Dean's eyes. That creature that has curled itself up in the back of his throat with talons still extended has managed to convince him of that much at least, but there's nothing inhuman looking out from his brother's eyes. In fact, Dean's never looked more human than he does right now, shoulders slumped and beat to hell and looking as though the weight of the world rests on his own two, ineffectual shoulders.

As Dean continues his weary trudge down the last remaining steps, Sam nearly goes to him. In the low, overhead light that burns bright from the lamps above but is so diffused by the gloom it's muted by the time it finally reaches their shoulders, Sam can see that Dean is in trouble. It's there in the slight way he protects his upper body with his arms, torso held rigid as if the very act of breathing is pure agony. A defense mechanism, a protective shell meant to keep hurt things safe. The left side of his face is a network of tiny cuts, and ugly bruises blossom across whatever pale skin isn't marred by the scrapes. Some of them are bleeding and each seems to be imbedded with a small, reflective object that Sam's pretty sure is glass. The shards catch the weak light every so often and glint out like those stars he always used to wish on in those barns from before.

When Dean finally reaches the floor and stops, Sam's still not entirely convinced his brother is all there. His eyes are far away, like a part of his soul has been ripped away and his battered insides are still trying to adjust to the unexpected space. The others must sense it too because before Sam can rush his brother, Crowley steps forward and puts out a hesitant yet expectant hand.

"Dean," he says as though trying to pretend he isn't as unsure about this whole damn thing as the rest of them are, "the blade."

Sam coils internally, muscles and tendons wound tight should he need to step forward and come between a demon and its prey. Dean raises the First Blade up slightly then lets it swivel in his hand, a practiced move that makes the whole thing look like a magician's trick. Handle instead of blade now extended toward the demon, he slowly begins to hand over the biggest piece of leverage against Crowley they've ever had.

They talked about this moment briefly, Sam trying to persuade his brother to use the blade against Crowley and Dean reluctant to share any of his plans for tonight with Sam at all. He wants to bring up these points again, but Dean surprises the shit out of them all when he diverts the descending handle at the last moment and places it into the surprised hands of the angel Castiel.

For a moment no one moves. Betrayal, crackling through the air like heat lightening on a humid summer evening, is a very real thing in the space around them.

"You lied to me." Not a question. Not really an accusation, either. Just a quiet realization punctuated with the slightest hint of resignation.

The end of something.

"It's not the first time today." A door slamming shut. "Cain's list? You weren't on it." Dean's voice is hoarse, a grinder's stone nearing the end of its useful life.

There's no breath of wind or crackle of energy when the demon disappears. There's simply surprised, empty space beside Sam a moment later and he flinches. He hates this feeling, like a vital part of him is being torn away as space and time readjust themselves to try and make up for the fact that they've been altered without permission. He resists the urge to shudder and draws his eyes back to Dean instead. His brother lets out a quick, relieved sigh, like he can barely believe they just made it out of that situation alive. His mouth curls up into the slightest hint of a smile but it's all too much. Whatever happened between him and Cain in the loft above, the conflict with Crowley just now, it deconstructs him from the inside out and Sam watches his brother implode right before his eyes

"Hey!" The utterance escapes past Sam's surprised lips as he lurches forward, catching Dean around the shoulders just as his eyes try to roll up into his head and his knees finally give out beneath him. "Hey, hey! You did it. Dean, you did it!"

This moment should be joyous. His brother just defeated Cain, the son of Adam and Eve. The First Son brought down by a first son. But the moment is not joyous, and Dean sags against Sam with no more strength to keep himself standing.

"Okay, hold on. I've got you." Sam manages to throw one of Dean's limp arms across his shoulders and his brother cries out in pain. A hand flutters to his chest and he draws in shallow, pitiful breaths as his face goes white. It's ghostly even beneath all the cuts and the blood and Sam curses, scanning the room for Cas. But the angel, Blade in hand, has disappeared, so he curses again. He understands the need to get the First Blade far away from here, to make it safe again, but the angel could have at least stuck around to make sure Dean was okay.

With one final apprehensive glance up those rickety stairs, Sam clutches his semi-conscious brother closer to his side and half drags, half coaxes him out of the barn and into the cool evening air. This far out in the country, there are no lights to compete with, so the sky above their heads is littered with a glittering smattering of brilliant stars. The bands of the Milky Way are painted across the nighttime sky like the abstract strokes of a painter's brush.  Normally Sam would take a moment to admire a view like this. But the Impala is a ways up the road, hidden in the harvested stalks of a summer corn field and he's got to drag his brother all the way there.

Dean is a heavy, uncooperative weight at his side, pulling Sam down with him and throwing off his center of gravity. The muscles of his shoulders scream in protest, but he just hikes Dean further up his body as gently as he can and puts one foot in front of the other. He marches them down the gravel lane, tendrils of old training beat into them by their father urging Sam along. He can't treat Dean here. Can't assess, stitch up, or fix. Better to get him home, to the bunker, or maybe even a trip to the ER if he keeps up that chest-rattling, labored breathing thing he's doing against Sam's side.

