Title: From Yesterday, Chapter 16
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title is from a 30 Seconds to Mars song of the same name. Rated very much PG-13 for language (mostly Dean) and a couple of mature scenes
Summary: See Prologue.Part 2: Chapter 16-B
Dean knew his body well enough to recognize when something wasn't right. The fever he'd spiked while at the clinic may have abated with the IV antibiotics, but he was pretty sure the pills they made him take when leaving weren't going to be strong enough to combat the infection he could feel building in his side.
The wound was hot, the pain knifing through him with every other breath. It was familiar and worrisome, but not so much that he was about to voluntarily stay at the medical clinic. He had a job to do.
Sam took his time, following a different path than Virgil had taken up to Brenna's house – one without so many tight turns and winding roads. It took them longer, but Dean didn't comment; it was easier on his battered equilibrium and he knew that was why his brother had taken that route.
I must look ten shades of awful, he thought, closing his eyes for the remainder of the ride.
"We're here," Sam was saying as if from miles away.
Dean lifted his head from where it rested against the window and looked around, recognizing Brenna's small house from the night he'd found out that Sam was missing.
"Yeah, fine," Dean replied, opening the door and pulling himself out of the car before Sam's too-keen eyes caught the fine sheen of sweat that had gathered along his brow.
The evening mountain air felt clean, new. Like he'd somehow heal if he could simply breathe deep enough. Closing the door behind him, he moved past Virgil's truck and headed toward Brenna's front door, Sam at his heels.
"She picked a helluva spot," Sam said in a conversational tone. "Have to admit."
"It's pretty up here," Dean agreed.
"Kinda suits you," Sam said.
Dean paused and turned just before he reached the steps, frowning in confusion at his brother. "What does? The mountains?"
"Yeah, I mean," Sam shrugged and then waved a hand around them. "Look around, man."
Dean did as he was asked, taking in the dark shadows of the looming mountains crested with the gold of the setting sun and the gray half-light of the canyon spread out at the foot of Brenna's drive. He could almost get a sense of safety there; as if he were tucked far enough away that no one or nothing could find him and hurt him.
"I'm not stayin' here, Sam," he muttered. "We've got work to do."
"I know," Sam agreed hastily, following him up to the porch. "I'm just…saying."
"Yeah, I know what you're saying," Dean grumbled. He lifted his hand to knock on the door, but Brenna opened it before he could make contact, leaving him standing in her doorway, fist raised.
"You made it," she announced. "Good. Come with me." She grasped Dean's hand and pulled him inside. "You, too, Sam."
"Where are we going?" Sam asked as Dean stumbled along in her wake.
"My shop," Brenna called over her shoulder.
"Where's Aislinn?" Dean asked.
"Out back with Virgil," Brenna told him. "Didn't want her inside for this."
"This?" Dean asked. "What's this?"
He looked over his shoulder at Sam, cautiously curious and not a little concerned, but all Sam was able to do was not-so-helpfully shrug. Brenna led them through a door at the end of a short hallway, then paused as they entered, closing and locking the door behind them. Dean looked around. Along one wall were several mortar and pestles of different sizes, boxes with Celtic knots carved on the outside – if he didn't know better could easily be hex boxes – and bottles of various colored liquids.
On the other wall, Dean saw a cot, a bookshelf, and a trunk that was covered with more Celtic knots. Across from them was a large, stone fireplace with a fire burning and a small black cauldron hanging suspended over the flames from an iron hook. It was clear the place had been recently cleaned up. On the wall behind the cot, boards were fixed where windows used to be, and several of the mortar bowls were cracked and appeared glued back together.
"So this is your…shop," Dean said slowly.
"Go sit down on the cot," Brenna ordered, moving over toward the table and pulling a small pouch out of one of the boxes. She was pure motion, all business, and focused on a singular task.
"What are you doing?" Sam asked, his tone wary.
"You can grab one of the chairs, Sam. I want Dean on the cot."
"Uh, Brenna," Dean exchanged a look with his brother. "What the hell are you doing?"
Brenna turned around, surprise on her face. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Why do you want me on the cot?"
"You can stand if you want," she replied, shrugging. "But you look about ready to keel over, so I figured the cot would be easier."
"To do what?" Dean pressed, his brows furrowed.
Brenna arched a brow, her lips quirking. "Such a suspicious mind," she said softly. Her posture relaxing, she stepped slightly away from the table, her head tilted curiously. "You think I didn't notice how much pain you were in when we saw you this morning? You think I can't see you sweating from that fever you're trying to ignore?" She moved closer to Dean, not giving him time to back away, and placed soft fingers on his aching side. "The wound's infected, isn't it?"
Dean pulled his shoulders back, glancing guiltily at Sam.
"What?" Sam shot him a furious glance. "Is it?"
"Maybe," Dean deflected, stepping back from both his brother's ire and Brenna's hand. "A little."
"And you let us leave the clinic?" Sam advanced on him, hazel eyes hot.
"They gave me pills to take with me," Dean informed him.
"Oh, well, that's a friggin' relief," Sam grumbled, sarcasm lacing each word. "You have pills."
"I'm okay!" Dean protested, backing up further.
