Disclaimer: I don't own them. More's the pity.
Spoilers: Set immediately after 2.02, Everybody Loves a Clown
"Bobby is going to kill us," Sam muttered as Junior pulled the old Ford, metal creaking against metal, twisted at an unnatural angle, out of the ditch, digging furrows into the soft earth at the side of the road.
The mirrors on both sides were destroyed, and the front right quarter panel was crumpled. The front bumper, which had been attached by strips of duct tape before, lay behind in the ditch, having given up the struggle to hold on. It was a miracle the front tire wasn't flat. Sam sighed, running a hand through his hair.
Junior, a slip of a man with a mullet that would put Ash's to shame and a red baseball hat turned backward on his head, jumped from the cab of the tow truck and whistled.
"Gotta say," he spat tobacco juice toward the side of the road, wiping at the drip that didn't quite make the escape off his chin with the back of his hand, "this here's probably the oldest truck I've seen in a long while."
"Yeah, well," Sam sighed. "Our other car's…broken." Somehow, saying it out loud felt like a betrayal. Fixing the Impala meant more than just getting their wheels back. In a way, fixing the Impala, Sam knew, helped fix Dean.
"You sure it's gonna run?" Junior asked, spitting again.
"No, I’m not sure," Sam grumbled, eyeing the crumpled vehicle with trepidation.
Damn it, Dean, you should be here, not me.
Sam winced inwardly, thinking of Dean's pale, pinched face in the morning light. He had barely been able to climb out of the chair when Wick lifted Kate from his chest. Another Percocet after breakfast had allowed him to take a deep breath, but he still wasn't able to move his arm.
Junior lifted his hat, scratching at his stringy blond hair. "Want some help?"
"Yeah." Sam smiled gratefully. "That'd be great."
Sam climbed inside the cab of the truck, following Junior's instructions until the truck dutifully roared to life. As Junior came over to the window, Sam leaned out.
"Hey, you know how to get to the public library?"
Junior laughed. "Kid, that's probably the first time in my life anyone's ever asked me that."
Folding his lips into an agreeable pout, Sam nodded. "Okay, how about Dodd's Classic Cars, then?"
"Now you're talking sense." Junior spat over his shoulder, wiped his chin, and proceeded to give Sam directions that consisted of turning right at the red barn at the end of the road, left at the gas station, skipping the road next to the Dunkin’ Donuts, and turning left at the arcade.
"Can't miss it," Junior asserted.
The mechanic shrugged. "Hour, maybe?"
Three hours later, Sam had the trunk lid, wrapped in a protective layer of foam padding and bungee-corded to the bed of the old truck. He was sitting in the public library—thanks to a mechanic who had been asked how to get to the library once before in his lifetime—looking up the history of Lisa and Paul's house. It wasn't hard to find the former owners. Des Moines, Iowa, was apparently big into the history of the surrounding townships.
Sam felt the time tick by, unable to reach Dean and check on him, see if he was okay. Not that Dean would probably talk to him on the phone any more than he had been face-to-face. But being physically separated from his brother at the moment was almost painful.
Scrolling through ancient microfiche, Sam rubbed his eyes, his head aching from the tedium of research. His gaze caught on something and he frowned, tilting his head in concentration. He scrolled backward through several slides—the screens moved so damn fast—until he returned to what he'd seen.
He leaned closer. "Holy shit," he whispered.
As Sam continued reading, dread settled like a block of ice in his stomach.
"We're in big trouble."
"She's not usually this grouchy," Wick apologized, his voice raised over Kate's wail.
The little girl was red-faced, tears creating trails down her chubby cheeks and snot collecting at the base of her nose. She was not happy. Wick held her against him, pacing and bouncing as he'd obviously seen his sister do in the past.
"I don't know what the deal is. I've changed her, fed her, nothing's poking her…" Wick continued to pace, bouncing Kate hard enough that her wails undulated in halted sounds.
Dean stood in the kitchen, hip resting against the table, filling a third bottle with lighter fluid and crushed rock salt from the bag in the basement. It was a tedious task with one hand, but he wasn't about to remove the wrapping without Sam's help. Which meant no shower. Which meant he felt even worse than if he'd just been in pain.
He glanced up at Wick's thinly disguised plea for help. His instinct was to take the baby girl from her agitated uncle, but Dean knew from the way he was aching that he wouldn't be able to hold her for long.
Waking that morning without a verbal protest of pain had been a monumental effort in control. His body felt like one large bruise; his shoulder ached into his teeth, a bone-cold ache that told him it was planning on hanging around for a while. His ribs seemed to have collapsed against his spine overnight and refused him even the smallest of breaths until Sam gave him another Percocet with his Cheerios.
Now, at least Dean could breathe, but his arm was another matter. He was having trouble making a fist, and he knew from experience that was going to be a problem. He was just glad it was his left arm. Had it been his right, raising his hand to fire a weapon would have been out of the question.
"Try water," Dean said, capping one bottle of homemade ghost repellant and picking up another.
"Come in here and turn on the water," Dean said, tipping his head back toward the sink. "Let her listen to it. Always worked for Sammy."
"Huh." Wick shrugged. He did as Dean suggested, smiling over his shoulder as Kate started to settle down, tears turning her long lashes into tee-pees as she watched the water pour from the faucet. "I'll be damned."
"Damn," Kate repeated, staring at the water.
"Shit," Wick whispered. "I gotta watch that."
"Yep." Dean nodded, filling the bottle. "Dad got in trouble when Sam showed up at kindergarten and knew Latin but was a little shaky on his colors."
"You guys really grew up…killing this stuff?"
"I thought my childhood was screwed up… Lisa was a great sister, but our parents..." Wick swallowed loudly and shook his head, his voice drowned in surfacing emotion.
Dean looked over his shoulder, setting the fourth bottle down beside the rest. "Everyone has their issues. Some are more bizarre than others, but it doesn't mean they're any more important."
