Rating: PG-13

Chapter 4 – Let Go

He thanked whatever guardian angle had the unlucky assignment to keep watch over the Winchesters when he saw the Impala. Brenna was sitting on the trunk, her knees up, heels hooked on the bumper, Glock hanging loosely in her hands. She heard their approach and her head jerked up followed by the gun. Thankfully it was pointed beyond him, covering his tail.

"I got him," Sam rasped out.

Brenna paled at the sight of Dean, unconscious, bloody, slung over Sam's shoulder. "God, Sam." She jumped down and ran to the back passenger door. "Get in with him, hold onto him."

Wearily Sam nodded. Dean was heavy and he was trembling from the effort of holding him and keeping the pain pushed deep where it wouldn't overwhelm him. Without thinking of the consequences of Dean finding out someone else – a female someone else – had driven his car, he handed her the keys.

He lowered Dean onto the seat carefully, attempting to keep his head from falling back onto the seat too harshly. Dean groaned at the movement. Sam crawled in, then pulled his brother's head and shoulders onto his lap. His eyes met Brenna's in the rear view mirror and he nodded that he was ready. Dean's eyes blinked open at the familiar rumble of his car.

"How is he?" Brenna asked.

Sam watched as Dean blinked himself more aware. He was silent, but shaking. Trembling so harshly that Sam felt compelled to wrap his arms around Dean to try to still him. Dean's head was against his right arm, and he rolled his head so that it rested close to Sam's chest. For a moment, Sam was touched by the gesture, then he realized that he didn't feel any pain. The dull ache was gone and the shivering fire that had wrapped around him lifted. He breathed a sigh of relief without thinking.

Dean had used that moment to brace himself, to breathe in his brother's scent, his brother's strength, and then close the lid on the box again. He didn't know if he had enough strength this time to lock it, but it was closed.

"Dean," Sam half-sobbed. "Don't."

"Have to, Sammy."

"We have to get him to a hospital," Sam said to Brenna.

"No," Dean said, his voice hard. "No hospital."

"Dean, man, you're…I don't know if we can stop this bleeding…"

"No hospital, Sam."

"I can help," Brenna spoke up.

"What?" Sam looked at the back of her head. "What do you mean?"

"I can…I have herbs…"

"You can heal him?"

God I hope so, Brenna thought. "Yes."

Dean suddenly seemed to realize that Sam was holding him, they were moving, and someone else was driving his baby. His eyes flicked from Sam's face to the back of Brenna's head and back again.

"Sam. What the hell?"

Before Sam could answer, Brenna spoke up. "Look at it this way, Dean. If I hurt your car, you have a good reason to follow your Dad's orders."

Dean's jaw hardened. Sam knew he'd missed something, but didn't ask.

"Sam, gimme your phone," Brenna said.

"What?"

"Your cell phone," she said, holding out her hand over the back of the seat. "Gimme."

Sam was too tired to argue with her. Plus, he felt Dean's trembling increase. Anything to hurry up the healing process. Brenna grabbed it from him, and called home.

"Da," she said using a rare endearment to get his full attention. "I need your help." She rattled off instructions to him half in English, half in Gaelic. Just as she was about to hang up, she heard Dean's voice.

"S-salt."

"Salt?"

Sam caught on. "Have him put lines of salt, around every door, every window."

"Do I want to know?"

"Brenna, just have him do it."

"Fine."

Minutes later they pulled up to a screeching halt in front of the house. Brenna jumped out and ran directly into the house. Sam eased himself out from under Dean's head and shoulders. Dean was awake, but he'd seemed to put himself into a kind of trance to keep the pain away from Sam. He didn't respond when Sam called his name. Sam tried to be as careful as possible when easing him from the car, but Dean's hiss of pain made him wince.

He wasn't sure he'd be able to put him over his shoulder again to get him inside. At his hesitation, Dean said, "I can pretend, Sam."

"Pretend?"

"To not know about it."

Sam realized how close Dean was to losing it. His entire body was trembling with the effort to stay conscious; his jaw was clenched against the pain, his left hand fisted. Sam suddenly realized the .45 was still taped to his brother's hand.

"I got you," Sam whispered, tucking one arm under Dean's arms, and the other under his knees, then hefting him into his arms. Dean's head dropped back with a groan of pain. Sam went through the open doorway.