"No, you're not," Brenna and Sam retorted in unison.
Dean darted his eyes between them and sank down on the cot when he felt the backs of his legs hit the frame. Brenna turned back to her work table, sprinkled some herbs into the bottom of a ceramic mug, then moved toward the fire and used an iron hook to pull the cauldron toward her. Ladling some of the steaming liquid into the mug, she swirled it around three times, clockwise, then handed it to Sam.
"Drink this," she ordered. "It'll help with those aches you're still feeling and work on the taser burns. I also have some balm I want you to use later tonight, but not at the same time as this remedy."
"Why?" Sam asked, taking the mug from her.
"This particular solution is pretty potent and the combination of the two would leave you feeling high as a friggin' kite."
Dean blinked, his mouth tugging up in a grin. "Yeah, nobody wants that. You get all emotional when you're drunk."
"Better than you," Sam muttered, sniffing at the mug and pulling his head away quickly with a look of disgust. "You're an angry drunk."
"Hell, I'm angry sober."
Sam paused, then bounced his head in concession and sniffed the drink again. "God, Brenna, this stuff smells like rotten fruit."
Brenna didn't turn from the table where she was grinding up something in one of the bowls. "I didn't tell you to smell it; I told you to drink it. Bottom's up, big guy."
Sam glanced at Dean, who raised his hand, waving his fingers in an upward motion. Dean watched as Sam braced himself, then swallowed the concoction like a shot of whiskey, coughing in reaction. He set the mug on the table and rubbed his face.
"You okay?" Dean asked.
"Stuff tastes like ass," Sam grumbled.
Brenna turned away from the table and handed Sam a small, leather pouch. "Mix this with one cup of hot water and put it on your burns. There's enough here to last you several days, but you won't need it for the burns after tonight."
"What is it?"
"The purple goo, as you called it, that I gave you years ago."
Sam grinned. "That stuff was awesome."
"Of course it was," Brenna replied, shrugging as if to say, why wouldn't it be? "Okay, now, you can help me with your brother."
Dean frowned. "He doesn't need to help. I'll cooperate," he promised.
Brenna moved over to him, pulling a wooden stool in her wake. "I know you will," she said gently, "but I think this is going to hurt and I might need his help to brace you."
Dean looked up at Sam. "Okay, but…be careful," he warned, knowing he wouldn't have to tell his brother that he had no desire to fall inside the black nothing their connection tossed him to.
Sam nodded, moving around behind the cot, ready to grab Dean if needed. Brenna lifted Dean's shirt, rolling it and tucking it into itself to keep it in place, then slowly removed the bandages from around Dean's side. When they were fully exposed to the air, Dean winced, feeling the tender, hot skin react to the cooler environment.
"Well, that's just not pretty," Brenna muttered.
"Jesus, Dean," Sam whispered. "You have to have the highest pain threshold known to man."
"Oh, it hurts," Dean reassured him. "I just…don't let myself think about it."
"I'm not going to take the stitches out," Brenna told him. "Too afraid I won't be able to get them back in. So, you're going to have to reapply this later, okay?"
"Hang onto something," Brenna instructed. "This is going to remove the infection before it soothes the pain. Can't do both at the same time."
"'Course not," Dean muttered, jaw tight. "That would be too easy."
He gripped the edge of the cot as Brenna scooped up a handful of the purple goo from the mortar bowl, then gently began to apply it. At first he felt nothing, then the wound seemed to warm up slightly. As Brenna continued to work, though, Dean felt the balm sink into the infection as if it were seeking out the poison and pulling it from his body.
The effect was like cut glass scraped across the swollen skin and he stiffened, gritting his teeth with a groan. As the sensation intensified, he had to close his eyes, his jaw clenched and the groan turning into a sharp cry of pain. He barely felt Brenna's hands wrap around to his spine, the concentration of pain was so great.
He didn't register Sam at his back, holding his shoulders tight; he didn't register shaking the cot with his one-handed grip. He heard himself begin to swear, but it was as if it were coming from another person.
"Aw, fuck…fuck that hurts…son of a bitch…!"
"I know, I know, just breathe through it," Brenna was saying. "Not much longer…let it draw the poison out."
"Feels like it's fucking ripping it out of me!"
"I know it hurts, Dean," Brenna soothed, "just hang in there."
"Arrrrghhh!" His back arched and he bucked backwards, everything in him fighting to get away from the pain. His head slamming into something solid, belatedly realizing it was Sam's sternum.
"Sam," Brenna pleaded. "Help him."
"Dean, hey…," Sam spoke up suddenly, "remember when we were out at Pastor Jim's place when we were kids – the pond, remember?"
"Yeah," Dean gasped, his body tight, eyes pressed closed. He focused on the rumble of Sam's voice through his chest, the way his brother's hands on his shoulders seemed to brand him, the solid safety of feeling Sam at his back.
"Remember how we went fishing that one day and the storm came in?"
Dean remembered. It could have been yesterday. "Lightning," he managed to gasp out around the pain, rocking back once more, wanting instinctively to get away from it, having nowhere to go.