Wick nodded, looking down at Kate. "Well, she's sure gonna have hers."
Dean was quiet a moment, thinking of Sam. Of how hard he had always worked to keep Sam safe. Of John's dire warning that could destroy a lifetime of protection.
"Just watch out for her, man," Dean said softly. "It's all you can do. Put yourself between her and the bad guys."
Wick lifted his head, staring hard at Dean, saying nothing. After a beat, he looked back down. "She's asleep. Think I can lay her down in her crib?"
Dean pressed his lips out in thought. "Yeah…," he replied hesitantly. "Put some salt around her crib, though. Sam'll be back soon." He faced the bottles once more while Wick turned off the water and carried Kate upstairs.
Dean studied his arsenal. He had his .45 and one extra clip of cartridges, but that wasn't going to do much good against a spirit. Then again, tell that to Constance Welch, he thought, remembering the effective use of his gun when the Woman in White had tried to attack Sam.
He had a lighter, four bottles, rock salt, and lighter fluid. He began to fill the glass bottles with lighter fluid, holding the bottle in his weak left hand and using the edge of the table to balance the can of accelerant. Once the bottles were half-filled, Dean began to funnel the rock salt into them. If nothing else, those modified Molotov cocktails could be used to break against the bones in a hurry.
Wick set the monitor down on the table when he returned from laying Kate down. "I'm gonna run out to the truck, grab some of her stuff I left in there last night. Be back in a sec."
Dean lifted his chin in acknowledgement.
He had completed four rock-salt bottles when he heard the voices.
The monitor lights arced to the top of the spectrum, bright red as Dean realized he was listening to two people—a man and a woman—having an argument. He heard the words "baby," "mine," "kill," and "safe" as he grabbed his .45, its grip as comforting as it was useless.
Heading up the stairs at a stiff run, Dean didn't bother turning the handle of Kate's door. Rearing back, he kicked through the frosty wood, the sight on the other side causing his blood to run cold. Kate stood in the back corner of her crib, eyes wide, her mouth covered by a pacifier and her blanket clutched in a tiny fist.
Standing with her back to the crib, arms spread as if in protection, was a young woman, her face marked with bruises and her eyes furious. A man dressed in denim and flannel faced her, his back to Dean, a rifle barrel visible over his shoulder.
"Hey!" Dean barked.
The man turned, and Dean caught a quick glimpse of manic dark eyes and a pockmarked face before he fired at the image. With a roar, the man vanished, the woman following suit. Dean saw his bullet bury itself in the opposite end of Kate's crib from the baby.
Shoving his gun into his waistband, his t-shirt protecting his skin from the warm barrel, Dean hurried to the crib. Scuffing the ring of salt Wick had laid down, he grabbed Kate up and turned from the room. He could feel the pressure in the house increase, knowing instinctively that he'd only managed to anger the spirits.
As he stepped from the baby's room, the house went insane.
A scream tore through the upstairs, shooting past him and down into the family room like a train, pulling icy air behind it. Kate clutched at Dean's neck; he gripped her tight with his right arm, taking the stairs as fast as he dared. Pictures began to fly off the bookshelf, papers from the kitchen fridge flying around the room. Cabinets opened and dishes crashed to the ground.
As he reached the landing, Dean felt a pull at his midsection and had one moment to gasp in a breath before he was thrust across the room, his back slamming viciously against a wall. Kate screamed, her tears wetting Dean's neck. He tried to reassure the child, but he couldn't speak, the wind in the house ripping the breath from his body. His arm trembled, threatening to drop Kate even as the spectral power that held him fast.
The front door slammed open, the knob bouncing against the opposite wall.
"What the hell—" Wick's voice was high-pitched with shock.
"G-get the baby," Dean gasped. "Get her out of here!"
Wick crossed to Dean, ducking a flying toy that sailed through the air before embedding itself in the opposite wall. Kate screeched as Wick pulled her free from Dean, her tiny hands clawing and gripping at Dean's neck, terrified at being torn from safety.
"'S okay," Dean managed, trying to pull himself free of the invisible vice that gripped him. "'S okay, Katie."
"What about you!" Wick yelled over the cacophony of screams and slamming furniture. He curled his body around the small one in his grasp as glass flew across the room from one of the cabinet doors.
Dean saw it and closed his eyes, trying to flinch away but unable to move. He cried out as he felt the sharp edges embed themselves in his left hand, arm, and cheek. "Get the hell out of here!" Dean roared, opening his eyes to stare down Wick.
The moment Wick and Kate stumbled free of the house, the door slammed shut behind them. The force holding Dean to the wall relaxed and he fell to the ground.
Then all hell broke loose.
Sam slammed on the brakes when he saw Wick sprinting from the house, Kate clutched in his arms. He barely remembered to shove the gear into Park before he tumbled out and ran toward them.
"Where's Dean?" Sam demanded, catching Wick by the shoulders.
"He's still inside," Wick panted. "The house, it's—"
"Stay here," Sam commanded, pushing past Wick and heading for the door.
He tried the handle, but it didn't budge. He knew who the ghosts were, and knew that if Kate was outside the house and Dean was still in there, his brother was as good as dead.
"DEAN!" Sam beat on the door, kicking the base of it with his foot. It wasn't budging. Backing away, he scanned the front of the building with quick eyes. There was only one option.
Grabbing one of the larger rocks from the landscaped edging around the house, Sam lifted it, grunting with effort, and heaved it through the large picture window to the right of the door, hoping Dean wasn't directly on the other side. The glass shattered, and Sam lunged for the opening.
"Sam—" Dean's voice was angry, frantic, and weak.
"I'm coming in!"
"Don't! Sam, stay back!"
Sam could barely hear his plea over the screaming in the house. "What?" he covered his hand with the sleeve of his shirt, grabbing the windowsill and pulling himself up.
"Stay back! Don't come in!"