"Come this way," Brenna led them into the side bedroom off of the kitchen. There was a low cot-like bed across the room, away from the single window, a stone fireplace with a large wooden mantle piece, and a large armoire, the top doors propped open. As Sam entered the room, he glimpsed dozens of glass bottles lined up on the shelves in the armoire.

"Here," motioned Brenna to the bed. "Lay him down."

Sam hesitated, not sure if he could lower Dean to the cot without actually dropping him. Declan stepped up next to him. "Let me help," he said softly, easing Dean's weight from Sam's arms. Sam looked down at his brother's gasp. He held the other side of Dean as they both lowered him to the cot. Dean tried to help, not thinking about the empty .45 was still taped to his wounded right hand and as he moved his arm, he clocked Declan in the jaw.

Declan grabbed his jaw and let out a string of Gaelic that Sam could only assume was swearing. Dean's eyes clouded as he let out a low growl of pain. A wave of Dean's pain brought Sam swiftly to his knees next to his brother's cot. Dean's eyes closed tight, and he body shook once, hard, then settle back into the steady tremble from before.

"Whoa, whoa, easy," Sam soothed. "It's me, hey, Dean, it's me. It's Sam."

He grabbed Dean's good hand in his, thumb to thumb, as though he were about to arm-wrestle him. Dean shifted pain-filled eyes to his left until they rested on Sam.

"Sammy?"

"Yeah, it's me. You with me?"

Dean pressed his lips together and closed his eyes tight. He opened them slowly and looked back at his brother. "Yeah," he said in a tight voice. And with that word, Sam felt the pain instantly ease. He flipped out his pocket knife and cut away the tape, freeing Dean's hand from the gun. Declan took it from Sam, shaking his head. He was beyond trying to understand these boys.

"Did she follow us?"

"I don't think so."

"They salt the place?"

Sam looked at Declan. Declan nodded. He had no idea why he'd done that, but Brenna had asked him to, and that was enough for him. He looked at Brenna, glad to see she was in one piece. He wanted her to say that it was okay that he'd not been straight with John Winchester. He just wanted her to look at him. He wanted the reassurance of her gaze.

Brenna, though, was looking at Dean. Her eyes had gone back to their normal gold-green, but the pain etched on her features was heartbreaking. She lifted her eyes from Dean's face to Sam's, and something in his expression caused hers to shift. She turned, instantly all motion.

"Sam, I need your help."

He nodded, not letting go of Dean's hand, but watching her. Dean kept his eyes on Sam as though he was the focal point keeping the darkness at bay.

"Go to the kitchen and get me some clean towels, hot, hot water, and a bowl of ice. I also need you to go to the upstairs bathroom and grab the first aide box there. Da, I need you to get my sewing needle and the thinnest thread you can find. I need a fire to brew the – the remedy." She stopped short of saying potion. For two men who have hunted supernatural beings all their lives, she didn't see the need to remind them too much of what she was.

Sam stood, gently released Dean's hand and started out of the room. Dean immediately reacted to the absence of his brother. His breathing rapidly increased and he gripped the blankets on either side of him so tightly his knuckles turned white. Brenna leaned over him, brushing her cool hand over his hot brow.

"Shhh… it's okay, Dean."

Dean ignored her, his eyes darting frantically around the room, breath at a panicked rate.

"Dean. I need you to calm down for me, can you do that?" She knew that if his breathing increased, so would his heart rate, which would increase the amount of blood he was losing – and he couldn't afford to lose much more.

Dean's lips pressed tightly together and he tried to sit up. She pressed him back, grasping his shoulders, but he shoved her hands away. She suddenly realized he was looking for Sam.

"Sam!" she called. He couldn't have gone far. "Sam!" She was right. He was in the doorway in about two seconds. He first looked at her, then his eyes shifted immediately to Dean's struggling form. "Stay with him." She ordered.

"Dean, hey," Sam called, moving back to his place next to Dean's cot. Dean's green eyes fixed on Sam and he instantly calmed. "I'm here."

"Y'okay?"

"I'm fine, Dean." He grabbed Dean's hand again. He didn't even know if his brother was aware of that connection, but it made him feel better.

"Y'face is bleedin," Dean's words slurred.