"Right," Sam laughed weakly. "Lightning hit the pond and we thought we were dead. Thought we were going to get fried. But it just killed a bunch of fish and we…scooped up dinner with a net. Said you never saw anything like it."
"Weird," Dean gasped, realizing the pain was starting to slowly, ever so slowly, abate.
"Scared Pastor Jim to death," Sam recalled. "Came in with scorch burns on the side of the boat, but not a mark on us."
"Lucky," Dean panted.
"Pastor Jim said we were blessed."
"'Course he did." He could feel Brenna brushing something against his skin and he blinked through tented lashes, peering down at her. "The hell?"
"The ingredient I added to draw the poison out is working," Brenna told him. "I'm just…cleaning it off."
Dean wrinkled his face in disgust as he realized she was literally removing the infection from his wound. As she did, however, he found he was able to sit slightly forward, away from Sam, and ease up on his grip of the cot. His body trembled from the let-down of adrenalin.
As Dean slowly uncoiled, Brenna continued to clean his skin and he saw that the swelling around the stitches was gone. His skin was still red, but it no longer felt like something was slowly devouring him from the inside out. He slumped to his left, needing the extra support of his elbow, and gave Brenna more access to his wound.
Sam never let go of his shoulders and Brenna tossed three rags to the side before the infection and balm had been completely cleaned away.
"There," she said, blowing an errant strand of hair away from her face, and slouching down on the wooden stool. She smiled at Dean. "That's better."
"I gotta do that again later?" he asked weakly.
"It won't hurt later," she promised. "Not like this, anyway. Might be sore, but it should feel pretty damn good after you put on the second application."
"Good," Dean reached up with a trembling hand and wiped the sweat from his face. Sam moved around from behind him and Dean glanced up. "Least I didn't have to drink the ass-potion."
Brenna smirked. "Would probably do you some good," she said.
"I don't want to be high as a kite," Dean shook his head. "Not right now."
Brenna nodded, understanding. "You feeling better?"
Dean took a quick mental stock. "Yeah, actually." When not cut down by fever and infection, his body had always managed to regroup quickly; which served him well as, until the amulet, it had been his only line of defense in protecting Sam.
"Good. How about some dinner?"
She wrapped his wound with fresh bandages and helped him tug his shirts back into place, giving Sam the herbs necessary for the later application, then led them back to the living room. Dean moved gingerly, testing out the flexibility of his side, realizing that if he were careful, he could move pretty easily without much discomfort.
They paused at a set of windows, looking out into Brenna's small back yard.
"These are the only windows in the whole place they didn't break," Brenna said.
Dean could see Virgil's red hat from where the man sat on the ground, his back to them, and worked on a small stick construction. Aislinn sat across from him, her small face knotted in concentration, her hair pulled back in a messy pony tail and a swipe of dirt across her nose. Lying nearby, tongue lolling in the late evening light, was a large, black Labrador retriever, its red collar standing out in stark contrast to its dark coat.
"You got a dog?" Sam asked with curious delight.
Dean smiled; his brother loved dogs. He'd always regretted never being able to get Sam a dog when they were kids.
"Not exactly," Brenna replied, smiling enigmatically. "I'll call Aislinn in and we can get dinner going."
She didn't move, didn't so much as open her mouth, but Dean saw Aislinn's head come up as if she'd heard something and her face blossomed into a smile. Climbing to her feet, she hurried around Virgil, who turned to face the house and Dean saw he had dirt on his face as well. The bruising around his eye had faded – from even since that morning – causing Dean to assume Brenna had her 'shop' open to more than the Winchesters that day.
Aislinn opened the back door, letting the screen bang shut behind her, and ran over to her mother, hugging Brenna's leg.
"You remember my friend Dean and his little brother?" Brenna asked, smoothing Aislinn's fly-away hair from her face.
Dean smiled, the description even more amusing with Sam towering over him as they stood behind Brenna.
"They're going to stay for dinner tonight, okay?"
"Okay, now go wash up – and make sure you get your face," Brenna called after the girl, who was already loping down the hall toward the bathroom.
Virgil came in and nodded to the boys, his eyes merry. "You get fixed up?"
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "Think we'll live."
"Well, I sure hope so," Virgil replied, his face serious, his eyes dancing. "I don't want to be the only pixie fort builder in this group."
Sam lifted a chin. "I happen to be an expert builder of pixie forts," he informed them.
"All uncles should be," Virgil replied.
Dean felt himself flash cold, then hot, his skin shivering as the reality of the situation they were in wrapped around him. He tried to keep his expression neutral, keep up with the banter, but his mouth had gone dry and he had an insane urge to bolt through the door. It was almost too much to truly comprehend.
"I got something for you," Virgil was saying to him, oblivious of his internal panic attack.
"Me?" Dean tilted his head, forcing himself to come back to the moment.
Virgil, glanced at Brenna, who nodded and moved back toward the kitchen, calling to Aislinn to join her when she got done in the bathroom. Virgil stuck his head out through the door and gave a sharp whistle. The black Lab stood and trotted forward immediately in response, stepping through the door, then sitting on the inside, eyes up, roaming the humans, until they rested quietly on Dean.
"This is Murphy," Virgil said, causally rubbing the dog's ears. "He's a service dog."