"Like hell!" Sam returned, finally finding Dean half slumped in the corner of the family room, a rough ring around him of the rock salt that had protected the room the night before. "I'm not leaving you in here." He stumbled over to Dean, ducking flying toys and books, the corner of one larger volume cracking across the side of his head, knocking him to his knees. Sam pulled himself up, crawling toward Dean. A grip, strong and invisible, captured him at the waist, shoving him up off his knees and propelling him through the air. He felt his hip and shoulder groan in protest as they crashed against a bookshelf.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean yelled. "Sam! You okay?"
Sam tried to answer, but the power of speech seemed to be beyond him in that moment. He lay in a heap at the base of the bookshelf, curling his body as he fought for air.
"Hey, you freakin' bastard!" Dean yelled. "You want to mess with someone, mess with me!"
Sam blinked at the rage in his brother's voice. He pulled his head up, shocked to see the figure of a large man in flannel turning from him to his brother. The sharp retort of Dean's .45 made Sam jump. His brother fired three times, the spirit screeching with each hit, and then, for one blessed moment, all was silent.
"Sam, get the hell out of here," Dean gasped. "Go now!"
"Not without you." Sam shoved himself to his knees, scrambling over to the pile of person that was his brother. Grasping Dean by his arm and belt loops, he lifted his brother from his knees to a crouched run and propelled them toward the door.
The house took a breath; Sam literally felt the gasp as they opened the door. As they stumbled out, slamming the door behind them, a woman's wail of sorrow tore through the empty rooms.
Then all was silent once more.
"Why the hell didn't you listen to me?" Dean growled, trying to open his eyes.
The world was spinning around him, and if it weren't for Sam's strong arm around his waist, he would be on the ground. Despite that, he continued to push at Sam, working to get his brother to step away from him, give him space. He couldn't breathe.
"Because you were gonna get killed in there, Dean," Sam rasped, his voice rough from yelling. "Jesus, man, you're bleeding all over the place."
Dean finally pried his eyes open, seeing the SUV in front of them. Sam sat him down on the running board, the sun-warmed metal of the vehicle door at his back. Dean winced as Sam touched his left arm.
"Yeah." Dean swallowed. "From a cabinet, I think."
"All our stuff's inside," Sam growled. "I'm gonna have to use a shirt or something."
"Do what you have to do," Dean whispered. He was starting to feel cold, shaky. He knew it was shock. He needed to move. Moving kept him warm, kept the demons at bay. "Where's the baby?"
"She's here." Wick's voice came from his right. Dean opened one eye, rolling his head toward the sound. Wick stood at the front of the SUV, his arms wrapped tight around Kate. She regarded Dean with wide blue eyes.
"She okay?" Dean asked.
"Seems to be."
"You're not," Sam snapped. "Hold still, damn it." He’d pulled his long-sleeved shirt off and was trying to tear it at the seams with his teeth.
"Sam." Dean's voice was rough. "Knife…pocket."
"Great." Sam dug two fingers into the front pocket of Dean's jeans, pulling his brother's folded knife free. Using the blade, he removed the arms of his shirt from the body. "These ones on your face aren't so bad—"
"Thank God," Dean said, pulling his lips into a grin. "Can't mess with perfection."
"—but you got a nasty one on your left hand and upper arm."
"Putting that arm through the wringer." Dean tipped his head down, looking at his wound. "Well, at least it's not my gun hand."
"Yeah, guess there's always a silver lining," he scoffed as he wrapped one sleeve tightly around Dean's hand, then shifted to his upper arm. Dean hissed as Sam shimmied the shirt sleeve through the blood-stained Ace bandage, pulling it tight around the slice in his skin, working to stop the bleeding. "We gotta get these checked out, Dean."
Dean nodded. "When the job is done."
"What!" Sam and Wick exclaimed together.
Dean looked up at Wick. "You just never gonna go back in there?"
"I was considering it," Wick said, nodding.
"Dean, listen." Sam crouched in front of his brother, resting a hand on Dean's knee to draw his attention. "I found the ghosts. They are buried here. Not sure which grave, though, because their names weren't put on the markers."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because it was a murder-suicide," Sam said, eyebrow raised. "They shamed the Church."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "Did it have to do with a kid, by any chance?"
Sam drew his head back. "Yeah, how'd you know that?"
"Call it a hunch," Dean muttered, glancing up at Kate. She reached out for him, and Wick shifted her in his arms, shushing her when she protested being denied what she wanted.
"Well, it was back in the Thirties. Second generation to live on the farm after it was converted from a church." Sam shifted his balance so his hand was no longer on Dean's knee. Dean looked back at his brother. "Seems the couple had a baby after years of trying, and when the kid was born, he very definitely did not resemble the husband. The guy overlooked it for a while until he found out that the wife had had an affair. By this time, the kid's, like, a year old."
Sam stood, rubbing his bruised shoulder. Dean winced, remembering his brother's flight into the bookcase.
"So, the guy gets pissed," Sam continued, rolling his neck, "goes after the kid. The wife tells some farm hand to go for help and, when they get back, they see that the husband shot the wife, then killed himself."
"The kid?" Dean asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Fine, apparently. Someone in the community raised him. He got a shot at a normal life," Sam said, not meeting Dean's eyes.
Dean heard Sam's unspoken question. Wonder what we would have been like if Dad had given us that same shot.
He dismissed the thought the instant it blossomed in his head. Dad had done the only thing he could, the only thing Dean would ever want him to. He’d kept them together. He’d kept them alive. And he’d told them the truth. For the most part…
Dean took a breath. "So, the mom tried to protect the baby, got killed, husband couldn't deal with what he'd done, killed himself, that it?"
"That's why we were okay when Kate was in the house with us," Dean said softly.
"What? No, you weren't," Wick protested. "When I got in there, you were pinned to the wall."
"Yeah, well, I might've pissed Don off a little by, uh, shooting him," Dean said. "But they weren't going after me until you took Kate away. The mom was protecting the baby from him."