Sam reached up to his head, surprised. He must have hurt it when the banshee grabbed his hair – that or when he hit the wall. Either scenario was plausible.

"Yeah, guess you're still safe as the good looking one."

"Better b'lieve it," Dean nodded, his jaw clenched.

Meanwhile, Declan had scrambled to gather the items Brenna had asked for. Brenna was two steps from the brothers, mixing an array of herbs into a bowl. She took the ice from Declan and added it to the herb mixture, then placed the bowl over the fire. Sam didn't ask why she couldn't have just added hot water to the herbs.

Now that Sam was near him again, Dean looked around the room. He, too, was watching Brenna. He slid his eyes to meet his brother's puzzled gaze. "Witch," he gasped out with a shrug as if to say 'what are you gonna do'.

"I guess," Sam shrugged.

"Sam call Dad."

Sam shot Dean a look. "Why?"

"Call him."

"Dean, it's not like he's going to come. He's never come before. Why should this be different?" Sam pouted.

"Brenna."

Suddenly Sam realized what Dean meant. He didn't want Sam to call their Dad to tell him about Dean…he wanted Sam to tell him that he'd been wrong about Brenna.

"Won't he figure it out when we waste that banshee?" he stressed the 'we'.

"Could be too late."

Dean's lips twitched and he looked from Sam to Brenna. Her back was to them, but as if she felt his gaze, Brenna turned slightly and looked over her shoulder, meeting Dean's eyes. She lifted one corner of her mouth, offering him the solace of a conspirators smile.

"I'll call him, Dean."

"Promise."

Sam sighed. "I promise."

"Sam."

"Yeah?"

"She didn't get me."

Sam lifted a brow. "What the hell are you talking about? She sure as hell did."

Dean shook his head once. "Not in the neck."

Then Sam realized what Dean mean. His vision. Did that mean that they'd changed the outcome? Or did that mean that Dean was still in danger? He took a breath, not wanting to focus on that at the moment.

"You're right, Dean. She didn't get you. Now, hang on a sec so I can get these bloody bandages off and Brenna can fix you up."

Sam saw Dean start to protest, but Brenna stepped up to him, leaning over and saying softly, "Listen to your brother Dean."

It wasn't barked like orders to his brother usually were, but it was an order none the less. And Dean knew how to follow orders. He let go of Sam's hand and shifted his grip to the bed again. His shaking increased as Sam cut the bloody bandages away from the puncture wound while Brenna wiped down the rest of his chest.

"That holy water?"

Brenna looked at Sam, surprised. "No."

"He needs holy water. Our duffle…"

"I'm on it," said Declan from the doorway. He returned momentarily with a silver flask of holy water and handed it to Sam.

"Dean," Dean's eyes met Sam's. "This is going to hurt." Dean nodded and gripped the blanket.

As Sam poured the holy water on his brother's wounds, he mentally readied himself to feel the same onslaught of pain Dean would be feeling. Steam rose from the cuts on his chest and Dean cried out, his neck arching upwards, pressing his head back into the pillow. Sam felt nothing. He pulled his eyebrows together and looked at his brother in amazement. He would never again take for granted the stoic front Dean presented when hurt.

When he was done Dean pulled in huge gulps of air and looked from Brenna to Sam. "What are you waiting for," he rasped out.

"Your head to spin around," Brenna muttered, gently wiping the slashes on his chest with the clean rag and hot water. Sam's lips quirked as he saw Dean lift his eyebrow at her remark. She reached his puncture wound and her face tensed. It was deep, and the area around it had already started to turn red and swell with infection. She took a dry, folded cloth and grabbed Sam's hand.

"Press this against the wound as hard as he'll let you. We have to stop that bleeding."

Sam's eyes darted from Dean to Brenna. Last time he did this it had nearly killed them both. "Bren—"

"Sam. Do it." Dean interrupted. Sam looked at Dean, and something lingering in his brother's eyes worried him. The fight was still there, the determination, but desperation had started to drift in. Dean was getting scared. And Sam didn't know how to deal with a scared Dean. He pressed the cloth down. Dean growled and pressed his head back against the pillow again.

Brenna stood and went to her herb mixture boiling on the fire. As she turned to head back over to the brothers, Declan stopped her and leaned in to speak low in her ear. "You have to believe, girl."

She looked at him over her shoulder – away from the boys. "What are you talking about?"