"Service dog?" Sam repeated, curiously.
"Guys I work with back in Denver are part of a program that trains dogs to help vets," he kept his blue eyes trained on Dean. "Specifically those with PTSD."
Dean looked down at Murphy, liking the way the dog looked back at him, as if simply waiting to hear what Dean was going to say.
"What do they do?" Sam asked, all business, between the two of them, the only one who seemed able to string together logical thought at the moment.
"Basically, Murphy is trained to stop nightmares," Virgil said, removing his hand from the dog's head and crossing his arms over his chest. "He can sense changes in your body – and will basically…nudge you back to normal."
"Changes?" Dean asked, his voice surprisingly weak.
"Change in breathing, or in heart rate associated with panic-attacks, nightmares, flashbacks," Virgil said. "You know those 'grey-outs'? Where you lose track of where you are or what you're doing?"
Dean felt Sam look at him and swallowed as he nodded.
"He can find you, bring you back."
"How come he's…available?" Sam asked.
Virgil rested his hand on the dog's head once more. "Murphy's six – which is middle-aged for a Lab – and his former owner died in a car accident about eight months ago. He's been a station dog, keeping his skills sharp, but he's hard to place with a recovering vet because he's blind in one eye."
That brought Dean's head up. "He's what?"
"His right eye has near-complete vision loss," Virgil said, tipping his chin down, but keeping his eyes on Dean. "When I told my pal about you, it seemed like a natural fit."
"What…what do I do?" Dean asked, looking down at Murphy. "How do I…?"
"He's yours," Virgil said. "I arranged all the paperwork, no need to worry about that. All you have to do is keep him with you. He'll get used to you; you'll get used to him. Dogs are sensitive animals; they can sense emotion with just a tone of voice. Murphy's a smart guy, too. He'll be good for you."
"But," Dean shot a look over at Sam. "What about…hunts? Where's he gonna stay?"
"We've got a house now, Dean," Sam reminded him. "And as far as hunts…," he lifted a shoulder, "we'll improvise."
"You're okay with this?" Dean asked him.
Sam smiled. "If Murphy can help you get some actual sleep once in a while, I'm more than okay with it."
Dean looked back at Virgil, then down at Murphy, who tilted his head curiously. "How about you, huh?" he asked the dog. "You okay with this?"
Murphy stood and moved over to Dean, sitting directly in front of him and pawed his leg. Sam chuckled and Dean crouched down in front of the dog, rubbing his ears and pulling his face up as Murphy began to lick him. He looked over a Sam.
"Guess we got a roommate," he told his brother.
Taking that as permission, Sam dropped down to the floor and called Murphy to him. As if recognizing one of his own, Murphy shifted his attention to Sam and rolled on the floor between Sam's outstretched legs, all seventy pounds of him practically climbing into Sam's lap. Dean laughed.
"Man," Brenna said, joining them. "That's a sound I haven't heard in a long time."
Sam looked up from the floor where he was busy rubbing Murphy's belly. "Me neither," he said with a happy smile.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Been a long time since I felt like laughing, I guess," he replied.
"You staying for dinner?" Brenna asked Virgil.
The paramedic shook his head. "I gotta get back to Denver tonight," he said. "Just wanted to make sure you two were okay and drop off Murphy."
Dean frowned, suddenly at a loss as to what to say to this man who had been friend and ally.
"You're…leaving?" he asked.
Virgil looked down at Sam and Murphy, nodding. "I have a life there, man. A job. My boss got things worked out with the Union, but I've stretched things out a bit too long here." He looked up at Dean, then glanced over at Brenna, who was watching him with careful eyes. "I'm never far away," he said softly. "You know that."
"Yeah, I know," she replied, smiling at him as Sam stood up, Murphy moving to sit next to him.
Dean reached out his left hand, grasping Virgil's in a tight handshake. "I'm going to miss you, man."
Virgil tugged on Dean's arm, surprising him by pulling him into a one-armed hug, careful of his wounded side. Dean clapped the other man on the back before releasing him, but for a moment, Virgil held his hand tight, capturing his attention.
"Murphy will help you, but he isn't a cure-all," Virgil told him. "You got a long road ahead of you, and if it's even close to the one behind you, it's going to be tough."
Dean nodded, his brows pulled close over the bridge of his nose, his jaw tight.
"It'll probably hurt, and," he glanced over at Brenna as Aislinn joined them, leaning against her mother's leg and watching the adult exchange with serious eyes, "you might even want to give up." He released Dean's hand, but held his eyes. "Don't."
Dean swallowed. "I hear ya."
"Don't let your life beat you, man," Virgil said, reminding Dean oddly of Mason in that moment. "Use the pain; beat it right back."
"Thanks, man," Dean managed to say. "You saved our lives. I won't ever forget that."
Virgil smiled. "I know you won't." He looked over at Brenna, then back at Dean. "I know you'll do the right thing, Dean. For both of you. I love these girls," he paused, looking down, taking a breath, then looked back up, "like they were mine."
Dean nodded, unable to reply, knowing what the man was saying to him: choose wisely. You got a real shot at a good thing here; don't let this go. He offered Virgil a shaky smile.