"Wait, we have two spirits?" Wick looked back toward the house. "One that wants to kill Kate, and one that's protecting her?"
Sam nodded. "Basically, yeah."
"So…that means…" Wick leaned against the side of the SUV, sliding down to the ground, Kate curled in his grasp. "I…killed my sister."
"What?" Dean looked at Wick.
"No." Sam shook his head. "No, man."
"You guys just said that they were okay when the baby was in the house," Wick whispered. "I took her out and…he killed them."
Sam shifted his feet in the dirt, silent. Dean pulled in a breath, his hand, arm, face stinging from the punishment the spirit had set upon him. He slid his gaze up Sam's long body, searching for his brother's eyes in the fading light of day. He could feel Sam looking for words, for a way to absolve Wick of this self-appointed guilt, just as he'd felt Sam seeking a way to tell Dean it was okay to hurt. It was okay to be angry. It was okay to miss Dad.
Dean rolled his head to face Wick. "You listen to me," he said, hearing how dead his voice sounded but unable to infuse it with the emotion echoing in his heart. "You had no way of knowing, okay? You had no idea what was going to happen when you left. You did what he—what they—asked you to do, and you did the right thing. Anything that came after…that was not your fault."
Dean was looking at Wick, but his heart beat loud against his ears, hoping Sam had heard him. Hoping he'd offered Sam the first step across the bridge between them. Hoping it was enough to get Sam to back off, just a little bit. Get him to not push so damn hard.
Kate started to hum, squirming in Wick's grasp. She reached up to her uncle's face, jabbering as though her words held meaning to others besides her. Wick tucked her soft hair behind her ears, running his fingers over the Mohawk at the top of her head.
"Yeah, okay," Wick said softly. "But…what do we do now?"
"We gotta find the graves," Sam said. "I have a basic idea where they are, but we're going to have to look."
"Well." Sam looked over his shoulder at Dean, his eyes soft in the waning light of the day. "We're gonna have to go back into the house. Get our supplies."
"You got a shovel out here?" Dean asked Wick.
"Probably one in the shed over there."
"Give Sam the baby and go get it," Dean instructed. "We need to be ready."
Sam reached out for Kate, holding her awkwardly. Dean grinned at the sight of Sam and Kate eyeing each other warily as Wick got to his feet, scrambling around the side of the house and returning a minute later with a shovel.
"The records say that the graves would be at the far east end of the cemetery. Something about keeping them away from the rest because of their sin." Sam shrugged, still eyeing Kate.
Dean used the door handle and pulled himself carefully to his feet. His legs felt hollow, light, as if he were walking under someone else's power. He took a breath. "Okay, this is how it's going to be," he said, wishing his voice sounded stronger, wishing he didn't sound so dead. "I don't like this, but our best chance of getting in there and out again in one piece is keeping the baby with us. So, I am going in first, then Sam and Kate, then Wick."
"What? Dean, I—"
"No," Dean cut Sam off. "This is the only way I can protect you. We're going into the kitchen, grabbing our bags and the bottles of rock salt, and getting the hell out."
"What should I do?" Wick asked, gripping the shovel handle convulsively.
"You just be ready to take the salt from me and dig, you got that?" Dean pointed at Wick.
"This is stupid, Dean." Sam shook his head, shifting Kate to his hip without thinking about it. "You shouldn't even go in there."
"We're not talking about this anymore," Dean said.
"Because I said so, that's why!"
Dean was breathing hard, his jaw tight, the muscles there coiled and aching. Sam's lips were pulled flat against his teeth in rebellion, his eyes boring holes into Dean's. They stared at each other another moment, then Kate squirmed in Sam's arms.
"Let's go," Dean said softly. He turned on rubber legs toward the house, willing the world to slow the hell down for just a damn minute. Just until he could get the supplies. Just until he could get them out safely.
The door opened easily. Dean stepped through, listening to the echoing silence disturbed only by Sam's careful footfalls, followed closely by Wick's. They moved down the hall and toward the kitchen.
"Don," Kate's tiny voice proclaimed.
Dean turned, seeing Sam's eyes widen, hearing his brother gasp. As if he were moving in slow motion, Dean reached out to him as the closet door opened and Sam was pulled away.
Five seconds after Kate spoke, the house exploded in sound once more.
"I thought you said we'd be safe if she was with us!" Wick yelled.
"SAM!" Dean pounded on the door. "SAMMY! Can you hear me?"
"Dean!" Sam's answer cry was small and sounded far away.
"Get out there." Dean grabbed Wick's shirt, shoving him toward the door. "Find the bodies."
"What about that salt stuff—"
"Damn it," Dean cursed, hurrying through the swirling papers toward the kitchen. He grabbed up three of the salt-filled bottles and a lighter with his right hand, thrusting them at Wick. "GO!"
Wick turned and ran from the house.
Dean returned to the closet. "Sammy, hang on, okay?"
"Dean—we're okay…but…there's someone in here with us!"
"I think…it's the mom."
"Oh, shit," Dean whispered, turning his head slowly to look over his shoulder. "That means…"
Don was standing behind him, his pockmarked face gray with death and anger, his eyes glittering darkly. The shotgun gripped in his hand lowered, and while Dean was pretty sure rounds fired from a ghost's shotgun couldn't kill him, he wasn't keen on finding out what kind of damage they could do. He dropped to the ground, the buckshot peppering the wall where his head had been.
Dean shot a frantic look over his shoulder. "Son of a bitch," he gasped, scrambling from the spirit, leading him away from the closet.
Don threw the recliner across the room, slamming it into the wall just in front of Dean, cutting off his escape. Dean heard a distinctive shink from the kitchen and dove behind the chair just as several knives flew at him, embedding themselves in the leather back of the recliner.
"Shit," Dean groaned, holding his injured arm close to him, pain slamming into him in shudder-inducing waves. He wasn't going to be able to take much more dodging. "Hurry the hell up, Wick," he gasped.