"I see you doubting. You will lose him if you don't believe. He's on the edge."

Brenna's desperate eyes went to Dean's form on the bed, and to her surprise he was looking back at her. She pushed Declan out of the way and went over to him.

"Hey there," she whispered, wiping the back of her hand across her face, surprised to find tears. "How are you feeling?"

"Like a kabob," he rasped out.

She smiled at him, her eyes taking in his pale face, the freckles on his nose standing out in stark contrast. Those damn long lashes were sweeping his cheekbones with each blink, brushing the tiny scar under his right eye. His lips were pressed together, and she felt her belly clench at the memory of those lips on hers. "Listen to me, Dean. I'm going to do everything I can, okay?"

"I know," he said, and his green eyes flicked quickly over her face, lingering on her mouth. "Sorry…about before." He whispered.

"Yeah, that banshee's timing really sucked," Brenna nodded. She reached out a trembling hand to rest it against his cheek in the same way she had in the garage. She bit her lip when he pressed his hot cheek into her palm. A movement to her left caught her eye and she looked up to meet Sam's eyes.

"What can we do now?" he asked, his eyes flicking to the puncture wound with worry. So he had heard, Brenna thought. She was quickly realizing that there wasn't much this kid missed.

"We put this on the wounds," she said, reaching for a paste. "I also have a… what the hell, a potion, okay? For him to drink," she said, ignoring the Winchesters' looks of skepticism. "But we have to wait a bit until the balm sinks in."

"Do it now, girl."

Brenna didn't look at him.

"Brenna," Declan said, a warning note in his voice. "You have to believe to save him."

"This is on you, Da," she said softly, looking down at her hands. "All of this could have been stopped had they known what they were dealing with."

With one last look at his granddaughter, Declan turned and left the room. A few seconds later, they heard the front door slam, leaving the three of them alone in the small room. Sam stared at Brenna.

"Can you?"

She was trembling from the emotions coursing through her. "Can I what?"

"Save my brother," he said. She looked at him, hearing the child in his voice. The child that wanted to be told that everything was going to be okay. That there were no monsters in the closet, and nothing was going to hurt him while his older brother was there. She didn't answer him. Instead she gently slathered the paste onto the puncture wound, then put more on the slashes on Dean's side and shoulder.

Sam watched her for a moment, then took Dean's hand again. Dean slid his eyes from Brenna to Sam and blinked at him. Brenna stood, poured the potion of herbs into a mug, and carried it over to Dean. She had to hold his head up and help him pour the liquid down his throat. At the first taste he tried to pull away, but she held the cup firmly to his lips.

"All of it, Dean," she commended softly.

When he finished, she lay his head back, but was unprepared for the harsh, wet cough that followed. Dean's entire body shook with the effort and when it finally, blessedly stopped, he dragged a breath into his starving lungs. Suddenly his face crumbled and he clenched his eyes shut. He began to shake violently, almost like a seizure.

"Why is he shaking like that?" Sam cried out, looking at the paste on Dean's wounds, then up at Brenna and the cup in her hand.

She bit her lip and shook her head. "I don't know! There's nothing in the potion that would… oh."

"What?"

"Sam, are you hurting?"

"What do you mean am I hurting? No I'm not – oh. Oh, god." He looked back down at Dean's clenched face. "Hey, hey, Dean." He shook their clasped hands once. "Dean, man, c'mon open those eyes. Look at me."

Dean's breath was coming in short, puffed gasps. He could never deny Sam. Not with that pleading tone in his voice. Sam knew it and laid it on thick. "Please, Dean. Look at me."

Dean's green eyes slowly opened as though they each weighed 50 lbs. He looked at Sam. "Let it go, man," Sam said. "You don't have to hold onto it. Let it go."

"Can't."

"Yes you can."

"No, Sammy…hurt you…" his breath was puffing out through his clenched jaw, and his eyes were pinned on his brother's face.

"I know, but it's not real hurt for me, Dean. Let me take it from you."

"C-can't hurt you, S-sammy."

Sam's heart lurched and he felt hot tears build in the backs of his eyes. "Dean, listen to me, man."

Dean lifted his eyes to meet his brother's.

"You have taken care of me my whole life. You've taught me everything I know. You protected me… you carried me when I couldn't make it myself. Now it's my turn. Let me help you."