Sam stepped forward, giving the blue-eyed man a strong hug. "Bye, Sinatra," he said, grinning.
"Bye, you big moose," Virgil replied, his voice muffled by Sam's shoulder. He stepped back. "You take care of your brother, okay?"
Dean looked over at Sam in surprise, seeing bemusement in his brother's eyes. It was probably the first time anyone had said that to him, Dean surmised.
"I will," he promised. "Thanks for the dog."
"I figured he wouldn't be a hard sell," Virgil grinned, turning to Aislinn and Brenna. "I'll be back in a few weeks. If you need me," he added. Brenna nodded, but didn't reply. Virgil looked down at Aislinn. "You be good for your mama, okay?"
Aislinn nodded, reaching out almost impulsively to grab Virgil's hand as she'd seen the grown-ups do. With that, and a tip of his ever-present red baseball hat, Virgil headed out the front door. For a moment, no one moved, then Aislinn turned and headed into the kitchen, Murphy on her heels.
Brenna took a breath, and said with her back to the brothers, "He's one of those guys who just lights up the world, y'know?"
"Yeah," Sam replied.
Dean nodded, though he knew Brenna couldn't see him. He knew what she meant; the place seemed dimmer without Virgil around. Sighing, she squared her shoulders and followed her daughter into the kitchen.
"We're having spaghetti and bread tonight," she called back to them. "It's Aislinn's specialty."
"You okay?" Sam asked quietly when Brenna was out of earshot.
Dean looked over at his brother. "I got no idea."
Sam nodded. "Fair enough. Can you make it through dinner?"
"And miss spaghetti and bread?" Dean smiled, seeing the tension immediately from Sam's tight shoulders. "Are you nuts?"
They headed in tandem to the kitchen, offering their help, following instructions, and Dean found himself momentarily lost in the easy rhythm of Brenna's life. She had the radio on and sang loudly and boisterously to the songs she knew, teasing the brothers into joining. Brenna sang slightly off-tune and Sam had always been a bit tone-deaf, so between the three of them they made Murphy howl and Aislinn laugh.
For a while, Dean forgot that there was anything outside of this room, this moment. Angel powers and demon scouts became part of someone else's past. Physical limitations became a non-issue. The ever-present fear of death and loss were things of myth. Dean felt peace for the first time since John died and he was happy. He had forgotten that he could even be happy.
It took longer to fix the meal than it did to eat it. Dean set his nearly-empty plate on the floor and let Murphy lick it clean, covering his lips with his finger when Aislinn caught him. She laughed delightedly.
"What's so funny, baby girl?" Brenna asked.
Aislinn closed her mouth and covered it with a conspirator's hand, glancing at Dean with a twinkle in her serious eyes. Brenna arched an eyebrow at him, but Dean lifted his hands innocently.
"You got me."
"Hmm," Brenna muttered. "How about you two go play a game while Sam and I clean up?" She suggested.
Dean looked over at Aislinn. "You like games?"
"She'll trounce you in checkers," Brenna warned him.
"You're that good, huh?" Dean asked the little girl. She nodded, smirking. He'd almost forgotten she didn't speak; she seemed to communicate so much. "Well, bring it on, kiddo!"
They moved into the living room and Murphy followed, lying on the floor next to Dean, his head resting on his paws. Dean glanced up at Sam who nodded back as he cleared the dishes from the table. Aislinn set up the game, making Dean black and herself red. Dean moved first.
"Y'know…, Sammy might not believe me, but when I was your age, I didn't really talk much."
Aislinn moved her checker piece, looking up at him.
"You're surprised too, huh?" Dean surmised. "Well, it's true. I didn't really have anyone to talk to until Sam came along." From the corner of his eye, Dean could see Sam and Brenna pausing in their clean up to watch, Brenna, holding a glass in her hand. "I wanted my little brother to learn how to talk, so I had to talk to him so he could hear my voice."
"I don't have a brother," Aislinn said, softly, but clear as day.
Dean blinked in surprise. He saw Sam dart forward and catch the glass that fell from Brenna's lax fingers before it hit the floor. She stepped forward, but didn't say a word, her eyes on her daughter. Dean decided to roll with it.
"Yeah, I know. But you've got your mama. I bet your mama would love to hear your voice."
"Do you have a mama?" Aislinn asked.
Dean jumped one of her red draughts, pulling it from the board. "Not anymore."
"Did you when you were little like me?"
"I did," he said, watching her jump two of his draughts, her eyes never leaving the checker board.
"Did she like your voice?"
"Yes, ma'am, she did."
Aislinn paused, considering her next move, then looked up at him, her expression pensive. Dean rested his forearms on his knees, waiting her out as she cupped her chin in her hand, her elbow propped on the coffee table next to the checker board.
"Did you sing?"
"No…," Dean shook his head slowly, wondering what she was seeing as she looked at him so seriously. "But she sang to me."
"My mama sings to me, too."
"Mamas are good like that."
As they continued to play, Dean looked up surreptitiously at Brenna, checking to make sure what he'd done was okay. He didn't know how significant it was that Aislinn had talked to him; Brenna had said she could talk…she just didn't. For all he knew, this happened with Virgil as well.