By the time they finally make it back to the Impala, Dean is barely holding on to consciousness. Bits of it slip from his grasp like wisps of smoke and Sam watches them disappear up into the night sky as he pins his brother against the Impala and fumbles for the keys in the dark. Dean's head falls forward, settling into the shallow hollow between Sam's shoulder and neck, and harsh breath splays over his collarbone.

"Hold on, Dean," he pleads, cursing the keys. "Almost there."

But even though the moon sits high and majestic at the apex of her nighttime sky, holding court over her multitudes of stars, Sam still has difficulty working the key into the lock. The light is inconsistent, waxing and waning behind the thin tendrils of insubstantial clouds that have moved in from the east, as if the moon were doing in mere seconds what should be done in a month. His fingers are cold and uncooperative. The key slips in his sweaty grip and Dean quakes against his neck as if in warning. Sam unconsciously raises a hand and cards it through the soft hair at the base of his brother's skull. Dean is shaking against him; slight tremors that somehow manage to tear apart his insides as if they were actual earthquakes.

"Hold on," he whispers and squeezes the overheated flesh beneath his palm, willing his own strength into his brother by the power of that connection.

It takes a moment or two of uncoordinated fumbling, but Sam is finally able to get the door of the Impala open and gently folds his semi-conscious brother into the car. Their years on the road have carved out an indentation into the soft leather of the seat. It's a hollow that has conformed to the curve of their shoulders and backs and Sam watches as his brother carefully relax back into it. It's an arduous, painful process, one that pales Dean's skin and draws sweat from his pores and moans from his throat, but it's necessary. Sam eases him back with a helpful hand at the nape of his neck and when it's all said and done, Dean's head falls back against the seat, exposing his throat. He pulls in several ragged breaths, hand reaching for his chest on each excruciating inhalation.

"What's going on? Where does it hurt?" But Dean's eyes have fallen shut and he doesn't answer. Sam takes advantage of the silence to press shaking fingertips against Dean's pulse.

For a moment, nothing moves. The slight wind that had been at their backs stills, no longer whipping through decaying cornstalks to rattle the dried, dead leaves still clinging to them. The Impala fills instead with the barely-perceptible sound of Dean's breathing; a sound Sam has become particularly attuned to over the years. It fills the space around him like a forgotten lullaby, it's time signature the strong and steady heartbeat that gently nudges against Sam's calloused fingertips.

A-live. A-live. O-kay.

Sam's pretty sure Dean has finally lost the battle with consciousness, so under the weak illumination of the Impala's dome light, he does a quick, cursory search of his brother for signs of trauma. Besides the oozing cuts on his face and a shallow gash Sam can feel at Dean's side, there doesn't appear to be anything all that life threatening. He bandages what he can see then rises from his crouch beside the car, closes the door gingerly and makes a beeline for the driver's side. The desiccated stalks of the harvested cornfield reach out as if trying to trip him up. They graze the soft flesh of his ankles just above the protection of his boots and draw blood. He stops for a moment beside the driver side door just looking down at the bent stalks and upturned earth barely visible under the shining light of the moon and stars. Heavy machinery has been through here. Some stalks are bent and decimated. The very earth they protrude from pocked by the heavy treads of unapologetic farm equipment.

Shaking his head against unwanted thoughts, Sam yanks the Impala's door open roughly past a few errant stalks of corn trying to bar his way, and arranges his long limbs behind the steering wheel. Dean, in his absence, has collapsed against the passenger side door, head lolling against the cool glass, haloed by a collection of stars. His breath fogs the reflective surface slightly, an insubstantial barrier between unconsciousness and oblivion.

Sam carefully backs the Impala out of the cornfield, as determined not to hurt the car as to protect Dean from the battle between an old suspension and the cratered, uneven ground of the field. He somehow manages it and points the Impala toward home.

Sam slips into silence, for once thankful for the lankiness of his limbs. He always used to imagine that he got this characteristic from his mother, having no evidence to the contrary when he was growing up. He didn't get the compact, stocky build his father and brother share. In fact, he sometimes used to wonder if he was adopted. He held this terrifying possibility inside his heart like a cancer for so many years, never really letting it go until the day that woman living in their old house pressed that box of old family pictures into his hands. Sam could see where he'd come from then, how he'd inherited his mother's willowy limbs and delicate bone structure (though he hid his under as much muscle tone as he could manage). Still, his gangliness is coming in handy tonight and he spends the rest of the trip to the bunker with one hand white knuckling the steering wheel and the other stretched out across the long expanse of seat separating him from his brother, palm resting lightly against Dean's sternum.

The rhythm beneath never falters, but Sam keeps his hand there all the same, just to be sure.

On to Part Two


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