Spoilers: Set immediately after 2.02, Everybody Loves a Clown
The house smelled like apple pie and bleach.
Dean frowned at that, watching Wick set Kate on the other side of a baby-gate barrier into an obviously baby-proofed family room. The apple pie scent was comforting, and a quick glance told Dean it emanated from a plug-in air freshener situated just inside the door, next to what looked like a coat closet.
Hesitating in the doorway, he scowled when Sam took his right elbow and turned him toward one of the kitchen chairs in the room directly across from where Kate was playing with crayons and books. He wanted to push Sam away, tell him he was fine. But the fact of the matter was, he hurt. His left arm ached from his fingers to his teeth. His ribs pinched painfully with each breath. And he could feel his legs trembling. Dean sank gratefully into the kitchen chair.
"I'd give my right arm for an aspirin," he muttered aloud.
"I think I can help with that," Wick said, crossing to the telephone and dialing a number. He opened a kitchen cabinet, pulled out a bottle, and tossed it to Sam.
Dean heard the surprise in Sam's voice, but he didn't lift his eyes.
"Paul had knee surgery a couple of months ago—hey, yeah, Junior? Yeah, this is Wick Bishop." Wick turned away from the brothers, putting a hand over his free ear as he addressed the telephone.
"You want one?" Sam offered Dean the bottle.
"Hell, yeah." Dean reached for the proffered relief, dry-swallowing the pill and rolling his neck. "Gotta call Bobby," he said to Sam.
"He'll find out soon enough, Dean. Save the yelling for after the pain meds kick in."
Sam leaned against the wall, his eyes heavy on Dean.
"I'm not gonna vanish, Sam."
"Quit staring at me like that." Dean shifted. "You're starting to creep me out."
"Just wanting to make sure you're okay, that's all," Sam snapped. "You—"
"Don. Go 'way."
The little voice from the other room drew Dean's attention from his brother's concerned voice. Pushing himself up stiffly from the chair, he tried not to wince at the pull in his side. He'd broken ribs before; he knew he was only bruised or, at the very worst, cracked, but it still hurt like a son of a bitch. Leaning against the wall, he peered in at Kate.
She was sitting with a coloring book open on her lap, a cluster of crayons gripped in one hand, her pacifier in the other. She seemed to be glaring at the wall.
Dean tilted his head, stepping closer. "Don?"
Kate nodded, keeping her eyes on the wall, her lips turned down in an unhappy glower. "Don," she repeated. "Go 'way."
Then, with a quick, satisfied bob of her head, she returned her pacifier to her mouth, selected a color from the crayons in her hand, and continued to draw.
"That seem weird to you?" Dean asked.
Sam had been splitting his attention between Dean's movement and Wick's conversation; he'd missed Kate's exchange with the wall. Looking over at his brother's question, he shrugged in response. "She's a baby, Dean," he replied distractedly. "Who knows why they do what they do?"
"Okay, guys, good news and bad news." Wick came around the corner of the room, returning the phone to the hook. "Junior can pull your truck out, but…not until tomorrow morning."
"Swell," Dean sighed, slumping against the doorway, cradling his aching arm against his side. He could just about feel his fingers again, but his hand was swollen and useless, and his heartbeat pulsed behind his eyes. Pain meds can kick in anytime now…
"Why don't you guys stay here until morning?" Wick offered. "It's seriously the least I can do…and there's not a hotel between here and Des Moines."
Dean lifted hesitant eyes to Sam, waiting for his brother to make the call. He was simply tired of making choices, and he had the mother of all choices hanging over his head: his brother's salvation or his life.
Kate began to hum again, and Dean looked over at her. Her blonde head was tipped forward, her large eyes on the paper before her, two crayons in one hand busy tracing swooping circles. Her lips were pressed tightly together and she bounced her upper body in time with the tune in her head, her soft hair fluttering with the motion.
"We'd appreciate the hospitality," Sam said.
Dean continued to watch Kate, tilting his head. Her tuneless hum suddenly started to sound familiar. "Is that…’Crazy Love’?"
Wick chuckled. "Yeah. Lisa is—er, was—nuts about music. She sang all kinds of stuff to Kate. That one was their favorite." He shook his head in wonder. "I can't believe you recognized it. She's no Van Morrison."
"It was the beat," Sam said softly, and Dean turned to see his brother's eyes on him. "He recognized the beat."
Dean nodded, surprised that Sam figured that out. There was something in Sam's expression he couldn't quite place. Something almost like…admiration. Dean folded his lips into a frown. There was nothing in him Sam should be admiring. If Sam knew the truth…
"You got some place we can clean up a little?" Sam asked, turning to Wick.
"Sure, follow me."
"What about Kate?" Dean asked, surprised Wick would head up the stairs and leave the baby alone in the family room.