The tears on Brenna's face told him differently, though. She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, her eyes unreadable. Sam was watching him, as well, his face serious.
"You have spots," Aislinn said, sliding her third draught to his back line, forcing him to King the piece.
"Spots?" Dean asked, pulling his attention back to the little girl.
Without looking up from the checker board, Aislinn ran a finger over the bridge of her nose. "Like me."
Dean chuckled. "Yeah, I do."
"Mama doesn't have spots."
They played for a few more minutes in silence and Dean saw he was clearly losing the game, but he couldn't concentrate on his moves. He simply watched her think, watched her little hands grasp the checker pieces, watched how her tongue darted out between her lips as if for balance, watched her brow knit in concentration and her head tilt as she made her move. He couldn't seem to fill his eyes enough.
"I caught you," she said suddenly.
Dean blinked back to awareness, and looked down. If this had been chess, it would have been check mate.
"Yeah, you did."
Aislinn looked up. "I'll let you go."
"You will?" Dean asked, looking at her curiously. "Why? Jump my last man and you win."
Aislinn smiled at him and he felt something hit his mind, like a quick, happy kiss. "If I let you go, you'll come back and play again."
Dean looked up, meeting Sam's eyes, then looked over at Brenna. He had no idea what to say.
"Okay, my girl," Brenna spoke up. "Time for bed. Say goodnight to our guests and go brush your teeth and get in your PJs. I'll be back to tuck you in."
Aislinn stood up and turned to go, but paused. She turned back and bent down to rub Murphy's head, then leaned over the dog, reaching for Dean. Instinctively, Dean grasped her, his right hand awkward as he lifted her over the sleeping dog. She wrapped her arms around his neck in a hard hug. After a beat, Dean wrapped his arms around her small body, holding her close, breathing her in.
He closed his eyes against the rush of emotion that threatened to roll him over and released her the moment she let go of him, telling her goodnight. She waved happily at Sam, then trotted down the hall toward the bathroom once more. Dean looked over at Brenna, not quite yet able to stand.
Her chin trembled, and she visibly pulled herself together. "I'll be back out in a bit," she said. "There's beer in the fridge. You can wait outside on the porch, if you want." She pressed her lips out, stifling her emotion, then forced herself to smile.
Dean joined Sam in the kitchen after Brenna left. Without a word, Sam grabbed two beers from the fridge, popped off the caps, and handed one to Dean. They moved to the back porch, Murphy following closely, and sat silently on the rails, staring up at the star-studded night sky, the silence filled with so much noise, so many thoughts, Dean didn't know which thread to pick up and follow.
After a few moments, they heard something coming from one of the boarded up windows to the left of the porch. Dean tilted his head and Sam moved closer.
"Singing," he said.
Dean nodded, listening. Her voice wasn't off-tune this time. It slipped under his skin and settled down around his heart, near the hollow that had been inside of him since Stull.
"Of all the money that e'er I had, I've spent it in good company. And all the harm that e'er I've done, alas it was to none but me. And all I've done for want of wit to memory now I can't recall. So fill to me the parting glass. Good night and joy be with you all."
She paused and Dean waited, holding his breath, not wanting the moment to end. Because when the song was over, a decision had to be made, and he wasn't ready. He just wasn't ready.
"Of all the comrades that e'er I had, they are sorry for my going away. And all the sweethearts that e'er I had, they would wish me one more day to stay. But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not, I'll gently rise and I'll softly call, good night and joy be with you all."
"Wonder why she didn't sing in Gaelic," Sam mused.
Sam turned, resting his backside on the railing, looking down at his beer. "She sang that to you, in the tunnel. Said it was Aislinn's favorite song. It calmed you down."
Sam nodded. "But she said it in Gaelic."
Dean frowned. He didn't remember a song; he just remembered the light, the pain, and voices reassuring him that they were getting the hell out of the dark. He set his beer down, dragging a hand down his face.
Brenna stepped out onto the porch, her eyes on Dean.
"I'll go…finish up the dishes," Sam said, not looking at either of them.
When Sam was gone, Dean took a breath, his mind filled with so many words, so many directions, he didn't know which one to pick. He stood at a crossroads, a wooden sign with arrows pointing to paths marked The Right Way and The Decent Way and The Way You Want To Go and The Way You Think You Should Go and The Way Your Life Usually Goes…. He stared at Brenna, helpless.
"You were never part of the equation," she said finally. "And I was doing just fine on my own, raising her."
Dean narrowed his eyes, pressing his lips together as he looked out across the night.
"Okay, until I started on this latest quest, that is," she amended. "But even then, my girl was safe."
"Never said she wasn't," Dean replied.
"I thought about how to tell her she had a daddy," Brenna continued. "But it was more around me possibly meeting someone someday. Not…you coming back from the dead. I mean…who does that?"
"Crazy people," Dean replied quietly.
"Crazy people," she agreed. "And Dean, your life…what you've had to do...what I saw when I looked into you. It scares me. It scares me for her."
"I know," Dean agreed.