"Far east corner…far east corner…which way is east?" Wick lamented, eyes darting frantically around the darkening cemetery. "Oh, wait, sun setting in west, that means east is thataway."
He scrambled over to a group of slumped limestone markers. Muttering to himself, he scanned each, reading off faded names and dates, searching for two that might indicate souls that had shamed the Church. He was in such a hurry that he almost tripped over one that was practically horizontal to the ground, the year of death nearly worn away by time and weather, no names present.
"Please, let this be it," he whispered, digging the tip of his spade into the earth. He dug frantically, puffing air, thinking of Kate in the closet with Sam, thinking of Dean taking the beating that was meant for him, thinking of Lisa's terror as the ghost ripped her apart.
He ducked when a crash sounded inside the house, followed by a curse. Digging faster, he finally came to a wooden box, stabbing the shovel in and breaking it open. The smell of death and decay wafted up and around him, causing him to gag and turn away a moment, breathing into his shoulder. After a moment, Wick turned back, gazing with trepidation into the wooden box in the waning light of day. Inside lay the skeletal remains of a man, dark suit rotten and worn, hands folded over chest, bits of hair still clinging to the brownish skull.
"Yes!" he proclaimed. "Wait…that's only one body…" He glanced over his shoulder toward the house.
What do I do now?
"You fucking son of a bitch!" Dean yelled as the recliner was ripped away, Don moving closer with an expressionless face like something out of a Halloween movie. "So it wasn't your kid! So the hell what?"
Dean stood, backing away from the spirit, thinking desperately.
"You think you deserve a kid? You think you deserve to be a father?"
Dean dodged a flying book, ducking around a corner and back into the kitchen, still avoiding the spirit's ghostly buckshot.
"You think you can just control us because of who you are? Never mind what we want, what we think, what we might be fighting for!"
The spirit stuttered, stumbling. Dean held his bandaged left arm stiffly at his side, the remaining bottle of rock salt gripped in his right hand. He had to time this just right.
"You can't wait until the end to care, man, you have to mean it all the time—you have to let them know all the time."
Don tried to lift his shotgun once more, his arms flashing briefly in and out of focus. Dean counted to three silently in his head, then threw the bottle of rock salt at the spirit, the glass breaking against the floor and the bits of salt finishing the job that Wick's burning had apparently started.
Dean took a moment to pull in a trembling breath, his weakened body allowing a sob of regret to lick the edges of the sound. He turned, moving back toward the closet.
In the space of a heartbeat, he shifted from relief to trepidation as the air seemed to tighten around him.
With a force that stole his breath, Dean was pulled off his feet once more and slammed against a wall. There, he found himself face-to-face with the bruised countenance of the woman who'd stood in front of Kate's crib.
"Where is it, where is it, where is it…"
Wick spun in a circle, eyes scanning the darkened cemetery lit now mainly by the light from the burning bones. There had to be another grave…but he could barely see anymore, and the grave he had found seemed to be set off all alone.
"Okay, think, man, think. They were buried away from the rest because of their sin… This was the guy, so…what would a church do with a woman that cheated on her husband…that caused a suicide…"
A scream tore from the house, pulling Wick's eyes away from the fading fire toward the building behind him. That wasn't the scream of a spirit, he knew. That was a scream of pain deeper than bruises and a dislocated shoulder. That was the pain he'd seen lurking in green eyes since the moment he'd met Dean.
He had to hurry. His hesitation was killing Dean. Wick was killing him because he couldn't find the other one. He couldn't think of what the Church would do to someone who'd shamed them, who had caused her husband to take his own life, who had betrayed her husband…
"They’re always trying to teach lessons," Wick muttered, his eyes darting across the glowing ash at the bottom of the grave. "Even after death. What lesson would they teach some chick who cheated on her—"
He stopped, peering closer at the cooling coals.
"Holy shit," he said as realization burst upon him. "That's it!"
He felt her cold hand on his chest, burning him through his t-shirt and bandages, and screamed. He felt life ebbing from his body, felt the cracks that had been miraculously healed inside of him begin to reappear. He felt his breath stall and his heart slow. And that made him mad.
He was mad. So he screamed.
"I shouldn't…shouldn't be here," he forced through clenched teeth. "But you're not…gonna…take me…"
He heard Sam's tinny voice in the background, heard the dull thump thump thump as his brother kicked at the door. Heard Kate's wails as she protested the dark, the noise, the unrest surrounding her.
"No!" Dean yelled, staring at the tortured eyes of the spirit in front of him. "You aren't gonna finish what that…yellow-eyed bastard started. I beat a friggin' reaper…you're not…gonna take me."
"Safe," she whispered, and her voice was like ice as it slid over Dean's ears.
"Safe?" Dean ground out, arching his neck against the pain in his chest.
"Safe," the spirit repeated.
And then it hit him. The image of the spirit standing in front of Kate's crib, arms flung out, putting her body between her baby and the bad guy. Protecting her child with her life.
"She's safe," Dean breathed, head pressed back against the wall. "The baby is safe."
The hand dropped. Dean blinked, gasping, and lowered his head to look at her.
"Safe," she whispered again.
"She's safe," Dean whispered back. "You did good. You saved her."
And in that moment, fire, quick and empty, flashed up around her image. The spirit closed her eyes and the fire consumed her.
The room fell silent, and Dean dropped to the floor. He started to shift his failing body toward the closet, but his strength had left him. His lashes fluttered, his eyes rolled back, and he found himself falling into the waiting arms of darkness.
Sam realized three things in very quick succession: it was quiet, he could open the door, and Kate had stopped crying.
He half fell, half stumbled from the closet into the hallway, the open air of the house cool against his sweaty face. Dean lay in an unmoving heap on the floor across the room.
Sam started to set Kate down to go to him, then stopped. There was broken glass and furniture everywhere. He headed to Dean, Kate in his arms, pulling up short when Wick stumbled through the door.