"Oh, shit, right." Wick shook his head. He headed over to the baby gate. "C'mere a second, kiddo."
Kate stood, walking over to her uncle, crayons still gripped in her hand. She reached trusting arms up to him and he lifted her, positioning her on his hip.
"You want to put those down?" Wick asked her, indicating the crayons.
"No." Kate shook her head.
"Okay then." He turned back to the brothers. "Told ya," he said, shrugging. "She'll be lucky if she sees two."
Offering him sympathetic half-smiles, the brothers followed Wick up the stairs, Sam carrying their duffels.
"Kate's room is here, at the top of the stairs. Lisa and Paul slept there." Wick pointed to a closed door. "After the cops were done, we cleaned it with, like, a year's supply of bleach, but…I still won't go back in there."
"Don't blame you," Dean said softly, leaning against the banister at the top of the stairs.
"Guest room is down the hall, and the bathroom is there." Wick pointed to a fourth door. "I've been staying in the guest room. You guys'll have to sleep on the pullout couch downstairs."
"That's fine. Thanks, Wick." Sam smiled, taking the towels Wick pulled from a linen closet and heading to the bathroom. Dean smiled at Kate as he passed. Her lips tucked back into her chubby baby cheeks when she returned the grin.
"We'll probably eat in like an hour or so," Wick said. "You guys like pizza?"
"Absolutely," Dean said, his gaze still on the china blue eyes blinking back at him.
"All right then." Wick nodded. "I got a diaper to change.” He turned and carried Kate back down the stairs, leaving the brothers alone.
Sam opened the bathroom door, and Dean peeked in over Sam's shoulder. It was huge: a separate tub and shower, two sinks, and a side room for the toilet.
"Nice." Dean nodded approvingly. He stepped in around Sam, glancing at himself in the mirror. "Yikes. Not so nice."
"You've had better days."
"Yeah, the ones that don't involve us getting shoved off the road by a two-ton SUV are usually better."
Sam closed the door behind him, dropping the duffels on the floor. "Just be glad we weren't in the Impala," he muttered.
Dean winced. "Don't even kid about that, man. She's been through enough." He started to reach up behind his neck to untie the pink blanket that Sam had used as a sling, pausing when his arm throbbed once, hard, stealing his breath. He leaned against the large counter that connected the two sinks, waiting for the world to settle back into place.
"Here," Sam said, stepping closer. "Let me help."
Dean didn't have the strength to protest, though the last thing he wanted was Sam's cautious care. He felt guilty enough as it was, keeping up the lie that John hadn't said anything to him before he’d died. The nicer Sam was, the harder he pushed, the faster and farther Dean wanted to run and the more opaque his mask became.
Sam untied the knot, sliding the blanket free, then removed the one holding Dean's arm against his chest.
"You're not gonna be able to pull that shirt off."
"I know," Dean breathed. If not for his grip on the edge of the sink, he would have been on the floor. His legs were trembling so badly, he knew Sam could see it.
"Want me to cut it off?"
"Yeah.” He hated to lose a shirt—they had so little to start with—but until the pain meds kicked in, there was no way he was going to move his arm any more than absolutely necessary.
He rested his hip against the edge of the sink, watching with tired eyes as Sam pulled his razor-sharp Bowie from one of the duffels, slid the blade under the front of Dean's t-shirt, and sliced upward. Dean turned his head to the side as Sam approached the neck of his shirt. Sam sucked in his breath upon catching sight of the bruising on his chest, then cut the shirt free from both arms, letting the cotton material drop to the floor.
"Just our luck, huh?" Sam said, grimacing at the marks on Dean's side.
"What, getting hit by another truck?"
"Well, yeah, that, but also a truck linked to a case."
Dean met Sam's eyes. "A case? What case?"
Sam's eyebrows met over the bridge of his nose. "Are you kidding? This place is haunted, Dean."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "First it's killer clowns, now you sense ghosts?"
"Hey, I was right about the clown, and if you'd been listening to Wick in the car—"
"I was listening," Dean grumbled, sliding his hip along the counter toward his duffel, then reaching in and grabbing a rolled Ace bandage. "His sister and her husband were killed by someone who was watching the place."
"Dean," Sam said, exasperation plain in his voice. "You don't believe that. I don't believe you believe that."
"Doesn't really matter what you believe, Sam," Dean said quietly. "Does it?"
Sam pressed his lips together, sighing. Dean started to unroll the bandage, when the room suddenly tilted. He dropped the elastic and caught his balance with a weak, "Whoa."
"Think the pain meds just kicked in…"
"You look a little pale. You need to sit down?"
Dean closed his eyes, willing the world to slow down just a bit. He felt Sam's hand on his elbow, guiding him backward to sit on the edge of the tub. He pulled air in through his nose, easing it out between parted lips. He was not going to get sick.
