Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer/Spoilers: Do not own the boys. This story is set in Season 2 immediately after Hunted. Anything before that is fair game.

a/n: This story returns Brenna and Declan Kavanagh to the brothers. They were first introduced in "Holding On To Let Go." Brenna returned in "Within My Hands." It is not necessary to read those stories to understand this plot, but there are assumptions made with this story that you know the relationship the boys have with these two, especially Brenna. I will also be inserting Gaelic phrases throughout and providing the translations at the end .

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoy the journey!

E – Go raibh maith agat. You know what for.

Kelly – wouldn't want to do this without you.


Chapter 1

Everybody has something to conceal. - Humphrey Bogart

It looked like a thought… a whisper of a person. It looked like the after-image of a picture flash imprinted on his vision. It looked like a breath.

It was the final mistake of a life full of misconceptions and manipulations. He'd asked for help one day too late. He never even told her why. He would be leaving her without an explanation, without an escape, and with the weight of his death on her heart.

Its approach was soundless; its gaze devastating. As he sank to his knees, he tried to breathe, he tried to speak, he tried to plead, but he was left with nothing, his soul gutted. Her name was his last conscious thought. Brenna…


He couldn't lose him again. He had a job to do; he made a promise. As long as possible, he would watch him, and when he couldn't watch him, he'd know where he was. He had to. He couldn't wake in a strange motel room, knowing the minute he took his first conscious breath that he was alone. That Sam had left him.

Dean sat Indian-style on top of the dryer, his eyes momentarily breaking from their guardian-like observation of his brother standing outside in the darkened parking lot, and resting on the spinning laundry in the clear-fronted washing machines across from him. His legs crossed at the ankles, the soles of his boots were anchoring him, the sleeves of his grey Henley pushed up to his elbows, his arms resting on his knees. He held his right hand in his left hand, unconsciously twisting the silver ring on his right ring finger in much the same way he'd seen his father do when lost in thought.

Whenever they were forced to visit a laundromat, he heard Steve Perry's distinct wail in his head: they say that the road ain't no place to start a family. It probably wasn't the best place to raise one either, but it had always worked just fine for Dean. As long as he made sure John had stopped frequently enough that their clothes remained in decent shape – especially when Sam had been young and Dean was able to pass down his outgrown clothes for a second use – and that they had enough food when John left on a hunt, they'd done just fine.

Then, of course, hunts became routine for him and Sam as well, and keeping clothes in one piece became secondary to keeping themselves in one piece. He recalled more than one midnight sitting in a laundromat working to get the blood out of the last pair of jeans he owned – until either he or John could hustle enough money to by more.

The rhythm of the dryer, heat of the room, and smell of the detergent and dryer sheets were beginning to calm him – lulling him into an almost half-awake state. He blinked, forcing his eyes wide and open, awake. He couldn't afford sleep, and he couldn't be weary. He had to watch out for Sam. Keep him close.

Dean slid his eyes back to the right and kept them on Sam, who was outside leaning against the big picture window, his head tilted back against the "N" in the stenciled Laundromat on the window. The large light from the parking lot was attracting moths and throwing pale, white light across the black landscape and illuminating Sam's face, which was currently pulled together in a frustrated frown. He was on the phone. Again.

Watching his brother's intent stare directed toward the empty parking lot, Dean remembered transitioning from corralling toddler Sam with the laundry baskets to cajoling teen Sam into doing the laundry while he worked on the car, hustled pool, or picked up a pretty girl. The third being his favorite answer to Sam's inevitable why, what are you gonna be doing reply to his request.

"Hey there," the voice was female, soft, and carried a tone of seduction that Dean would recognize anywhere. He shifted his eyes from Sam to the brunette standing just off to his right.

"Hey yourself," he pulled the side of his mouth up in a slow grin. He took measure of her in a second. She was cute – small, trim, long dark hair, large brown eyes. She wore jeans and a faded T-shirt that clung to her body in very interesting places. His eyes flicked from the words Slippery When Wet splashed across her chest to her eyes. They were inviting him in.