Dean pressed his lips together in defiance, his shaking increasing. Sam was getting desperate. A thought occurred to him. He pulled Dean's hand to his chest, pressing the back of his brother's hand against his heart.

"Hey, Dean, you remember this?"

"N-nightmare," Dean gasped out.

"Yeah, that's right. When I'd have a nightmare you'd press my hand to your heart so I would know that you were there. That you had me. That you wouldn't let go." Sam swallowed past the lump in his throat. "You feel me, man? You feel that?"

Dean blinked once.

"I've got you. I won't let go. Let me take some of that burden, Dean. Let me take care of you." A single tear escaped through Sam's choked voice. He tightened his grip on Dean's hand and watched as Dean made his decision. The shaking started to ease and Sam braced himself.

It blinded him. For a moment there was only pain – white hot pain. He couldn't see anything, couldn't hear anything. But he held on to Dean's hand. He pressed it hard against his chest, and that connection brought him back. He dragged a breath into his lungs, blinking hard. He would not pass out. If Dean could take this, so could he. He used all of his mental capacity to shove the pain down deep inside where he could capture it, contain it. When the roaring in his ears abated to a dull throb, he met Dean's eyes again.

Dean's shaking had stilled, but his features were still tight with pain. He watched Sam carefully and Sam knew that if he revealed the agony he felt with the tiniest of noises, Dean would kill himself trying to pull it away from him.

"See?" Sam ground out. "Now who's the awesome brother?"

Dean pressed his lips together and blinked. "You are, Sammy," he whispered. "You always were."

Brenna reached over and touched Dean's wrist, checking for his pulse. It was fast, erratic. His face was pale, his breathing coming in shallow pants. His eyes, though, never left his brother's face. She looked at the salve spread on his wounds and knew that if it were going to work, it would have started working by now. She covered her mouth with a shaking hand. Doubt threatened to consume her. She knew that her power was grounded in her belief, and at the moment, watching the trembling body of Dean Winchester desperately hang onto life, her faith was wavering.

Dean pulled in a breath and tightened his grip on Sam's hands, his eyes flashing wide for a brief moment. Coldness like he'd never experienced started spreading through his limbs. It numbed the fire in his side, the sharp pains in his shoulder, the fierce sting in his side. At first he welcomed it, welcomed the relief. Then he realized that he was starting to not be able to feel anything. And that was bad. Because feeling meant life. Pain meant he was still there, still with Sam.

Sam shook his head once. "No, no, don't you do this, Dean. Don't you dare."

He looked up at Brenna. Tears were coursing unchecked down her cheeks, and her fist was pressed to her mouth. "Why are you just standing there?" Sam asked her.

"Sam…" she started.

"NO!" Sam roared, making her jump. "Don't you tell me there's nothing you can do! What good is white magic if it can't save…"

"Sammy," Dean rasped, pulling on his hand. The connection between Dean's hand and Sam's heart broke for an instant, and Sam turned his attention to his brother immediately and pressed his hand back against his chest.

"Dean, don't. NO."

Dean just looked at him, and in that moment Sam saw in his brother's eyes the words the Winchesters never learned how to say. He knew Dean wanted to – he watched as Dean tried to form the words in his mouth, push them passed his lips, but 22 years of war and training were getting in his way. Dean pressed his lips together and his chin trembled. Sam mirrored his expression, and watched as his brother's green eyes filled with tears.

"Sam…"

"No," Sam whimpered.

"Let me go…"

"NO." Sam growled. "Dean… you can't ask me to do that. I can't do that."

"Gonna be fine, Sammy."

"No, Dean. Not without you."

Sam felt Dean try to tug his hand away, and he held on tighter. "I told you. I won't let go. I'll hold on forever if I have to."

Dean suddenly looked afraid and Sam felt his gut clench. The fear in his brother's eyes shifted to resolve. Sam felt the pain grow until it was everywhere. It peaked in his side and the rolled through his torso in waves. He clenched his jaw, keeping his eyes on Dean's. Dean blinked, and pulled in a breath, then another.

"That's it, Dean. Just breathe. With me. Breathe."

Another wave slammed into Sam and he bit his lip against a cry. Dean's face twisted in agony and he pulled in another shaky breath, trying to keep the darkness at bay.