"I think you need to eat something," Sam said softly. "Dean."
Dean kept his eyes closed, concentrating on breathing. He heard Sam's sigh shift as his brother crouched in front of him, and forced himself to open his eyes, seeing the bandage in Sam's hand. Memories like flashbulbs snapped across his vision as he watched Sam. His brother's panicked voice calling for help when Dean woke up in the hospital, choking on the tube; hazel eyes pleading for connection in Bobby's junkyard as Sam called him on the pain he was trying to hide; shy eagerness radiating off him as Sam revealed he knew where a trunk lid could be found.
Dean felt a sudden burst of regret for how hard he was making things on his brother. He knew he wasn't the only person who’d lost someone. He was acting like a friggin' jerk, and all Sam wanted to do was help.
"Think you can wrap this without passing out, Samantha?"
"Who, you or me?" Sam raised an eyebrow.
Dean gripped the edge of the tub. "Good point."
"Just breathe easy, man," Sam said, his voice low. Dean closed his eyes, letting Sam wrap the bandage tightly around his bruised ribs, supporting them.
When Sam paused, Dean opened his eyes. "What?"
"Well…" Sam winced as he stood, and Dean saw a flash of something that looked like blood on the inside of his brother's leg. "You need a clean shirt on before I wrap your shoulder."
"Sam," Dean said suddenly. "What happened to your leg?"
"Huh?" Sam looked down. "Oh. Right. Think it was the gear shift."
"Clean that up first."
"Sam, just do it." Dean kept his right hand braced on the side of the tub, breaths coming easier now that his bruised ribs had some support. The pain medication still had him spinning, though. His vision bounced in and out of focus like someone was shaking the camera in his head.
Muttering under his breath, Sam slid his jeans free, kicking them off over his boots. Dean narrowed his eyes at the abrasion on the inside of his brother's right thigh.
"Damn, Sammy," he commented. "Two more inches higher and you really would be a Samantha."
"Shut up," Sam grumbled. "You're the one that pulled me across the cab of the truck."
"To get you away from the speeding vehicle," Dean countered.
Sam wet a rag and started wiping the dried blood from his leg. "Yeah, and that worked out so well for you."
"Bite me," Dean snapped.
"You wish." Sam winced, cleaning the scrape with antiseptic and placing a wide bandage over the raw part of the wound, then dug into his duffel for a clean pair of jeans. Easing down onto the closed toilet seat, he pulled the jeans on, then regarded Dean.
"See something you like?" Dean groused.
"I need to clean that cut," Sam announced, ignoring Dean's attitude. "Hold still."
"Not going anywhere, man," Dean admitted.
Sam grabbed another clean rag, gently wiping the blood from Dean's hair and face. "Want to wash your face?"
"Seriously, dude, you're a mess."
Dean sighed. He didn't think he could stand up without weaving, and he was starting to hate the fact he was so dependant upon Sam's help at the moment. Clutching his left arm to his bandaged side, muscles protesting, he reached for Sam. Feeling his brother's strong fingers wrap around his wrist, he pulled himself to his feet, relieved when he didn't tip sideways.
Shuffling over to the sink, he glanced once more in the mirror. It wasn't the blood and the dirt that made him agree with Sam. It was the unfamiliar look of defeat in his eyes. He felt dead inside. Hollow. Empty. The contrast of what he was seeing to what he used to know, was so great that he had to look away. Turning on the tap, he cupped his right hand under the warm water and leaned over carefully to splash it on his face.
Silently, Sam used the edge of the rag to wipe away the dirt that sluiced down Dean's face with the water, acting as his other hand. Dean didn't say a word, simply let his brother help him wash away the evidence of pain. When Sam was done, Dean turned around, setting his rear against the edge of the sink.
Sam had pulled his bottom lip into his mouth, and Dean could see him worrying it with his tongue. They stayed silent as Sam dabbed ointment on Dean's cut, fixing two butterfly bandages there. Not meeting his brother's eyes, Sam bent and grabbed a black t-shirt from the duffel.
Dean nodded. He was tired of fighting. Tired of putting up the front of strength. Tired.
Sam wadded up the t-shirt, sliding Dean's left hand through the sleeve, then easing it up and over his bruised shoulder. Ducking to the side, Dean slid his head through the neck hole and raised his right arm to slide the shirt on the rest of the way. Smoothing the black cotton over his bandaged ribs, Dean glanced at Sam, letting him know he was ready.
Sam grabbed the second, and last, Ace bandage from the bag, wrapping Dean's upper arm against the side of his chest and then supporting his forearm in a makeshift sling.
"You really need to see a doctor, man," Sam grumbled.
"Not gonna happen," Dean muttered.
Sam continued to wrap. Just before he clipped the ends of the bandage, he spoke again. "Hey, Dean?"