"You gonna use that?" she pointed to a box of Tide on the dryer next to him.

Dean flicked his eyes outside to Sam, then back to the brunette, shaking his head once, watching her mouth. "Honey, what's mine is yours," he said with a slow grin that had gotten him more than one set of phone numbers in the past.

She reached for the box and his grin widened as he saw her blush. It has been awhile, he decided. He leaned slightly forward and his smile turned predatory as he saw her unconsciously lean toward him in response, stilling her breath. He knew the subtle ways to affect change in a woman. And at the moment, all he could think about was using the motion of the dryer he sat on to his distinct advantage.

"Dean," Sam's voice was as effective as a cold shower.

Dean's head jerked up, his eyes on Sam in response to the tone he heard in his voice.

"What is it?" Dean asked, hopping down off of the dryer and striding toward his brother, who was standing just inside the door. "You find something?"

Sam had been exhausting his contacts looking for Ava Wilson for the past week. They'd been staying in a slowly expanding circle from Peoria, IL, their hotel rooms papered with maps, fliers, clues as to Ava's possible whereabouts, but Dean knew the girl could be anywhere – literally anywhere. He was getting restless, but Sam needed to do this. And there was no way Dean was letting Sam out of his sight again. He'd barely slept in the time since Gordon Walker had been arrested. He couldn't quit waking up to make sure Sam was still there, still with him… still Sam.

"Uh, no… Joshua said he'd have to call me back," Sam swallowed, his eyes darting from Dean to the girl behind him and then back to his brother.

Dean narrowed his eyes, the brunette already forgotten. "What is it, then? You look like someone ran over your puppy. And we don't have a puppy."

"Uh, I got a call," Sam said, his large eyes blinking rapidly as he focused on Dean.

Dean lifted his eyebrows, "Not exactly earth-shattering news, Sammy. You've been on that phone all night."

"Not on my phone," Sam said, his voice low, his eyes suddenly steady, gauging Dean's reaction. Dean was reminded of the last time he'd seen that look on his brother's face. And I'm not all right… not even close… but neither are you… that much I know…

"What?" Dean tilted his head back and to the left, his eyes shadowed, his arms loose at his sides. He felt his breath slow as he waited for Sam to win the internal struggle over whatever he was trying to say.

"Uh, I got a call on Dad's phone, Dean."

Dean pulled his eyebrows together. "Come again?"

Sam swallowed, his lips thinning for a moment as he watched his brother. "Dean, someone called Dad's phone."

"What do you mean, Dad's phone?"

Sam held the small silver phone out to him, but Dean pulled slightly away. He looked at the phone, then back at Sam, waiting for an explanation. He kept his eyes carefully empty. He kept his body completely still. But he couldn't quiet the sudden screaming in his head or calm the shaking in his chest. And he couldn't figure out why the idea that someone had called John these many months later shook him so completely.

"I, uh," Sam began. "I kept Dad's cell, the one that Ellen left the message on. I kept it, y'know, in case…"

Dean pulled his head back. "In case what, Sam?" he asked bitterly. "You waiting for a message from the grave?"

Sam narrowed his gaze, anger plain on his face. "No, Dean. In case someone who didn't know about Dad called for his help."

"Oh, great," Dean shook his head and turned away from Sam, walking past the brunette without even seeing her. "That's just great, Sam."

Sam followed him, watching as he jerked open the dryer door. Dean began pulling out their jeans, boxers, and shirts and rotated to stuff them into the open duffle next to him. The brunette grabbed her clothes and quietly moved to the other side of the room. He barely registered her departure. He was too focused on trying to temper his sudden anger at his brother.

"What, you're pissed now, is that it?"

Dean shot him a look out of the corners of his eyes. "Yes, Sam. I'm pissed."


Dean slammed the dryer door shut and turned back to Sam. "You kept his phone, Sam."


Dean clenched his jaw. "You didn't tell me."