"S-sam."

"Dean, don't you let go."

Dean gripped Sam's hand hard, once, then as Sam watched, Dean's eyes drifted closed, his breath left his body, and he relaxed, his hand going limp in Sam's grip. The pain that had been rolling over Sam stopped so suddenly he almost tipped over.

"Dean?"

The room was utterly still. Nothing moved, no one breathed.

"Dean?"

He heard Brenna whimper.

"No," he said, his voice sounding young and small in his ears. "No."

Sam heard a strange sound then. A low keening that seemed to build. It grew in volume until it seemed to fill the room. It echoed in his head and for a moment he thought the banshee had returned. Then he suddenly realized he had to breathe and it was then that he knew the noise came from him. He clenched his jaw, but the pained growl continued.

"Sam," Brenna tried - her voice thick with tears. She felt as though someone were twisting her heart in her chest as she looked at the broken body of Dean Winchester, blood from his wound staining his jeans and the sheets under him, and his limp hand clasped in the desperate grip of his baby brother's hands. Sam ignored her and lowered his head to press his brother's hand against his forehead.

"There's still time," said a voice to Brenna's left. She jumped, not realizing Declan had rejoined them.

"What?"

"You can do this, girl. There is still time to save him."

She saw Sam's head jerk up, his face wet and his eyes swimming with tears. "Can you?"

She started to shake her head, and then she looked at Dean's still face. As if called to her by her power, the sensation of his kiss, the feel of his arms, the smell of him wrapped around her. She gasped and closed her eyes. She remembered seeing three faces in one on Dean. She remembered his hands fisted into her hair. She remembered his lips. She wasn't ready. Not yet. She wasn't ready to let him go.

Declan gripped the back of her neck, as a support and as a reminder. "Creideamh," he said into her ear. Faith. Belief.

She stepped up to Dean's cot, leaned over and placed her cool hand on his still-warm forehead. Whispering low, she chanted the ancient Gaelic words of the druid queens, the words of faith that she'd often scoffed. She chanted them over and over, letting her voice recall the faith she'd once had.

Sam kept Dean's hand in his, and watched Brenna. He didn't understand the words, but he recognized ritual rites when he heard them. He'd spoken enough Latin in his time. When she quieted, he stared hard at her until she turned and looked at him. He wasn't surprised to see her eyes had changed to those of a birds.

"Now what?"

"We wait."

"How long?"

"I don't know, Sam."

"There has to be something else we can do."

She leveled her eyes at him. "You could pray."

Sam's chin trembled. He looked at Dean's too still form. When he was a kid, he'd asked Dean if he believed in Heaven. Dean had taken a long time to answer, his eyes darting quickly back in forth in thought. Sam knew that his brother would never lie to him, and he could tell the answer was being weighed heavily.

"Yeah, Sam, I do."

"You do?"

"Yeah. I figure that there's a balance to everything, you know? And if we're out killing all these evil sons of bitches somewhere, somehow, there has to be good out there, too. Angels to match the demons."

"Why don't we ever see them?"

"Hell, kiddo, maybe we do."

"We do?"

"Maybe I'm looking at one right now."

Sam remembered his brother's eyes had flicked over to rest on him with a smile. Please, he prayed silently. Please. He didn't know what else to say. Please don't let Dean stay gone? Please don't let him come back wrong? Please don't let me be pulling him from a heaven he deserves to be in? Please let this be the right thing to do? Please give me my brother back? Please don't leave me here alone?

Brenna reached down and lay a hand on Dean's chest, hoping for the movement of breath. He was warm. She bit her lip and leaned over him, ignoring Sam's stare, and gently pressed her lips to his. They were soft, pliable. They gave way to her pressure, but didn't press back. She lifted her head, looking at his closed eyes, the long lashes shadows on his pale cheeks.

With a small hitch in her breath she stood. Sam was watching Dean's face, still clutching Dean's hand against his chest. She opened her mouth to tell Sam she was sorry…it hadn't worked…when a jolt ran through her. She jerked and nearly fell backwards. She reached up desperately to grab the wooden mantel piece and keep her footing. She turned wild eyes to Sam. She could tell he'd felt the same surge. His back was against the wall directly behind him, his legs akimbo before him on the floor. But he hadn't let go of Dean's hand.