Brenna sighed, wrapping her arms around herself and leaning a shoulder on the post that lead to the stairs down into the yard. "After all that happened…we can't stay here. They may have realized they made a mistake, but this town was two beats away from burning me at the stake before you guys showed up. I just…don't know where we're going yet."
"Denver?" Dean hedged.
Without looking at him, Brenna shook her head. "I need to set Virgil free. I can't keep doing this to him…it's wrong and painful and unfair. I can't keep holding onto him like he's the edge of my pool. I gotta tread water like a big girl."
You could come with me…you could come to Lawrence.
The words were on the tip of his tongue; he wanted to say them, but something held him back. He let her work her way through to the next thought, not speaking up, not staking his claim. What right did he have asking her to be part of his nightmares, his constant pain, the threat of demons and false promises of angels?
"I don't know if I love you," she said quietly, surprising him. "I did, before you died. But…so much has happened since then…I don't know anymore." She rotated to face him, the starlight turning her cheeks pale, her eyes luminous. "But I think I could."
Dean just watched her, unable to move, barely breathing as he listened.
"And I know she could."
He glanced toward the house. "Do you think…she knows?"
"You mean…knows like…like how you knew?"
"Maybe," Brenna replied. "I think she knows something…or at least senses something. I've never seen her respond to anyone like that before. And she said more to you tonight than she's said to me in the last year."
Dean rubbed at his scarred palm, wondering when he'd stop seeing the blood there. "There's…stuff. Waiting for us back in Lawrence. Sam has a girl back there, and we have friends who might be in trouble." He looked up. "Because of us."
She nodded, silently.
"And this…power," he held out his scarred hand to her. "I don't know what to do with it. I have to find out what it means before—"
She reached out and grabbed his hand, pressing on his scar and causing him to gasp as her vision flooded him, slipping into his mind and showing him what she saw: him, wrapped in light, his eyes fierce and glowing, his hand out and darkness fleeing.
Releasing him, she took a shuddering breath, lifting her bird-like eyes to his. He trembled, not seeing anything but her in this moment, but knowing she saw so much more. As he watched, her eyes shrank, going normal once more.
"You have to go," she said.
"I know," he replied, feeling inexplicably devastated to hear the truth he already knew spoken out loud.
"But…," she amended. "You don't have to stay gone."
"Okay," he agreed.
She looked away. "You ever think life will get small enough three people can fit inside it and not get lost?"
"I hope so," he whispered, stepping forward and wrapping his arms around her, burying her face against his chest. If nothing else, he wanted to make it fit.
When they went inside, Sam had the kitchen cleaned up and was sitting on the arm of the couch, his jacket on and Dean's in his hand.
"We gotta go," Dean told him.
"I figured," Sam replied, handing him his jacket. "I checked your pockets," he said. "It's still there."
Dean offered his brother a small, tremulous smile. "You're a good man, Sammy."
"I'll be in the car," Sam replied, standing up. He grabbed Brenna and pulled her in for a hug. "I think this is the first time I've ever hugged you goodbye," he told her.
She nodded as she stepped away. "You're usually threatening me with bodily harm if I hurt your brother," she recalled. "It's a nice change."
"Eh, don't get used to it," Sam smiled at her. "I'm sure I'll be threatening you again at some point." He called to Murphy and the two of them headed to the door. "Take your time," he called to Dean.
When Sam left, Dean pulled the worn envelope from the pocket of his jacket, looking down at it. "A couple of years ago," he started, "things got really bad. Sam and me were vessels for archangels, and we were trying to stop the Apocalypse…," he glanced up at her.
She lifted an eyebrow. "So…just another day at the office, then?"
He smiled ruefully. "Thing is, this was one of those times I couldn't find my way out," he confessed. "And I thought the only thing I could do to save everyone a helluva lot of pain…was to give myself up. Sacrificing me seemed like small potatoes compared to what it looked like would happen."
She frowned. "Yeah, but…what would the world be like with no Dean Winchester in it?"
He shrugged. "I wasn't here for four months; you had a baby in that time. The world kept turning."
"It wasn't the same world," she replied. "It was darker without you here."
"Like with Virge, you mean?"
"Kinda. His light fills up a room," she looked directly at him. "Your light hits everyone in it."
Dean unfolded the envelope, feeling along the worn edges one last time. "There was a moment when I was ready to let it all go. I left Sam when he wasn't looking, found a hotel room, and packed all my stuff into a box. And I," he handed the envelope to her. "I wrote this."
She took it gingerly, like it might burn her.
"Even though all that Apocalypse stuff is over and done, I want you to read it," he said. "Because I don't know what's going to happen next. But everything I say in there is still true today."
"You're going to figure out this angel power thing and come find me," she said. "That's what's going to happen next."
"I hope so," Dean replied. "I really do."
A frown turning her eyes liquid, Brenna reached for him and in that moment Dean stepped forward, as if drawn by a magnetic pull. She grabbed the back of his neck, pulling his face close to hers, and pressed her lips against his. Instinctively, his arms came around her, keeping her close to him, bracing them both. It wasn't a tentative kiss; it was desperate and lonely and full of need. He felt every lost year, every yesterday, every if only pour from her and into him and fed her with the undefined ache that formed a wall around his heart.