Sam flicked an eyebrow up. His lips bunched once and he cocked his head to the left as he spread the fingers of his right hand out away from him over his cast. "I think that pales a bit in comparison to what you didn't tell me."

Dean went still. His eyes immediately drained of emotion. He stared at Sam for almost a full minute before shaking his head once. "If that's the way you want to play it."

He turned back to the second dryer full of clothes and began pulling clothes from it and stuffing them roughly into the duffel bag.

"It's just a phone, Dean," Sam said softly.

"It's his phone, Sam," Dean retorted, his voice hard. That was it, he suddenly realized. It was John's phone. It was something that his father had once owned, had once held… something with an actual recording of his voice – John's voice saying something other than I want you to watch out for Sammy… you have to save him, Dean… nothing else matters…

"Why is that such a big deal to you?"

Dean didn't answer. He continued to shift the clothes around in the bag so that he could get the zipper pulled shut.


Dean pulled the duffel closed with force, his jaw flexing.


"Damnit, Sam," Dean said in a soft voice. "Don't you know when to quit?"

Sam shook his head. "No."

Dean sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Why not?"

"'Cause you taught me everything I know."

Dean jerked his head up and looked at Sam with honest surprise.

"Guess you left something out," Sam finished with a shrug. "Why is this such a big deal to you?" he repeated.

Dean stared silently at him. Sam stared back. Dean knew if he let him, Sam would push until he forced a response, any response. The problem was Dean could see that Sam didn't always know what to do with the weight of his words. Twice he'd broken and allowed Sam to see the effect of his burden. The first time Sam had sat silently, helplessly, watching him. The second time, Sam had raged at him, scared and confused. And then he'd left. It was understandable, Dean supposed; the protected should not have to carry their guardian – figuratively or literally. With a shake of his head, Dean grabbed the full duffel, stepped past Sam and walked toward the door.

"Don't you even want to know who it was?"

Dean kept walking.


Dean put his hand on the silver crossbar on the glass door, muscles tensing to push it open.

"It was Declan," Sam's voice was soft, but his words slammed into Dean, stopping his retreat.

"What?" Dean looked over at Sam, the duffel falling to the end of his arm.

Sam held the phone up again. "The message. It was from Declan Kavanagh."

Dean swallowed, careful to keep his voice steady. "Brenna… is she…"

Sam shook his head. "I don't know," he stepped forward, holding the phone out to Dean. "Listen for yourself."

Dean looked down at the phone for a moment, then dropped the duffel and took it from Sam's hand. The metal retained the warmth from Sam's grip and the phone felt strangely heavy in his hand. Pressing his lips together, Dean flipped the phone open and hit the message button, pressing the phone to his ear, and purposely avoiding Sam's eyes.

"John, I screwed up. I know I don't have the right to ask you for help…not after… not after last time. But I got in over my head, and now I've, well, I've brought something back that should never have come back. I need your help, John – I don't have anyone else. Please get here soon. Oh, and John… don't send the boys. Whatever you do, just… just keep them away."

Dean shifted his eyes to Sam and saw his own concern mirrored there. He pulled the phone from his face and looked at the date stamp on the message.

"Sam, this was two days ago."

Sam nodded.

Dean looked at him, "You only just got it?"

Sam swallowed and looked away, shoving his left hand into his jacket pocket and rolling his shoulders. "I wouldn't have even gotten it tonight except…"

Dean ducked his chin, his eyes searching Sam's. "Except what?"

"I don't really use the phone, Dean, it's more like… like a connection to Dad," Sam shrugged. "I don't really even know what made me check it tonight."

Dean blinked. Pulling his lower lip in, he nodded, flipped the phone closed, and tossed it back to Sam. Sam caught it clumsily against his chest with his left hand. He looked up at Dean, an irritated expression on his face. Dean leveled empty eyes at him, then bent to pick up the duffel and walked out of the laundromat and toward the Impala.

"Dean," Sam called after him. Dean opened the trunk and threw the duffel in, shutting the trunk with extra force. "Where are you going?"


"He said for us not to come," Sam hedged.