"What the hell was that?" Brenna breathed.

Before Sam could answer, Dean's back arched violently, pressing his head deep into the pillow and he grabbed a huge lungful of air. The muscles in his arms tightened mightily, inadvertedly pulling Sam towards him. He relaxed back on to the bed, eyes still closed. He started choking for air, gasping and coughing. Sam used his free hand and tipped Dean slightly to his side as if he were a drowning victim and needed to get the water from his lungs. It was the only thing he could think to do.

Brenna gathered her wits and came over to help Sam keep Dean tilted forward to get air. When he stopped choking and started pulling in air in great, grateful gulps, Brenna eased him back. She stepped away from the bed, shaking all over.

Declan stepped up behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder and easing her into his embrace. "See?" he said. She gave a weak laugh and rested her head on his shoulder.

"Dean?" Sam leaned over his brother, using one of the clean rags to wipe his face. "Hey, hey man. Open your eyes. Please."

Dean lay still, breathing, but still. His eyes remained closed. Sam looked up at Brenna.

She looked back at him. "I don't know, Sam."

"Trust me to pick the only novice witch in Blackroot, Massachusetts to save my brother."

"Just…give it a minute, Sam," Declan said.

Sam held Dean's hand against his chest, and Brenna checked the dressings on his wounds. The bleeding had stopped and the salve was soaking in. Declan stood at the foot of the cot. They all seemed to hold their breath, listening for Dean's. The room was quiet save for the crackling of the fire in the fireplace and the raspy, wonderful sound of Dean breathing. An hour passed. Two. No one moved.

Then, as Sam watched, Dean pulled his eyebrows together and quirked his lips. Sam felt his brother's fingers tighten around his. Dean's lashes fluttered, and he began to open his eyes.

"Hey, man," Sam whispered.

Dean slowly rolled his head toward the sound of Sam's voice. His eyes barely slits of green, he looked from Sam's face, to their clasped hands.

"You didn't let go," he whispered to Sam.

"Told you," Sam practically sobbed.

"Dean, do you remember what happened?" Brenna asked.

Dean started to tremble. As awareness returned, so did the pain. His side was on fire and the cuts on his chest and arm felt like they were glowing. He looked down as best he could and saw that they were covered in some purplish goo. He pulled his brows together and looked back at his hand clasped tightly in Sam's. Sam. He thought suddenly.

"Sam," he said.

"Yeah."

"You okay?"

Sam shook his head in amazed exasperation. Then he looked at Dean's eyes and realized what he was asking. "I'm not hurting, Dean."

Dean seemed to sag a little in the bed. His eyes were growing heavy. The warmth was comforting after the intense cold he'd felt. A lot of his memory was foggy, but he remembered Sam's voice. His promise to not let go. He remembered trying to breathe with his brother. He remembered falling in the dark and the utter, desolate cold that seeped into his bones. Then… he was drowning. And now he was warm again, Sam was here, and he was alive…

Suddenly it hit him. He'd died. He'd died. "Holy shit."

"What, Dean?"

"Sam. I died."

"I know. But you're here now. You're back. Brenna brought you back."

"But…how?" He lifted his eyes to Brenna's.

"Part magic, part will, and a whole lot of faith. And only possible because you died an unnatural death."

"So, I'm not like…a zombie or anything?" Dean asked, his voice rough.

Brenna's lips twitched. "Hardly."

Dean sighed in relief and without thinking started to sit up. The flash fire of pain in his side pulled him up short with a cry of pained surprise.

"You're not out of the woods yet, though." Brenna stood and went for the first aide kit and her sewing supplies. "You lost a lot of blood and we have to get those holes in you stitched up."

"I'll help," Sam said. He almost reluctantly let go of Dean's hand, then pushed himself to his feet. Unexpectedly, the room spun and he felt himself sway.

Brenna was at his side instantly. "Whoa, there, kiddo. Take it easy. You've been through a lot, too, you know. How about you just sit back down and you can help keep your brother calm."

Dean watched worriedly as Sam nodded, and sat back on the floor, back to the wall, near his head.

"Sam?"

"I'm okay, Dean."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure… I just… I need a minute."

Dean swallowed. "I'm sorry, Sam."

Sam looked at him. "For what?"

