Later that evening, after they’ve all finished the burgers Dean brought back to the room, they leave to take Tara home. Sam asks Dean to stop at a grocery store on their way, claiming that he’s getting supplies for something he looked up about Matangi.
While Dean and Tara wait for Sam to come back from his dash into the nearest WinCo Market, Dean breaks the suddenly uncomfortable silence. “He takes so long sometimes finding all the right candles and stuff.”
“It’s okay, I just need to get back to work at some point tonight, no rest for the wicked, ya know?” Tara jokes.
“Uh, Tara, I feel like you oughta take a night or two off, until we get this figured out.”
“Yeah, that’s great and all, but I gotta make some cash every night, otherwise, I’m kinda sunk,” Tara says with a shrug. “I’ll be careful, I swear.”
Dean digs his wallet out of his jeans pocket and pulls out some bills, he folds it in half and holds it out to her over the backseat. Her small warm hand touches his briefly as she takes the money.
Tara doesn’t say anything for a a long moment, then meets Dean’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. “Thanks. I know I shouldn’t take this, I mean I already owe you guys.”
“No, you don’t. And I’ve been where you are, I get it, believe me. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like, having to get out there every night,” Dean says. Before she can ask what exactly he’s talking about, Sam opens the door and slides back into the front seat with two crinkly plastic grocery bags.
Tara directs them the short distance to the place she’s currently calling home. Both brothers escort Tara into her room at a nearby abandoned wood mill even though she assures them it isn’t necessary. “I swear it’s safe here, guys. There are tons of working girls crashing here, but no one brings their tricks back to this place, this is just for us girls.”
But of course she’s wrong, - as they enter the cavernous space, sounds of fighting immediately surround them, bouncing off all the broken windows and high wood ceilings. Most of the disturbance seems to be coming from the former office area. Lights are flickering, throwing strange shadows, and the yelling is all high-pitched women’s voices now. Without a word, the boys run towards the noise, disregarding Tara’s plea for them to stay out of it.
Sam reaches the office door first and slams it open. Dean arrives behind him in time to see Sam diving into a small scrum of bodies tussling on the floor.
“Sam!” he yells, leaping into the fray, blocking a knife coming down towards his brother’s back, visions of Cold Oak assaulting him as he struggles with the large man gripping the blade. He headbutts and then punches the man until he’s lying still on the floor.
Sam’s got another man down with his forearm pinned over his throat in a chokehold. “Leave these women alone,” Sam says with all the warning they should ever need to hear. The two men scramble up and hotfoot it out of the office. The three women standing at the edge of the room are patting at each other and panting in distress. One of them looks up at Tara as she peeks in the room. “These guys with you, Tara?”
She nods, speechless from all the sudden violence.
“Well, uh…thanks,” the woman says to Sam and Dean, helping one of the others up to standing. “Guess they followed us.”
“Any time,” Dean says, putting a hand on Sam’s lower back and pushing him slightly towards the door. “We’ll get out of your hair.”
“We owe you one,” the woman still on the floor says a little weakly.
Sam stops and backtracks to stoop next to her. He meets her eyes and says with sincerity, “We’re just glad we were in time. Can I help you up?” She nods and puts out one trembling arm. Sam awkwardly lifts her up and helps her stand for a moment.
They leave the room with embarrassed nods and close the door quietly behind them. Tara leads them towards the back of the building, where she’s got her small nest of a room set up in the old janitor’s closet. “You guys are really something, you know that?” she asks, flopping down onto her sleeping bag which takes up most of the room.
Sam and Dean stand in the doorway, filling the space, shoulder to shoulder.
“I really, really wish you guys could get something out of helping me,” Tara mumbles, obviously beginning to fall asleep after all the food and excitement of the past hour. Her eyes close and her hands relax in her lap as she seems to nod off.
The brothers look at each other, and the shrug that passes between them conveys an entire conversation. They’re turning to leave when they hear Tara moving and shuffling on the plastic-covered sleeping bag.