Dean opened the driver side door and spared Sam a glance out of the corner of his eyes. "You kidding me with this?"

Sam shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "What about Ava?"

Dean sighed, one arm braced on the roof of the Impala, the other on the opened door, his head bowed as though the car were holding him upright. And maybe for the moment it was.

"Sam," he said softly, not raising his head. "He called Dad for help. And, well, you said yourself once… we just don't have… friends."

Sam stayed silent, waiting… Dean could practically feel his brother's need to hear that they wouldn't give up on Ava. Dean knew that Sam needed to try just a little harder, search just a little longer… because what if…

Dean lifted his head and looked over his shoulder at Sam. "We can't not go. We'll come back for Ava," he said. "I promise."

And there they were. The words that bound Dean Winchester to his fate. He watched as the impact of the words filtered through Sam's dark eyes, relaxing his features and Dean knew that Sam believed him, trusted him. That thought should have been reassuring; instead, Dean heard his father's voice giving him the one order he wasn't sure he could ever could he kill his reason for living?

Sam walked around to the passenger side and opened the door with his left hand, swinging into the car. Dean's door closed with a familiar creak of metal on metal and the Impala roared to life, music blaring from the radio.

"Wait, you're almost there… It's gone… You're almost there… It's gone… You're almost where what follows you, does not bother you…"

Dean checked over his shoulder for traffic, then pulled out to the main road, heading for the highway and then East to Blackroot, MA. His fingers traced the outline of the Impala's keys dangling just above his knee. They felt strangely light without the St. Christopher's medal swinging with them. The medal Brenna had given them for protection and was lost when the Impala turned herself inside out to save their lives.

"Never found a gift I got for free… You pay for them dearly… I see my forever is one long night… If I can make it dark, I can make it light… I know that most of living done is done in the mind…"

"It's not enough," Dean said so softly that it was almost a thought.

"What?" Dean felt rather than saw Sam shift in the seat to face him.

"Dad's journal," Dean raised his voice just slightly, shifting in his seat and gripping the steering wheel tighter with his right hand. His lips were pressed together in thought and his eyes were staring blankly out across the dark, empty road. "It's all we got left of him," he lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "It's not enough."

Sam looked away from Dean and out the front window. "Oh."

"We didn't even take his wedding ring, man."

"Bobby'll find the truck, Dean," Sam said, looking down to his lap, then back over to his brother.

"Yeah? When?"

"We just gotta give him some more time," Sam insisted.

"It's been months, Sam," Dean rotated his neck. "Truck's gone." Truck's gone…and with it everything tangible that said John Winchester was here…

"We're not," Sam tried.

Dean closed his eyes briefly with a quick shake of his head. "Not the same thing."

They sat in silence for a few moments, lost in their own thoughts, listening to the steady rumble of the Impala as she ate up mile after mile of blacktop.

"You put his dog tags in an empty grave," Dean said suddenly, jarring the silence with bitterness.

"It was mom's grave –"

"And you had his phone with you all this time," Dean continued.

"You knew I had the phone when I told you about Ellen –"

"Funny thing is," Dean interrupted him again not really even aware Sam had been speaking. "I hear him all the time… I hear what he said, what he made me promise… over and over, like a fucking broken record."

Sam was silent.

"But all I could think when you showed me that phone was that you had Dad's voice this whole time, right in your pocket, and you didn't tell me."

Dean cut his eyes over to Sam, saw him swallow, felt him search for words. He looked back at the road. He could let Sam spin, or he could throw him a rope. "Twisted, huh?" He offered.

Sam licked his lips. "I'm sorry, man."

Dean waved a dismissive hand in his direction.

"You've always been a little twisted, though," Sam said, lifting an eyebrow playfully as if to ward off the sting of his words.

Dean gave him a rueful grin. "Get some rest," he said. "We're gonna be on the road for awhile."

Sam looked at him. "You planning on driving all night?"

"We've already lost two days, Sam."

"When's the last time you slept more than two hours?"

Dean pressed his lips together in a shrug. "Dunno, but I'm all right."