"You think Dad would look into this?" Sam asked, his voice halting. "The haunted house?"
Aw, Sammy…stop…just… "Yeah," Dean found himself saying. "He probably would. Man was crazy enough to check into any lead. Why do you think he left us so much?"
Sam was silent for a moment. Dean let his brother process the comment while memories sliced through him like razors. Memories of climbing silently into Sam's crib because it was the only place left where he felt safe. Memories of staying awake with a rifle over his lap because Dad wasn't home when he said he'd be. Memories of a voice, words spoken in anger and sorrow, regret thick in the air, pride tracing lines of tears down his father's face.
"You have all the usual, right?" Sam asked.
"'Course," Dean replied, grateful that the nauseating spin that had swamped him earlier seemed to now be simply a slow rotation of the earth. Just because he hadn't anticipated a hunt when they left Bobby's was no reason to be unprepared for one.
"I'm gonna check for EMF up here. See what I can find."
"Knock yourself out," Dean said tiredly. "I'm gonna go down and hum with Katie a while."
Watching Dean slowly descend the stairs, leaning heavily on the banister, Sam felt a sharp pull of guilt. Dean was telling him every way he knew how that he wasn't ready to talk about Dad, about what was happening to them, about what had come between them. But Sam refused to listen. He couldn't listen. He was afraid to let this go. He needed his brother too much.
He pulled the EMF meter from Dean's bag, taking note of the guns and ammo Dean had stashed among his jeans and t-shirts. Turning it on, Sam held the device out in front of him, watching carefully for the green lights to shift to red, listening for the high-pitched whine that indicated spectral activity.
"Huh." Sam shook his head. "I could have sworn…"
He moved down the hall, toward Lisa and Paul's room, carefully opening the door. Nothing. Turning, he entered Kate's room, getting the same result.
"Doesn't make sense…"
Dean's bellow made him jump, and Sam quickly switched off the meter. Grabbing their duffels, he headed down the stairs. He dropped the bags next to the couch in the family room, where he saw Wick had already stacked blankets and pillows, then turned and headed into the kitchen.
Kate was sitting in a highchair, Wick next to her, Dean on the other side. Sam crossed to the empty seat, taking the beer Wick offered. He frowned at Dean, who was sipping a beer.
"Dean, should you be drinking—"
"Told ya," Dean interrupted, shooting an empty grin over at Wick. "Mother friggin' hen."
Wick nodded. "Yeah, well, guess it's good to have someone watch out for you."
"Mo'," Kate demanded, pointing her index finger into the palm of her hand.
"Is she…signing?" Sam asked, sliding a glass of water over to Dean, watching as his brother set the beer down and picked up the water without commenting.
"Yeah, Lisa taught her baby signs when she was really little. She does a few of them. Bad thing is, I don't know any of them. So, I’m back to guessing. Here you go, kiddo," Wick said, cutting more pizza up with the side of his fork, then setting the pieces on her highchair tray.
Dean shook his head. "Baby signs… Sam was lucky he learned his ABCs."
"Hey!" Sam protested.
"It just the two of you?" Wick asked, passing the second box of pizza around.
Dean glanced away, and Sam concentrated on his slice.
"Yeah," Dean answered. "It is now. Our, uh, dad died about a couple weeks ago."
"Oh," Wick said, subdued. "Sorry, man."
Dean lifted his shoulder, silent.
"Dean was the one who raised me, anyway," Sam said, surprised to hear himself offering such information to a stranger. Dean looked at him, questions in his eyes. "Dad wasn't around much."
"Your mom?" Wick asked, giving Kate more pizza when she patted her finger against her palm once more.
"She died when I was a baby," Sam replied, not looking at Dean.
"Man." Wick lifted a hand as if in apology.
"Eh, it was a long time ago," Dean said around a mouthful of pizza, waving a dismissive hand toward Wick. "You're gonna do just fine with this one, man."
"I don't know." Wick shook his head. "She's already smarter than me and she knows, like, ten words."
"Well, they surprise you every day, that's for sure," Dean nodded, wiping his mouth with a napkin. Sam watched him, listening silently. "But you just gotta stay consistent with what you tell them. And listen to them. They'll tell you what they need."
Wick was leaning forward, absorbing Dean's words. Sam was leaning back, surprised by them. He'd seen his brother with kids before—Lucas and Michael in recent memory—but he never really thought about Dean knowing how to care for a child. Despite what he himself had just said about Dean raising him. The fact it had been done with cunning and not simply luck was just beginning to dawn on Sam.
"All done," Kate declared, waving her hands at her sides. She started to push the uneaten parts of her pizza off her tray.
Sam laughed, Wick shook his head, and Dean reached for a napkin, standing carefully and wiping Kate's hands and face. Sam's laugh cut off abruptly. Dean moved as if he'd been cleaning up babies his whole life: naturally, with slow, sure motions. Even hampered by his bandaged arm, he looked like he knew what he was doing.