“You two are in need of my gifts,” Tara says, her eyes flashing that unnatural green again. “And I will bestow them upon you now to repay you for assisting Tara.” She seems more somehow, not bigger physically, but like she’s taking up more space, using up more of the oxygen in the room, sucking up the available energy and attention of the brothers. Her hands rise from her lap, floating up like they’re being pulled by invisible strings.
Sam can see her straight black hair starting to stand out from her head in a halo. His own hair feels like it’s rising up too, but this is something beyond just static electricity. Tara’s hands are outstretched now, the palms are facing towards them, and she opens her mouth wide, letting out an inhuman cacophony of sound, - machines and animals and orchestras all crashing together. The sound pushes at them, funneled through her palms which glow with a design Sam knows he’s seen before. It’s definitely a mandala of some kind. The points where the lines intersect pulse with a more intense aqua light.
Her voice rings out in the hallway between them, filling all the empty spaces inside of him. “You will be able to say what needs to be communicated, one to the other. The taboo that you’ve broken for each other is evidence that it is necessary. For even though your love is strong, you make yourselves weak and vulnerable by not being honest with each other. This world is still relying on you both to be a functioning team as you were before. From now on, you’ll be clear communicators, one to the other, forevermore.”
Sam grabs Dean’s arm to move him further away from her, but then the wave of sound reaches them and takes over all their functions as it crashes into them. They’re pinned in place against the hallway wall by the sudden, sheer weight of it. Sam can just move his head enough to see Dean out of the corner of his eye, where he’s doing the same thing. They communicate wordlessly, both scared, but not sure why. The sound is a thing now, and it enters them both, through too many entry points to count along their spines.
Sam feels lit up inside, like his spine is a glowing rod along his back, funneling energy and light out to his extremities. He feels the connection where his hand is touching Dean’s forearm, he hasn’t let go, and he’s glad. And somehow he can feel that Dean is glad too.
and they’re one,
and they’re united,
like they’re meant to be.
And that knowledge, that acceptance, settles deep into his gut, into his heart, finds the place where it already was waiting in his soul. Finally you’ve got it, you’re soulmates, remember? his soul seems to say, spreading out in a luxurious cat stretch, integrating itself along with Dean’s presence, throughout his whole being.
This whole time Dean’s eyes have been locked with his, and he can see into him finally, the way he’s always wanted to be able to. Deep down inside, past the walls that Dean puts up between them, to hide his true feelings from himself and Sam. Now his feelings are right there, and visible, as plain as day, and they’re as complex and intense as Sam had always imagined. They make his brother even more beautiful to him, which had never seemed a real possibility.
The sound stops abruptly, and the brothers both turn to look at Tara. Her arms are down, her hands back to being limp in her lap, her head is bowed. Sam steps forward back into the small room and puts a hand on her shoulder, shaking her gently. “Tara, you okay?”
She shakes her head and looks up at him with wide, scared eyes. “What happened?”
“There was some kind of sound, and you said we were in need of your gifts, and you’d bestow them on us. It felt really weird and electric for awhile, something happened inside me. You too, Dean?” Sam asks, even though he already knows the answer.
“Yeah, it was definitely weird. I feel okay though. Like I’m realigned or something, like after a chiropractic adjustment or massage, but inside,” Dean says from the hallway.
“So it was Matangi again? Did She come through me again?” Tara asks.
“I think so, you’re channeling Her or manifesting Her somehow. That prayer, the one you wrote down for me. You said your mother taught it to you?” Sam asks.
“Yeah, it was supposed to only be used in extreme circumstances of dire need. That was how my mom put it. I remember she said the prayer, towards the end..before she….you know, passed. But I think it was too late, the cancer was gone too far. I remember, I felt something that night, kind of like what you just described, on the inside. Maybe it connected me to Matangi somehow?”
“Maybe She feels that you are owed something, since She wasn’t able to save your mother, and that’s why She came to protect you,” Sam says.
“I guess that would make sense. But how do I get her to stop killing people She thinks are threatening me?” Tara asks, eyes pleading for help.
“Tara, they were threatening you, right? You feared for your life?” Dean asks from right over Sam’s shoulder where he stands, one hand on Sam’s lower back.