"I'll stay awake with you," Sam said.

"Sam –"

"You aren't all right, Dean." The certainty in Sam's voice irritated Dean and he looked over at his brother.

"Ease up, Sammy," he said, looking back at the dark road. "I wouldn't put my baby in danger."

"Jesus, this damn car…" Sam grumbled.

"Hey! Watch how you're talking about her," Dean said, reaching out to stroke the dashboard. "She saved our lives, Sam."

Dean felt Sam's gaze and looked back at him briefly before returning his gaze to the road. There had been something in Sam's expression, a hint of fierce sadness, as though he was remembering something that Dean couldn't recall.

"Yeah," Sam whispered, shifting lower in his seat. "I guess she did."

Dean glanced at Sam out of the corner of his eyes, remembering moments from their youth when Sam didn't quite fill the passenger seat so completely, when it was all Dean could do to keep from smothering his annoying younger brother in his sleep. As he watched Sam lean his head back against the seat and close his eyes, tired lines of helpless frustration framing his face, Dean found that he couldn't imagine a life without his brother by his side. And yet, it was life that was constantly conspiring to take Sam away from him.

Dean turned down the radio to give Sam some peace. "Couldn't sleep if I tried," he said in a low voice as they barreled down the darkened road to answer Declan's plea.


Early dawn was one of Dean's favorite times of the day. Before the sun crested the horizon, when black faded to grey, and the evil that was cloaked by the night retreated to its corner for the day, there existed a moment when Dean could breathe. He always had the same thought: we made it. No matter if the night before had been simply sleeping in yet another strange motel room, or fighting the darkness that had permeated his life since the age of four, they had survived, they were together, and they could work their way through to the next moment, the next struggle. They were fewer in number now, but they were still together.

And he planned to keep it that way.

As he coasted into Blackroot, he sensed Sam wake next to him.

"We there already?"

"Already? You've been sleeping for about eight hours there, Rip," Dean said, shifting his eye to the side, watching Sam stretch himself awake.

"Man," Sam groaned, rotating his stiff neck and stretching his arms out in front of him. "You even stop for gas?"

Dean raised a brow and cut his eyes over to Sam. "No, Sam. The Mr. Fusion we installed back in Peoria has been working great. She runs on pork rinds and beer now."

Sam frowned at him, his eyes still puffy from sleep.

"I stopped twice," Dean said. "You were snoring both times." And thankfully, nightmare free.

Sam yawned and stretched again. "Guess I was tired," he said on the tail end of the yawn.

Dean lifted his chin and took the turn toward the Kavanagh's property. "You and Salma have a good time?"

Sam's brows pulled together. "Huh?"

"The way you were smiling the second time I stopped, there was no need to guess what you were dreamin' about, man," Dean spared him an amused glance. "And with your taste in porn, I just figured…"

"Shut up," Sam waved a hand at him.

Dean just grinned.

Sam blinked, looking out of the window. "What do you think he brought back?" he asked suddenly, referring, Dean realized, to Declan's message. Sam had always been like a dog with a bone when there was an unanswered question in front of him. He was nothing if not tenacious.

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Last time he'd managed to tangle with a banshee. Who knows. Zombie? Poltergeist? Spirit?"

"You think Brenna's still there?"

Dean felt his brother's eyes on him. "Dunno," he said as casually as he could. "It's been a long time."

"It only feels like it has," Sam said softly, turning away from Dean and watching as they pulled into the parking lot of the Kavanagh's diner/bar/motel.


"Well, it's really only been a little over six months," Sam pointed out.

Dean shot him a look. "Seriously?"

Sam nodded, sliding his eyes to his brother's face. "Feels like longer."

"Hell yeah, it does," Dean muttered, pulling the Impala to a stop next to one of the two other cars in the dirt lot.

Narrowing his eyes, he looked to his left, up to the house. It was still. Not a whisper of movement in the windows. His minds-eye flashed to the last time they'd been there. The windows had been open to create a cross breeze. And he couldn't remember a moment during their stay when Brenna hadn't had music playing from somewhere.