Sam felt his heart slow, struck with sadness for what Dean had lost and what he would never have. His brother was a born father. Sam was living testament to that. And yet life, apparently, had other ideas. Just isn't fair…
"I'm gonna give her a bath," Wick said, pulling Kate from the chair. "You guys just make yourselves at home. I'll clean up later."
Wick shifted Kate to his hip, the baby's chattering fading as they climbed up the stairs. Sam sat still, staring at his empty plate, feeling Dean's silence beside him. He wanted to talk to him, wanted Dean to talk. Not even about Dad, just…talk. About anything. But he couldn't think of a word to say. He couldn't think of an easy break in conversation that didn't either start with pain or threaten to end that way.
"Gonna go in the other room," Dean finally said, standing stiffly.
The bruises around his eye had darkened, but his face looked less pale. Sam watched him walk from the room, his loose-limbed stride looking off-balance with his arm bound to his side. Sam knew he should be seen by a doctor, just to make sure there wasn't any real damage. Maybe I can get Bobby to convince him to go…
Sam cleared the plates from the table, stacking them beside the sink, then joined his brother in the family room, stepping over the baby gate.
Dean was slouched on a reclining chair, the footrest part of the way out, his head back, eyes closed. Sam sat on the couch, letting his eyes roam the room. Framed posters of concerts and singers graced the walls; everyone from Pearl Jam to Frank Sinatra. Sam's lips quirked in a half-smile, impressed. He stood and wandered to a collection of pictures next to a baby monitor on a bookcase.
"Think this is Lisa?" Sam asked suddenly. He saw Dean jump out of the corner of his eye, mentally kicking himself for not checking to see if his brother had actually fallen asleep.
"This picture here—looks just like Kate."
"Yeah, I guess."
"We ever have stuff like…baby gates?"
Dean chuckled softly, and Sam turned from the bookcase to face him. Dean's head was back again, his eyes closed, but the sleepy smile on his face made Sam think the pain meds were doing a fair job of keeping the aches at bay.
"Not exactly," Dean drawled. They could hear Wick talking to Kate and the toddler's answering babble on the monitor. "Dad kinda jury-rigged some barricades for you in different motel rooms—the ones that had those kitchen things, and I figured out how to move furniture so you would stay in one place."
Sam sat on the couch heavily, surprised to hear a memory about Dad flow so easily from Dean. After feeling his brother sag against him in the doorway of that hospital room as the words, Time of death, 10:41 a.m., echoed through his head, he’d wondered if Dean would ever bring up Dad in casual conversation again. Sam held his breath, afraid to break the spell.
"You were a clever baby, though," Dean said, yawning. "You always managed to find ways into and out of stuff. I couldn't let you out of my sight."
"I was a pain in the ass, huh?" Sam asked, a small smile in his voice.
"Nah." Dean shook his head, his eyes opening slowly as if the short break in vigilance had woven his lashes together. "You were a kid, Sammy. You were just a kid. And I…"
Dean lifted his head, his eyes once again hollow. "Nothing."
Sam was silent, watching Dean.
Wick walked into the room, Kate in his arms, her soft blonde hair still damp and sticking up around her head. Wick frowned at the brothers, evidently realizing he'd interrupted something. Kate, however, could care less.
"Store," she said, reaching for the ground. "Store."
"Store?" Sam asked, tilting his head, confused.
"Story," Dean said, his eyes on where Kate was reaching.
"Oh, yeah." Wick nodded. "Yeah, Lisa always read to her before bed." He smiled at Dean. "Nice job!"
The corner of Dean's mouth tugged up in a grin. Wick set Kate down inside the room, then stepped over the baby gate.
"I'd take it down, but it's such a pain to put back up," he said apologetically, sitting on the couch and watching his niece. Kate found a book, then regarded her uncle carefully. He reached out to her and she frowned, turning from him and heading over to Dean.
"Up," she demanded.
Sam watched Dean blink in obvious surprise, staring back at the little face before him.
"Up," Kate demanded again, this time reaching for him.
Dean started to lean down, but Sam could see he wasn't going to be able to pick her up with one arm. Sam crossed the room, reaching for Kate. His large hands awkwardly splayed around her tiny torso, Sam lifted her from the floor, arms extended, and stepped toward Dean. Ignoring his brother's amused smirk, he set Kate down gingerly in his brother's lap, then dropped down on the other side of the couch to watch as Dean started to read the book to Kate.
Soon, though, she took over, turning the pages backward and forward, pointing to pictures and stating her version of the word associated with the image. Dean grinned, shooting his eyes up to Sam. He nodded solemnly, though, when Kate twisted her head around to make sure he was paying attention.