"For letting myself get caught. For letting my guard down. For dragging you into this." Dean's voice had been soft, but Sam heard the tremor there.

"Dean, listen. You haven't dragged me anywhere in a long time. I would go into hell if it meant getting you back. Got it?"

Dean lifted an eyebrow and looked sideways at his brother. "Yeah, I got it."

Brenna came back over with the first aide kit. "You ready for this?"

Dean nodded silently. He wasn't really, but what choice did he have? He regarded Brenna as she calmly wet a towel with antiseptic. John would have killed her on the spot, he realized. Without question. Witch equals evil. Just as Brenna was about to clean away the paste, Dean gasped and looked at Sam.

"Dad!"

Sam looked confused. "What about him?"

"We have to call him – about Brenna."

Sam lay a hand on his brother's arm. "I know, Dean. We talked about this."

"We did?"

"Yeah, you made me promise to call."

"Did you?"

"Not yet."

"Well why the hell not?"

Sam raised an eyebrow. "I've been a little busy, what with my brother's death and all."

Dean relaxed a bit. "Oh. Right."

"Boys," Brenna said, poised above Dean's torso. "Can this wait."

"Yeah," they said together.

"Sam, you want to hold him down?"

Dean grimaced. "He doesn't need to hold m – AH! Sonofabitch!"

Brenna cleaned the paste away with the antiseptic and Dean bucked against the pain. Sam reached across to help hold him still. Dean clenched his teeth together and literally growled as Brenna cleaned the cuts and the puncture wound. When she was done, he sagged against the bed in relief.

"How you doin', there, brother?" Sam asked.

"Just peachy, Sam," Dean ground out between clenched teeth.

At that Sam had to grin. Dean had batted a banshee, died, and returned, but he was still Dean. He met Brenna's eyes as she readied the sewing needle. He nodded to her, and she started with the puncture wound. Dean tried, he really did, but his defenses had been battered beyond all recognition and he screamed out in pain. Sam found himself hoping that Dean would just pass out, even though they'd just gotten him back again. Feeling his brother tremble beneath his hands and listening to his anguished cry was almost more than he could handle.

He felt the tears build again. "It's gonna be okay, Dean. Just hang in there," he whispered to his brother in a mantra of reassurance.

Dean gasped out a cry as Brenna finished with the puncture wound. She willed her hand to stop shaking and spread some more of the healing balm over the sutures.

"Y-you're not c-crying, are you, F-francis?" Dean gasped out behind closed eyes, his jaw clenched and his neck muscles tense.

"Shut up, jerk."

"B-bitch," Dean retorted.

Brenna looked at them with her eyebrows practically meeting in the middle of her forehead. "You're both crazy."

"Says the witch," the brothers retorted together.

She looked at them in surprise, but they weren't looking at her. Dean's eyes were closed, and Sam's eyes were on Dean's face. She looked at the cut on Dean's arm, decided it would heal without stitches, then moved to the two deep slashes on his right side and the wounds to his shoulder. She was able to sew them up without much noise from Dean. She knew he had been through this before – she had felt the results for herself.

About twenty minutes later, she patted Dean's arm. "There you go, tough guy. Sorry to say, but you're going to have a few more scars to add to your collection."

"Ch-chics dig sc-scars," he whispered.

I know this one does at least, Brenna thought, looking down at him. His lashes had tee-pee'd again from the sweat rolling off his brow, and the only color on his face was from the fever lighting his cheeks, but he was alive. He was lying on her bed, breathing, because of her. She took a breath. They would have to clean up that bed, but she didn't want to move him just yet.

"How about you, Sam?"

Sam didn't take his eyes from Dean's face. "How about me what?"

"Want to let me clean up that pretty face of yours?"

At that, Dean's eyes opened. "Man, you look like crap," he whispered to his brother.

"Whatever, Dude," Sam said. "I look better than you."

"Not possible."

"Sam, that potion should help him sleep. It's okay, you can leave him for a little bit," Brenna said softly, resting a hand on Sam's shoulder.

Dean's eyes were drifting shut. Sam sighed and put a hand on Dean's shoulder, then stood. Suddenly Dean roused himself, eyes darting until he found his brother.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"You gonna be here when I wake up?"

Sam nodded, resting his hand on the top of Dean's head. "I'll be right here, Dean."

Dean's eyes closed again. "'Kay."