"Did it work?" he gasped, covered in dirt and ash from head to toe.
Sam nodded quickly. "It worked. Here, take her. I gotta get to Dean."
"C'mere, kiddo." Wick reached for Kate.
"Messy." Kate frowned, running a tiny finger down Wick's dirt-covered cheek.
Sam crossed the room in two strides, falling to his knees beside Dean. All he'd been able to hear for the last several minutes was the sound of his brother's scream. It had canceled out rational thought, logical exposition. It had been the sound his heart had made when he'd watched the doctors set paddles to his brother's chest. When he thought Dean was going to leave him and not come back.
Sam rolled Dean to his right side, his quick fingers finding his brother's pulse as it beat a staccato rhythm of life in his neck. Sam carefully checked him for additional wounds; other than the bloody shirtsleeves wrapped around Dean's hand and arm, Sam couldn't see anything else wrong, but he knew fighting ghosts didn't leave you unmarked. Dean was going to be hurting for days.
He gently pulled his brother's head and shoulders into his lap, wrapping long fingers around Dean's arm in an embrace he was only allowed in moments like this. Closing his eyes and tipping his head forward, Sam recalled vividly the afternoon—just two days before—in Bobby's junkyard. The look in Dean's eyes had dug into his gut, making the words he knew he'd needed to say even harder.
Why won't you talk to me, Dean? Tell me what you need. Tell me how I can help you. I need you, man. I need you and you're backing away from me…
"Uunh…," Dean groaned, shifting his head weakly against Sam's lap. "You get the plates?"
"Of the truck that hit me," Dean slurred, fighting to open his eyes.
Sam swallowed, trying to grin. "It's over, man."
"Never over, Sammy," Dean whispered. His eyes slid closed once more. "Too many bad guys to be over…"
"It's over for now," Sam corrected. "You did it."
"Wick did it," Dean said. "Baby okay?" He blinked his eyes open once more.
"She's fine," Wick said, his voice thick with tears. "She's just fine. And she's gonna stay that way, too. We're leaving."
"Place is clean now," Sam said, looking up.
"No." Wick shook his head, smoothing Kate's blonde hair on the top of her head. "It’s not clean. It's never gonna be. Lisa died here. Because of me." He looked up at the brothers’ silence. "And I’m gonna make it right." He kissed Kate's forehead. "I'm gonna fix this."
Dean struggled in Sam's lap, and Sam eased him up, resting him back against the wall. Dean rolled his head sideways, his upper body still resting against Sam.
Wick crossed to the brothers. "Hold her a sec," he said. "I'm gonna go pack up her stuff."
Sam took Kate and sat her on his lap. Kate turned limpid eyes toward Dean.
"Hey, Wick," Dean called.
Wick paused on the stairway, looking back at them.
"Yeah, well." Wick met Dean's eyes. "I'm sorry I couldn't go faster. But it's hard trying to think like the Church."
"Huh?" Sam pulled his head back in confusion.
"They buried them in the same grave, one on top of the other," Wick revealed. "I just didn't dig deep enough until…"
"Doesn't matter." Dean shook his head wearily. "You figured it out."
Wick nodded once, then jogged up the stairs.
Sam ran his large hand over Kate's hair, marveling at how small her head was in comparison to his fingers. She was still looking at Dean.
"Ouch," Kate said softly, pointing to Dean's bleeding face.
"Yeah, kiddo," Dean said, and Sam watched him reach for the cuts with trembling fingers. "Big time ouch."
Kate sighed and looked around the destroyed room, returning her gaze to Dean. "Don. Go 'way."
"Yeah." Dean nodded. "He went away."
Kate frowned, her lower lip trembling. Sam felt a lump gather at the base of his throat in reaction to the tears swimming in her eyes. Kate reached out toward Dean, who lifted his right hand, letting her curl her fingers around his.
"Mama?" Kate asked, her voice small.
Dean pressed his lips together, shaking his head. "Sorry, baby," he whispered. "Mama's gone."
Kate sniffed, and Sam tucked her small head under his chin, completely enveloping her with his long arm. They sat in a pile, Dean slumped against the wall, Sam on his knees next to him with their legs touching, Kate in Sam's lap, her little fingers gripping Dean's hand. They stayed there until Wick had loaded the baby things, his clothes, and several pictures and albums from the mess in the family room into the SUV.
Returning to the brothers, Wick bent and picked Kate up.
"What about the rest of the stuff?" Sam asked, looking around.
Wick shrugged. "I have what matters. And I have enough to tell Kate about her parents.” He shifted the baby to his hip. "We'll let the lawyers deal with the rest."
Sam nodded, turning back to Dean, who was struggling to keep his eyes open.
"I don’t know how to thank you guys," Wick said. "I want to…give you something at least."
Sam bent, tucking a hand under Dean's right arm and gripping his waist, pulling his brother to his feet.
Dean shook his head, his eyes heavy. "You just take care of her," he said, his voice laden with pain and weariness. "Keep the bad guys away. Keep her safe."
"That I can do," Wick said, kissing Kate's forehead, then heading out the door.
Sam followed, supporting Dean. He frowned when Dean stepped awkwardly off the crumbling stoop, leaning on Sam yet holding himself taut. They reached the truck, and Sam felt him give a little, his right shoulder resting against Sam's chest as he opened the door. Sam shifted his hands to Dean's waist, subtly lifting his brother into the cab of the truck, his gut clenching as Dean dropped his head wearily back against the seat.
If Bobby can't convince him to go to a doctor when we get home, I'll knock him out and take him myself, Sam grumbled silently as he moved around to the other side of the truck. He climbed behind the wheel, pausing before he shut the door as Wick stopped just shy of them.
"Hey," Wick called from the window of the SUV. "You guys gonna be okay?"
Sam glanced over to Dean, who opened one eye, letting his gaze rest on Sam.
"Eventually," Sam answered.