Sam watched with awe. His rogue of a brother, who looked more at home in a bar or under the hood of a car than just about anywhere else Sam had seen him, who only visibly relaxed when he had a gun in his hand, who slept with a ten-inch Bowie knife under his pillow, who had killed more evil than Sam had ever seen in his lifetime, looked completely at peace sitting in a recliner with a baby in his lap.
Sam wasn't sure what to do with that.
"Don," Kate said, pointing to a picture.
Sam saw Dean's head snap up. "What?" he asked him.
"What's that, Katie?" Dean asked.
"Don," Kate repeated, pointing to the book again.
"She calls farmers 'Don'?" Dean asked Wick.
Wick shrugged. "I guess. Maybe…like Old McDonald?"
Dean nodded. Kate turned the pages and kept reading.
Sam watched him. "What is it, Dean?"
"She said that earlier this evening. Told 'Don' to go away."
Sam shrugged. "So?"
Dean shook his head. "Never mind…probably nothing."
The clock on the mantel struck eight, and Wick stood. "C'mon, kiddo," he said, reaching for Kate. "Time for bed. Say g'night."
Kate looked down at Dean. "Be good."
Sam chuckled. Dean nodded solemnly. "You, too, Katie."
Wick carried her upstairs, and the brothers sat listening to the sounds of Kate humming herself to sleep over the monitor. Wick bade them goodnight soon after, and they were left with the uncomfortable companion of time and circumstance between them.
I've done everything you've ever asked me… I've given everything I've ever had…and you're just gonna sit there and watch me die?!
Is this really you talking? Why are you saying this stuff? You're scaring me…
Yeah, Dad, you know I will…
He couldn't hear Dad. He wanted to, but he couldn't. Dean turned, straining to hear his father's words. Needing the reassurance of that deep timbre, the liquid-metal sound rolling over him and through him. But there was nothing there. It was as if the place he'd hidden John inside him had been scooped out, lost, shattered.
He turned again, moving through gray shadows, whispers of voices meeting his ears, teasing him with an almost sound, not quite words but very nearly noise. He wanted to see Sam. He knew Sam was around, but the gray was getting in the way. He needed to get out of the gray, but there was so much of it.
"Hey, Dean, hey…"
There he was. Wait, where did he go? He was just there.
"Dean, hey, it's okay, man, open your eyes. Dean! Hey, Dean, open your eyes."
Dean obeyed. He was sweating, his left arm throbbing, his ribs ticking with little pinpricks, painfully adjusting to his new position. He blinked in the darkness, working to orient himself. Sam leaned over him, one hand on his chest, the other braced on the back of the chair.
Dean rubbed a trembling hand over his face. He'd fallen asleep in the recliner, the angle easier on his ribs. Sam was in his t-shirt and boxers, the angry red scrape on his thigh visible in the dim light from the hallway, his hair spun around his head from his pillow.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. Dreamin', I guess."
"You were talking," Sam said, sitting on the edge of the pullout bed, his hands sliding free from Dean, leaving him to shiver in their wake. "What did Dad say?"
"Huh?" Dean pulled his hand from his face.
"You said he was scaring you," Sam said. "What did he say?"
Dean went cold. He felt the blood drain with the emotion from his face. "Nothing, Sam."
"It wasn't nothing, Dean."
"It was just a dream. It was nothing."
Sam stared at him another moment. Dean stared back, unrelenting. He wished he'd at least removed his jeans; the denim was now twisted around his waist and tight on his calves.
The monitor fuzzed, red lights arcing with the feedback. Dean frowned at the lights. They faded back to nothing, then spiked once more.
"Were you…whispering?" Dean asked suddenly.
The lights faded, then flashed, bringing with them a strange hushed sound.
"Me? No. Wick's in Kate's room, though. I can hear him on the monitor."
"Oh." Dean nodded, shifting in the chair, his ribs finally having enough of being at an odd angle. He kept his eyes on the red lights of the monitor, concentrating on the sounds that had captured his attention.
He realized he could hear voices. Words. Focusing, Dean frowned. It didn't sound like Wick, though. In fact…
"Sam.” He sat forward, his arm protesting. "That's a woman's voice."
"What?" Sam leaned toward the monitor.
As he did so, Kate spoke up, very clearly, her voice angry. "Don. Go 'way."
Dean was out of the chair, dipping a hand into his duffel and grabbing his pearl-handled .45, then over the baby gate before Sam had pulled his jeans on.
His left arm pinned against his side by the bandages, muscles screaming in protest, Dean took the stairs two at a time, meeting up with Wick at the top in front of Kate's bedroom door.
"Someone's in Kate's room," Wick whispered.
"I know," Dean replied. "Stay back."
His breath beating against the base of his throat, Dean shoved his gun into the back waistband of his jeans, then reached out and touched the door handle of the baby's room, jerking back suddenly.