“Yeah. Absolutely,” she answers, eyes haunted by the memory of her near-encounters with violent death.
Dean pushes forward a little so that he’s next to Sam, crowding into the tiny space with him. “Have you thanked Her for the protection? In our experience, Gods and Goddesses are all about the thankfulness and worship. They pretty much need it to survive. Maybe try that, express your thanks as genuinely as you can. But whatever you do, don’t say go away or anything, you don’t want to piss Her off. But you can’t honestly tell Her you don’t need the protection anymore, not if you’re gonna keep hookin’,” Dean says.
Tara crosses her arms over her chest and frowns, obviously bristling at Dean’s comment about her current career. “I’ll try. And ya know, Dean, it’s not like I want to do this, but I have no other way to make money.”
“If you got to your friend’s house in Wyoming, would it be different for you there?” Sam interrupts, trying to keep the two of them on track, Dean really doesn’t need to big brother the whole world.
“Yeah, it would. There’s a ranch we can work on and live at. A friend of my mom’s owns it. I just can’t afford to get there from here,” Tara answers, sounding sad just at the thought of ever getting out of this situation.
Dean looks up at Sam and they have a quick silent conversation which seems even easier to accomplish than usual. Neither of them stop to think about that, instead they both turn back to focus on Tara. “Tell you what,” Dean says, “You talk to Matangi, get Her to back off, and we’ll take you there. It’s on our way back towards home anyways.”
“Really? You guys would do that for me?” Tara asks, unable to keep the excitement out of her voice as she looks from Dean to Sam’s faces.
“Yeah. We came here to figure out how to stop the killings, and this seems like part of the solution,” Sam says.
“We can leave as soon as you do the ritual or whatever it is,” Dean says.
“Okay. Give me a few hours, and I’ll call you when I’m ready. Thank you. You guys have no idea what this means to me.”
“Don’t thank us yet, you haven’t tried talking to Her. Oh, and these flowers that I brought,” Sam says, pointing at the newspaper-wrapped cone falling out of one of the plastic grocery bags lying on the floor by her sleeping bag. “They’re part of the offering you should make. I’m not sure how that needs to happen, just found in my research that these particular flowers are her favorites. There’s candles and some herbs in there she’s supposed to like too.”
“I remember how the altars looked when my mom and grandma made them. I’ll try to make something like that. I’ll call you guys when I’m done,” Tara says, holding the cone of flowers and looking at all the beautiful colors, red, orange, yellow.
“Good luck, Tara,” Dean says as they move to the door.
“Want to go get some breakfast before we check out?” Sam asks as they walk out of the main sawmill building. The sky is just starting to turn pink on the edge of the morning cloud cover.
“Sure, I saw a diner up the street from our place, - some pancakes and coffee would be good right about now,” Dean answers, opening the steel door to the rainy outdoors. In sync, they get into the Impala and drive back, leaving the car in their motel parking lot. Within a half a block of walking, Sam gets a tingle in his spine that quickly expands and he feels the sound of Dean talking inside of him. So are we really connected? Can you actually hear me in here now? He looks over at Dean in surprise and then smiles when he answers Dean, Yeah, I can hear you.
Breakfast is quiet, at least to those seated around them. The two young men seem to be concentrating on eating their morning lumberjack’s specials rather than conversation. But the words and feelings are flying fast and loose between them, all on the inside. Sam feels better than he has in ages; he’s getting a real sense of Dean’s state of mind without all the pretense that’s usually there. It’s almost overwhelming how much has been unstated for months and months. There’s so much that’s gone unsaid between them, after Gadreel and Kevin and everything that came afterwards.
Dean’s blocking off anything related to being a demon though, even though Sam’s asking for it all. Instead, Dean kisses him when they get out of the diner. He just leans over like it’s any other day and lays one right on him. Dean presses Sam into a small alcove between the building and holds his body against Sam, blocking him into the small space.