Sam lifted his hand and watched Dean salute from the corner of his eye. He started up the ancient motor, thankful it responded.
"How'd you get it to run?" Dean asked in a weary voice.
"Hey," Sam protested. "I do know a few things, you know."
"You got Bubba to help you, didn't you." Dean turned his head against the seat, regarding his brother.
Sam shrugged, shoving the gear shift into first. "And one of those things is how to get others to work on cars for me," he said without missing a beat.
"That's my boy," Dean whispered, his eyes sliding closed. They popped open when Sam crossed the cattle guard. "Sam," he said with sudden urgency. "We gotta go get the—"
"Already in the back, man," Sam said. "I picked it up before I went to the library."
"Huh. Thanks, Sammy," Dean said softly, his body folding back against the seat, the air from the opened passenger window ruffling his short hair. "Gonna…just rest my eyes."
It was on the tip of Sam's tongue to insist Dean stay awake. But when he looked over at his brother, saw the utter exhaustion lining Dean's lean face, he relented, promising himself he'd wake him in an hour to make sure he was okay.
The quiet in the cab of the old truck was heavy on Sam, even with the cacophonous rattle of the engine. No radio, no voices, not even Dean's irritating habit of singing classic rock tunes to pass the time. Just the incessant voice inside his head that said Dean was spinning away from him and Sam wasn't going to be able to hold on tight enough.
He heard Dean groan softly in his sleep, his face pulled into a now-familiar frown.
"We're not okay," Sam whispered, glancing at his brother. "But I'm not going anywhere. You're not alone, Dean."
Bobby looked up at the sound of the old Ford rambling into his lot, one day late. Setting down the curse box he'd been fashioning, he stepped around his desk and ambled toward the door, ready to tear into one or both of the Winchester offspring for being late and not calling. Something he knew neither of them was used to.
Well, Dean's not used to it. Bet big brother let Sammy have it a time or two over the years…
Bobby stepped out onto the front porch, letting the screen door bang behind him, his face pulled into a scowl. It was nearing one in the morning, and he was tired.
"You boys best have a damn good excuse this time," he grumbled low.
When the Ford stopped right in front of his porch, Bobby tilted his head. Looking closer, he could see by the light from the front room that the truck was mangled. I'm gonna kill 'em…
Gritting his teeth, Bobby pulled in a breath, preparing to rip Dean a new one as the driver's side door opened. "What the fu—"
Sam moved around the front of the truck. Bobby paused mid-rant, his mouth hanging open. Sam was driving? Peering closer, he could see that Sam's t-shirt had blood stains on it. He could also see rising bruises on his face and arms. Bobby stepped down the first step from his porch. If Sam's hurt, then Dean's…
Sam opened the passenger door of the truck, shifting quickly as though to catch something. Bobby stepped the rest of the way from the porch, hurrying over to the side.
"Holy shit," he breathed when he saw Dean. Blood had dried on his cheek, his forehead and eye were bruised, and he had parts of a bloody shirt wrapped around his hand and arm, which in turn was lashed against his chest with a blood-stained Ace bandage.
Dean blinked bleary eyes at him, clutching at Sam's sleeve with a trembling hand. "Hey, Bobby," he rasped. "Sorry 'bout the truck."
Bobby took a moment to consciously slow the sudden racing of his heart at the sight of Dean's battered form. He's alive… Sam's alive… they're okay… He stifled the urge to run a worried hand across his mouth, feeling Sam's eyes on him, seeing Dean wait for some sign they were home. That the hunt was over.
"You're goddamn right, you're sorry!" he bellowed. "I oughta kick your asses. This is the second one I've let you borrow and you've trashed it! What the hell happened?" Bobby stepped next to Sam, helping Dean set his feet on the ground, and tried to take some of his weight. Dean hissed harshly as Bobby touched his left elbow.
"Watch his arm, Bobby," Sam commanded. "We, uh…ran into some trouble on the way to the car place."
"Actually," Dean said, leaning heavily on Sam as Bobby grabbed his belt loops, helping him up the stairs. "Trouble ran into us."
Sam chuckled. "True. About ran us over."
"Plowed us right off the friggin' road," Dean said, a grin in his voice. Sam laughed as Bobby opened the door.
"Have you two lost your minds?" Bobby muttered, leading the way to the couch and helping Dean ease down.
Sam dropped heavily into the chair opposite Dean, staring vacantly at his brother.
Bobby stood between them, glancing back and forth, waiting. "Somebody gonna tell me what the hell happened to my truck?" he finally said, knowing it would get a rise out of one of them.
"A guy hit us…with a haunted house," Dean drawled, his head back against the cushions, his eyes closed.
"You got hit by…a house?"
Sam chuckled again, sounding more than a little punch-drunk. "The guy that hit us had a haunted house. Dean got banged up pretty good."
"Yeah." Bobby frowned. "So I noticed. You don't look too good yourself, Sam."
"'M okay." Sam waved a hand at him. "Just tired. And I ran into a bookcase."
"With a little help from a spirit, huh?"
Sam nodded, his eyes blinking heavily. "Dean needs help, Bobby," he said softly. "Needs a doctor."
"No, I don't," Dean spoke up, eyes still closed.
Sam sighed, his features suddenly sober. Bobby could see the giddy effect of finally being at their destination—finally being safe—was beginning to wear off, and a weary, timeworn concern was settling back into place. Bobby didn't think there was a time when he had looked at Sam Winchester and hadn't seen a shadow of concern lurking in his hazel eyes. The reason shifted depending on circumstance, but the concern was always there.
"He dislocated his shoulder when the SUV hit us, then got tossed around and cut up by the spirit."
"'M fine," Dean protested as Bobby leaned over, unwrapping the shirt sleeve Sam had used to bandage Dean's upper arm. "Just a scratch." His voice slurred as Bobby's ministrations jarred his wounds.
Bobby sighed. "Sam, go back to the spare room and lie down before you keel over. You're too big to be carried."