"What? What? Is it hot?" Wick asked nervously.
"Cold," Sam guessed, his voice laced with dread.
"Damn cold," Dean said, shaking his hand vigorously, then reaching for the knob again.
"Cold?" Wick stepped forward, his voice incredulous.
Dean opened the door and, for a moment, the whispering intensified, causing him to flinch back. Just before it ceased altogether, he heard a woman's voice utter the word "safe" almost like a plea. And then there was silence.
"Mama," Kate called.
Dean stepped into the room, his breath condensing in small clouds. He headed directly to the crib. Kate sat there, her pacifier in one hand, blanket in the other. Seeing him, she reached up.
Ignoring the harsh protest of his arm, Dean leaned over the edge of the crib, scooping the tiny girl up with his right hand, holding her against him and turning from the room.
Wick took the blanket from Kate's small hand, wrapping it around her back, and took her from Dean. Sam shut the bedroom door, ushering the trio in front of him down the stairs.
Dean watched Kate's face over her uncle's shoulders. Her teeth chattered and her lips were bluish, but she wasn't crying. She seemed more annoyed than scared.
Once back in the family room, Wick turned to the brothers. "What the fuck was that?"
Instead of answering him, Dean grabbed another blanket from the pullout bed Sam had been sleeping on to wrap around Kate. She had felt too cold to him. It made him want to shiver.
"You have any salt, man?" Sam asked, his voice terse.
"Yeah, salt. Anything will do."
"Uh…maybe in the kitchen. And, uh, there's a water softener in the basement."
"Perfect," Dean said. "Stay here. And keep her warm." He turned to Sam.
"I'll get the salt from the basement," Sam volunteered before Dean could say anything.
Dean nodded, heading for the kitchen. He quickly found a canister of Morton’s and returned to the family room, using the salt to line the window ledges and baseboards. Sam returned with a large yellow bag of rock salt and lined the entrance to the family room, leaving the bag sitting in the corner and stepping inside.
Wick was pacing, and Kate had started to whimper. Dean could see Wick clutching her tighter in his anxiety. Exchanging an, Are you gonna do this, or should I, look with Sam, Dean crossed to Wick, shifting the baby from her uncle's arms to his, and sat down in the recliner, Kate in his lap.
Wick continued to pace, hugging his arms as if he hadn't realized he no longer held a baby. Kate curled up against Dean's right side, and Dean wrapped the blanket around her.
"So, uh, Wick," Sam started, clearing his throat. "Looks like this house is haunted."
"Way to break it to him gently, there, Sam," Dean muttered.
"You wanna do this?"
"No, no, you're doing just fine." Dean raised his hand in a gesture of innocent acceptance.
"Because last time I checked, you weren't buying that there was a case here, Dean."
"What do you want me to say? I was wrong?"
"Okay, I was wrong, you were right. You happy?" Dean snapped. Kate whimpered, then settled again, falling into an uneasy sleep against Dean's chest.
Sam looked down at her. Sighing, he shook his head. "Actually…no," he said softly.
"Haunted?" Wick said finally, several beats behind the conversation. "Like…with ghosts?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. Ghosts."
"You mean…Lisa?" Wick said in a small voice, his eyes shooting to the pictures on the bookshelf.
"No, no." Sam shook his head, exchanging a look with Dean. "At least, we're pretty sure. We, uh…the way you described what Lisa heard before they were killed…the place might have been haunted when they moved in."
The shock in Wick's voice pulled at Dean. It was never easy to hear the truth.
"Listen," he said softly, Kate's sleeping body warm against him. "We know it's hard for you to understand, but…it looks like your sister and her husband were killed by a spirit—a nasty one, by the sound of it."
"I can't believe this." Wick shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck as he paced. "I mean, this is like…TV shit. This doesn't happen. Not in real life. Ghosts aren't real."
"Hate to tell you this—I mean, I really hate it—but ghosts are real," Dean said, his eyes on Wick, cool and dangerous. "They're very real. But we know how to take care of this."
"You do?" Wick looked from Dean to Sam. "How the hell does someone just know that?"
"We were kinda…raised to know it," Sam said, sitting on the edge of the pullout bed.
"Wait a second. You're telling me…" Wick shoved his hands into his hair. "You're telling me my sister was killed by a ghost…which just so happens to still be here…and I managed to run over the friggin' Ghostbusters?"
Sam shrugged, looking over at Dean. "Uh, yeah, basically."
Dean sighed. "Sam, what time is it?"
Sam looked at his watch. "'Bout five."
"Okay, we got a little time before dawn…"
"Wait, I still don't know if I buy this. I mean, this place used to be a church, for Christ's sake."
"What?" Dean and Sam exclaimed in unison, staring at Wick, incredulous.