Sam is shocked at first, - it’s been so long, and they’ve been so far apart. But then he gets hit with the why of it from Dean. How Dean needs to reconnect with him first, before he’s comfortable sharing the harder stuff. And Sam’s all for it, it’s the best sort of distraction, always has been. Kissing Dean is always an all-senses extravaganza, and with this new communication method they have, it’s even more amazing.
Eventually they come up for air, and in unspoken agreement decide to get back to their motel and pack up. Once the car is all squared away, Sam settles down on his bed with his laptop to recheck the research he’s done on Matangi. Dean is pacing back and forth outside on the walkway beneath the room windows. Sam gives him a few minutes to walk off whatever is bugging him, then goes to the door, opens it, and stands there watching Dean. He’s hugging himself as he paces, hands on the opposite elbows, like he’s trying to keep something inside.
“You okay?” Sam finally asks, when he can’t stand seeing the obvious distress Dean seems to be experiencing. He thought of sending something through their new connection, something soothing or teasing, but that doesn’t feel right, they’re not used to being able to do that quite yet.
Dean looks up in surprise, stopping his pacing. “No, I’m really not.”
It’s Sam’s turn to be surprised, because he can’t recall a time when Dean has ever admitted to not being okay when there wasn’t obvious bodily trauma involved. “Can I help somehow?”
Dean’s head hangs low along with his shoulders, he looks so defeated. Sam can barely hear him when Dean says, “Yeah, probably.”
“You want to come in and talk?” Sam asks, stepping back into the room to clear the doorway.
Dean nods and comes into their room, shutting the door behind him. He leans against the dark wood and sighs, uncrossing his arms. “I’m…not used to this.”
“Used to what?” Sam asks, taking a step closer even though he can hear everything behind Dean’s words through their new bond.
“I can’t get used to what Matangi zapped us with. The whole clear communication thing. It’s not something I’ve ever done, you know? Like ever. With anyone.”
Sam sighs as he thinks about how he too has never ever been honest with anyone he’s had a serious relationship with. Never felt like he could, until now. “Yeah, I know. Me either. Does it help to remember it’s new for me too?”
Dean looks up and meets Sam’s eyes finally. The tension around his eyes visibly relaxes as they send support back and forth to each other. “A little. I’m just used to holding back a lot of stuff because I think it’ll hurt you.”
“Oh, you do that too, huh?” Sam jokes, eyes twinkling.
Dean snorts in recognition and then gets serious, holding Sam’s eyes steady for a long moment. “I’m just gonna say it. And you can give me hell later, okay?” Dean asks.
Sam nods at his brother to continue, wondering what this could possibly be about; just over breakfast, it seemed like they’d covered so much of what’s been left unsaid over the last year.
Dean pushes off from the door and walks over to one of the beds, sitting down with a sigh. “I haven’t been 100% honest, about the Mark. It’s gotten worse since I killed that shifter back in Connecticut. I know I promised to tell you, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Not when it seemed like you were actually happy for once. Especially because I know there’s nothing you can do about the damn thing.”
Sam looks at his brother, at how uncomfortable he is with this hard truth, his body tense and huddled in on itself. Sam sits down across from Dean on the other bed, and reaches out with one hand, crossing the small distance to land on Dean’s bent shoulder. He resists the urge to say all of this through their new bond, but that’s too easy in a way, feels like cheating somehow, especially when Dean had just managed to say those hard words out loud.
“I’ve been suspecting that, for a while now, so I’m not surprised. But you’re really off-base about a couple things. First and most important, I still am happy, but that’s because you’re here with me and alive. And second, I think there is something I can do about the Mark. But all the stuff is back at the bunker.”
Sam is hit with Dean’s excitement and hope at that idea, Really? You can? I’m glad you’re still happy, that’s all that matters to me now.
All Sam can do is just grin back at Dean, and send back a big mental hug.
Dean stands up and stretches his arms up wide, letting out a big gasp of breath. Sam looks up at him, still smiling. Dean stretches again and crosses his arms, still protecting himself. “Guess Matangi was right, we did need this kick in the pants. I’ve gotten so used to not talking to you, to keeping it all in, trying to handle everything myself and screwing it all up.” Dean sits down abruptly, next to Sam, jostling him until he’s comfortably in his brother’s space.