"But what about—?"
"I'll take care of your brother." Bobby tossed a stern look over his shoulder. "Go. Now."
Sam stood on wobbly legs, staring at Dean another moment. "Thanks for pulling me out of the way," he said softly.
Dean didn't respond. Bobby wasn't sure if it was because he hadn't heard or because he didn't know what to say.
Sam shuffled to the back room the boys had been sharing since John's death, closing the door softly behind him.
"Dean?" Bobby said softly. Dean didn't even flinch. "Boy, you sure are a magnet for trouble."
Bobby shook his head, heading to his stash of medical supplies. He returned to find Dean just as he’d left him, his chest softly rising and falling with the steady rhythm of exhausted sleep.
Bobby took care to clean Dean's face first, applying liniment to the bruising and butterfly bandages to the new cuts, inspecting the one beside his eye and leaving it be. He frowned when Dean simply rolled his head as Bobby removed the wrap around his hand. Cutting the bandages and Dean's t-shirt from him, Bobby wrapped the slices on his arm and stab marks on his hand, noting the tightly-wrapped Ace bandage around his ribs and purpling marks on his shoulder.
"You always gotta do everything yourself, dontcha?" Bobby whispered, shifting Dean to his side and cupping the back of his neck as his head lolled. He eased Dean down on the couch, pulling a quilt from the shelf and laying it over his battered body, then sat in the chair Sam had recently vacated. "Someday, boy, you gotta let someone carry you. John had no right to make you do so much alone."
Bobby glanced at the back room, sighing.
"You boys are gonna break my heart," he muttered. He slouched low in the chair and, resting his head on the back, kept watch over his young friend as he slept.
Dean smelled coffee. It was the smell of morning and duty. The smell of motion. It snapped his eyes open and called him to sit forward before his body reminded him that sitting forward wasn't such a great idea.
"Whoa." Bobby's voice was at his side as Dean clutched at the edge of the couch, pulling in calming breaths as the world spun around him. "Take it easy there."
"Where's Sam?" Dean asked automatically. He heard the flatness to his voice, different from the relieved near-hysteria he'd felt edging the corners of his mouth when they’d showed up at Bobby's the night before.
"Well, he ain't out fixing my truck, if that's what you're wondering."
"Truck?" Dean blinked, confused, at the bearded man who had become more important to him in the last month than he would have thought possible.
"Forget it." Bobby shook his head, pulling at his beard. "I suppose I oughta warn you—"
Dean shot his eyes over to Bobby, staring at the older hunter. "Where is he?"
Bobby sighed. "You need to see for yourself."
Dean gritted his teeth, curling his stiff, sore body forward, pulling himself upright with his good arm. He noticed that his cuts were wrapped and his shirt was gone. Bobby handed him a t-shirt, and Dean held it in loose, uncooperative fingers. There was no way he was going to be able to pull that over his head.
"Bobby, I can't—"
"Figured as much," Bobby muttered, grabbing a long-sleeved button-up. "Pretty sure you can pull that on."
Taking the shirt from Bobby, Dean used him as leverage. He stood, tightening his grip on Bobby's hand as the world spun again. Finding his balance, he opened his eyes and shuffled slowly to the bathroom there.
Dean eased into the shirt, sweat gathering on his upper lip and the back of his neck as he slid it over his still-puffy hand and bruised left shoulder. He rolled the sleeves up to his elbows and left the top several buttons undone.
After using the bathroom, carefully avoiding meeting his own eyes in the mirror, he returned to the front room.
"Where's Sam?" he asked Bobby again.
"Impala," Bobby said. He handed Dean two white pills and a glass of water, then, with the ease born of one-too-many hunts gone wrong, settled Dean's wounded arm into a sling.
Frowning, Dean allowed Bobby to alleviate the pain the simple weight of his arm put on his shoulder, swallowed the pain meds, then headed with careful steps to the door.
The sun was bright and high, telling him he'd slept a lot later than he would have had he been free of injury. The South Dakota wind was brief and brisk, pressing his loose shirt against his bandaged chest and stirring his short hair.
Dean squinted at the junkyard, looking for signs of Sam. Using the railing for support, he descended the steps, walking slowly and stiffly across the empty lot toward where he knew the Impala was waiting, his left arm pressed against his side.
Standing behind the trunk, staring at the new lid that was resting awkwardly on the back of the Chevy's frame, was Sam. He was dirt and grease from forehead to neck, his hands and arms covered with smears of grease and bruises. A shop towel hung from the back of his jeans pocket, and a wrench—the wrong one—was clutched in his hand.
"Sammy?" Dean asked, trying to puzzle together the images in front of him.
Sam jerked at the sound of his voice, turning. "I wanted to fix this before you got up," he confessed.
Dean approached the battered shell of the Chevy, noting that Sam had been able to remove the old, destroyed trunk lid. He swallowed, his chest tight, his eyes burning.
"I can't figure out how to get the…hinge thingies attached," Sam grumbled.
Dean cleared his throat. "You've got the wrong wrench, to start with."
"Oh." Sam looked at the tool in his hand.
Holding his left arm against his side, Dean turned to the tool box, reached in, and grabbed the right wrench, then handed it to Sam. "Here," he said. "Try this."
"Thanks." Sam reached for the proffered tool.
Dean didn't release it. Sam didn't pull it toward him. They simply stood there a moment, each holding the opposite end of the wrench, eyes on each other's hands.
"We're gonna be okay, right?" Sam asked, his eyes down.
When the difference between the truth and a lie is the space of a heartbeat of time, how do you know what to say? How do you save someone you've spent a lifetime protecting when the solution to his salvation might rest in his death? How do you remember the way to just be a brother, when you've walked the knife's edge between light and dark?
"Eventually," Dean replied, releasing the wrench. "You ready to do this thing?"
Sam moved over to the trunk of the Impala. "Waiting on you, man.”