Wick looked back at them, eyes darting as though he'd just been caught in a lie. "Well…yeah, I mean, a long time ago, it was a church. Someone turned it into a farmhouse in the 1920s."
"This place used to be a farm, too?" Dean asked.
"Like a million years ago, yeah," Wick said.
Dean looked at Sam. "Holy shit, Sam, she knew."
"Who knew? Knew what?" Wick's eyes bounced between them.
"Katie. She saw him. It. The ghost."
Sam dropped his head back in realization. "Don."
"What the hell are you guys talking about?" Wick yelled.
Kate jumped, jolted from sleep by the harsh bark of her uncle's voice.
"Your niece, man," Dean explained, drawing Wick's eyes. "She saw the spirit. Her baby monitor was acting like a friggin' EMF meter."
"It detects spirits," Sam explained. "Dean." Sam shifted his eyes to his brother. "If it was a church at one time…maybe there's a cemetery nearby."
"There is," Wick said, crossing his arms over his body. "About twenty feet off the back porch."
"Un-freakin’-believable," Dean muttered, shifting Kate against him. He tipped his head back against the recliner, the ache in his bones that had momentarily disappeared when he'd run up the stairs returning with a vengeance.
He felt Sam's eyes on him but lacked the strength to meet his brother's gaze. Sighing, he settled his hand on the baby's back, her small face pressed against his chest, her hand clutching his t-shirt. It had been a long time since someone that little had trusted him so completely. It had been a long time since anyone had trusted him so completely. Even after all this time, he could feel Sam hold back some doubt, his constant questions a way of balancing Dean's I'm the oldest so I'm always right routine.
Rolling his head, Dean looked at his brother through his lashes. He knew Sam felt the chasm between them, knew Sam was desperately seeking a way to cross it, knew he was making that search impossible. He wasn't sure what he'd do if Sam made it over, got near him again. He had to keep his game face on, had to keep up the front, otherwise…
"So, what are we gonna do, man?" Sam asked.
"We're gonna find the bones. Salt and burn, Sammy," Dean answered, not raising his head.
"Bones?" Wick's voice trembled.
"How are we gonna figure out who's haunting this place? I don't have my laptop. Doubt there's an internet connection out here, anyway."
"Old-fashioned way." Dean grinned. "Library."
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "That's something I never thought I'd hear you say."
"What are you gonna do with the bones?" Wick tried again.
"Okay, so… Library. Town. Not here… We don't have any wheels, Dean. How am I gonna get there?" Sam frowned.
"Well, when Bubba gets here with the tow truck, you go with him and get Bobby's truck out and head to the library."
"What about you?" Sam asked, his eyes flicking from Dean's bruised face to the baby in his arms.
"I'm gonna get our weapons stash ready. Just in case Don doesn't want to go quietly into that good night."
"What?" the brothers snapped at Wick's bellow. Kate squirmed against Dean, blinking large blue eyes up at him.
"What the hell are you gonna do with the bones?"
"Salt and burn them," Dean replied. "Only way to get rid of the spirit."
"Oh," Wick replied in a small voice. "Thanks."
"How long until—"
"Junior said he'd be here around eight," Wick replied, sitting down next to Sam on the pullout.
"Good," Dean yawned. "Get some rest."
"In here?" Wick blinked at him, incredulous.
"We're safe inside the salt," Sam told him, scooting back to the head of the bed. "Dean's right. It's gonna be a long day."
Dean tipped his head to the side, his cheek resting against the top of Kate's head, her wispy hair brushing his nose. She curled her fist tighter into his shirt, whimpering, unsettled by the raised voices.
"Lisa would sing to her," Wick said softly. "She was always singing."
"Why don't you sing to her?" Sam suggested sleepily.
"'Cause I don't sing," Wick yawned. "Lisa got all the talent in the family. She really was amazing." Wick's voice thickened with emotion.
"Well, Katie," Dean said softly against the baby's head. "Don't know all the words to Crazy Love, but I could sing you some Metallica."
"Nice, Dean," Sam chuckled.
Dean ignored him. Metallica had been good enough for Sam when he was little, though his brother probably wouldn't remember that. Dean recalled more than one night, alone in a motel room or a rented house, when Sam would climb under the covers, his cold feet waking Dean as his little body tucked up under his big brother's arm. Softened words to Dean's favorite band had lulled Sam back to sleep more times than he could count.
"So close no matter how far. Couldn't be much more from the heart. Forever trust in who we are…and nothing else matters…"
He kept his voice low and soft, pitching it just for Kate but knowing Sam heard him. He felt his brother's quiet from across the room. The space between them wasn't so deep that he couldn't sense his brother.
"Never opened myself this way…Life is ours, we live it our way. All these words I don't just say…and nothing else matters."
Somewhere between the second and third verse, Dean fell asleep.
Part Three (the final part) can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/29712.html