“You haven’t screwed everything up,” Sam says, bumping their shoulders together and resting against Dean’s side.
“Really, dude? You don’t think becoming a demon is kinda the worst case scenario?” Dean asks.
“To me, no. If you’d ended up permanently dead because of Metatron, then I’d probably agree with you. But, Dean, you’re alive, like it or not. And we’ll deal with the Mark.” Sam covers the red raised design on Dean’s forearm with one large, warm hand. He bends down and traces it with his tongue until Dean moans.
“Don’t. Sammy, don’t,” Dean murmurs.
Sam asks him a series of questions through their bond, because he knows he could never say these words out loud. Do you want me to stop because I shouldn’t touch something so evil, or because it feels too good? Or because it will affect your control of the Mark? Or do you just not want to?
In relief, Dean sends back a mixture of yes’s and no’s and kinda’s and not-yet’s that get all mixed up in both of their minds. Sam kisses the Mark gently and sits back up. “I’m not going to push you when you’re this conflicted.”
“I’m sorry, Sammy,” Dean says.
Cringing from the nickname and then trying to suppress his reaction internally and externally so that he doesn’t have to dump all that on Dean makes Sam swallow a small noise, but it manages to escape anyway. He hides it all by turning to Dean and kissing him. Not a hot and bothered kind of kiss, but a kiss that definitely makes the promise of hot and bothered in the near future.
Dean relaxes into the kiss and pulls Sam closer to him, they both fall back on the bed and into each other. The sharing of their minds and feelings as they kiss is an exquisite pleasure with a tinge of sadness and pain too. All the loss and separation and fear is there, always there. But the love they can express to each other through the bond counteracts all of that. Makes it all whole and right, dark and light together. One, whole, reunited, re-made.
The text message alert goes off on Sam’s cell, vibrating and chiming on the bedside table. He sits up in slow stages, disengaging from Dean reluctantly. “She’s ready to hit the road,” Sam says after reading the text.
Dean hasn’t sat up yet, he’s still running his hands up and down the small of Sam’s back over the scar that’s still there. The one that he can never forget. “You really up for this? Babysitting road-trip duty?”
Sam stands up and pockets his phone after texting Tara back. “What else are we supposed to do? Kill her?”
“Shut up, not what I meant and you know it,” Dean says, slapping at Sam’s ass as he passes by to re-check the emptiness of the bathroom.
“Well then, up and atta ‘em tiger, we gotta go,” Sam says with a grin that he can’t help but reach up and feel, when he catches sight of it in the mirror. A real smile on his face, with kiss-stretched red lips, - something feels awfully right about that.
“Yeah, they look good like that Sam, real good,” Dean growls, attack-hugging Sam and kissing the breath out of him again, up against the bathroom door. He leaves Sam standing there, gaping after him like a love-struck schoolboy, going out of the room and climbing into the Impala like it’s just another normal day.
Sam recovers himself, joins Dean in the Impala without a word, just sending a subtle push of wanting more, and soon, through their bond. All he gets from Dean is a waggle of an eyebrow.
Tara’s waiting for them near the road, sitting on her bag, the old sawmill building looming behind her.
“Ritual go okay?” Sam asks, as he helps her stow her bag in the trunk.
She flips her hair out of her hoodie and looks up at him, a frown plain on her face. “Yeah, I think so. But how will I know if it worked?”
“That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a way to check, but we’ll wait until you’re at your friend’s place. You said Wyoming, right?”
“Yeah, it’s near Cody, other side of Yellowstone from here.”
Sam shakes his head at his sudden rush of want for a vacation stop in Yellowstone. Vacations never seem to happen for them. Not ever in the cards for the Winchesters.
“Hey, Tara. Let’s hit it,” Dean says in welcome, drumming a little on the steering wheel.
Tara settles into the backseat, arranging her backpack and sleeping bag, taking out a book. Sam rustles around with their maps, and makes some notes about their route on the back of their Western States map. Dean puts in his favorite mix tape that he usually plays on the first day of driving.