She pressed close to him for another moment, searing him with hungry lips and gripping hands, then stepped back, pushing him from her and turning away. Unbalanced, gasping slightly for breath, Dean grabbed his coat and headed for the door. He paused just before he turned the handle.
"I'll see ya," he promised.
Glancing at him over her shoulder, eyes fierce with that promise, Brenna replied, "I know."
Sam was waiting for him, sitting behind the wheel. Murphy was in the backseat, his head on his paws. He lifted his head when Dean climbed in, but didn't make a sound. Dean looked over at his brother.
"Want to find a hotel?" Sam asked. "It's late."
"You okay to just drive for a while?" Dean asked. He needed to move, to get away from everything and breathe.
"Yeah," Sam replied, putting the car into gear and heading down the mountain road.
They got to the other side of Denver before they had to stop for gas. Sam mixed the balm as Brenna had instructed and they applied it to their various wounds in the bathroom of the gas station. Dean was glad to see that the red marks of the taser that had been so ugly just that morning were nearly faded from Sam's skin.
Sam remarked how the red around his stitches was starting to fade as he watched Dean apply the purple goo and re-wrapped his torso.
"She should bottle this stuff and sell it," Sam remarked. "She'd be set for life."
"I think that's what she was trying to do in Argo," Dean replied. "Only…she went about it all wrong. Towns people were ready to toss her into a pond to see if she floated."
"So we're back to Monty Python, are we?" Sam commented, helping Dean to fasten the bandage in place now that Dean's skin was covered.
"If it ain't broke…," Dean shrugged, leading the way back to the car and taking his turn behind the wheel.
They made it just outside of Limon before Dean had to pull over and get a few hours sleep. They found a rest stop and parked, slumping to either side of the front seat, arms tucked into their jackets. The nightmare seemed to have been waiting for him to slip into the dark, lurking like a hunter in the shadows. He knew hunters; he knew how they worked and these dreams were like an entity unto themselves.
He felt the terror return, cold and fierce, grabbing him and throwing him into the Pit where the screams and blood and pain waited. He searched for the blue light, the moth-like figure that seemed to offer salvation, even the image of Sam spinning away from him. Something that he could grab onto and ride out of the black. But the only thing that came were demons, wraiths, vampires, vengeful spirits, reaching for him, pulling at him, tearing him apart…licking him.
Dean jerked awake, disoriented and confused, staring around him. Sam was slumped against the passenger door, asleep. The edge of night was disappearing, the sun beginning to take over the flat of the plains around them. And the big, pink, wet tongue of a dog was bathing the side of his face.
"Okay, okay," Dean lifted his arm in defense, pushing Murphy away. He wiped his cheek, then turned toward the dog who was leaning over the edge of the seat, his paws on the back, his muzzle close to Dean's face, still worried. Dean reached up and rubbed Murphy's ears. "I'm okay. Thanks, boy. I'm okay."
Slightly mollified by Dean's ear-rub, Murphy sank back to his haunches, but didn't pull his attention from Dean.
"You probably need to go outside, huh?"
Dean opened the door, the creak waking Sam.
"What's goin' on?" Sam muttered, rubbing his eyes and looking around.
"Murphy's earning his keep," Dean replied, shrugging. "Gonna take him out for a little walk."
Sam watched him with solemn eyes. "Okay. I'll see what the vending machine has for breakfast."
Four hours later, they were back in Lawrence. The town looked smaller, somehow. The streets familiar and oddly welcoming. Dean felt Sam relax next to him, his smile one of anticipation as he pulled out his phone to call Stella and check in. Parking in front of their rented house, Dean realized that they'd only been gone a little over a week.
"Feels like forever," he said softly.
"I know what you mean," Sam replied, hanging up his phone. "I kinda missed this place."
They got out of the car, grabbing their duffels from the back. Sam collected the extra bag of weapons and Dean whistled to Murphy, heading up to the door. Once inside, they dropped their duffels on the couch, both sighing with relief to be back in one piece as Murphy trotted from room to room, sniffing and inspecting.
"Does it feel like all that happened to someone else?" Sam asked suddenly.
Dean looked over at his brother, huffing out a laugh. "Kinda," he replied. "Except for this," he motioned to his side.
"Always something there to remind us, huh?" Sam sighed.
Suddenly Murphy bolted toward the living room, growling, the hair along his back standing at attention. The brothers frowned at him.
"What is it?" Dean asked the dog.
A three-beat knock sounded at the door. Dean shot a look at Sam, then back at Murphy who was now showing teeth. Looking back at Sam, Dean nodded to the duffel of weapons, grabbing the Colt 1911 from the air when Sam tossed it his way. Holding his Glock at the ready, Sam moved to the door, opening it wide enough both he and Dean could train their weapons on whoever was waiting on the other side.
Continued in Part 2: Chapter 17
a/n: The song Brenna sings is called "The Parting Glass." It's an old Irish tune and my favorite rendition of it is by the Wailin' Jennys. Here's a vid for you to check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4egb2gpIg4&feature=kp
Hope you're still enjoying! See you in a couple weeks. Three more chapters to go!