He slid his eyes to the garage. It, too, was still, but he could see that the skeletal bodies of the ruined and abandoned cars were gone. The front grill of the '82 Grande National was visible in the pale light of morning. The property had an abandoned feel to it. As if over the last couple of months, someone stopped caring about it and for it.

Dean looked over and met Sam's eyes. "Something's wrong."

"Yeah," Sam said softly, reaching for the door handle.

They stepped out of the Impala in unison. Dean reached down under the seat for his gun, sliding it behind him in his waste band. Sam looked over at him quickly, then shut his door. Just before stepping out of the car, Dean was ready to admit he was exhausted. Driving all night after a week of sleepless nights pulled at his body, slowing his movements. However, the moment he stepped away from the Impala, gun tucked safely in his belt, he was alert, ready. Something was wrong. Darkness was here, and he couldn't tell if it was their kind of darkness or not, but it was touching people he knew. Touching someone he cared about.

He noticed Sam mimic his scan of the silent exterior of the building that housed the diner and bar with the attached motel stretching off to the east. They stepped up to the front entrance together, and Dean tried the door. Somewhat surprised to find it unlocked, he went in first.

The interior was dark – the only light coming in from the various windows unadorned by curtains or shutters. The diner part of the bar was shadowed, but Dean could immediately see that the room suffered from the same neglect he'd observed in the house and garage. The billiard tables were gone, the dining chairs scattered hap-hazardly around the room. He cut his eyes to the right and saw two men sitting at the bar, resting their elbows on the bar surface, their eyes on the mirror behind the bar, watching the brothers approach.

A third man, who was decidedly not Declan Kavanagh, stood behind the bar. As they moved carefully toward the men, Dean looked to the right side of the bar toward the tables that lined the back wall. A fourth man, older than the rest, sat in the booth at the back, and the rest of that side of the room was hidden by shadow. It was morning. Just after dawn. What the hell are these guys doing here… and where the hell is Brenna…

"Somethin' I can do for you boys?" said the man behind the counter. His voice carried a familiar lilt that Dean associated with Declan and Brenna – a hint of a past life, of a history. But where Brenna's lilt spoke of a history of heart and passion, this man's held a history of violence.

Dean and Sam approached the bar, standing off to the side of the two men. Dean stood in front and to the right of Sam, but caught his brother's surprised gaze at the shattered bottles of liquor lining the shelves that covered the bar mirror. It almost looked like they'd been hit by a bullet during a misbegotten round of target practice, but the absence of bullet holes in the smooth mirrored surface behind the bottles canceled out that thought.

"We, uh, we're looking for –"

"A beer. Got something on tap?" Dean interrupted Sam. He wanted to play their cards close to the vest for the moment. See what the hell these men were doing in Declan's pub without a Kavanagh in sight.

"Too early in the day for the devil," came the gravely voice of one of the men sitting at the bar.

Interesting way of putting it, Dean thought. "We've been on the road all night," he said, offering the man an insincere smile. He looked from the man nearest to him to the one at the end of the bar. Neither had moved; both kept their eyes on Dean's reflection in the mirror.

Dean realized long ago the power in the assumption that he was a greater threat than his brother. Sam was as fierce a warrior in a fight as Dean, he was simply more stealthy about it. Dean purposefully telegraphed his capacity for danger. He wanted the attention focused on him rather than on Sam. He wanted Sam kept in the shadows. He could keep him safe in the shadows.

"We're closed," said the man behind the bar.

"Oh really?" Sam said, his tone conveying a clear message of bullshit.

"Yes, really," the man said, leaning forward, his large, ruddy hands resting on the bar. "You'll want to move on down the road for your beer."

Dean cocked his head to the side. "'Fraid we can't do that."

The men sitting at the bar shifted and turned to face him as one. Dean blinked. It wasn't until all three faces were staring at him that he noticed they all looked alike. Not simply similar, but exactly alike. All shared dark brown eyes, large in a pinched, narrow face, and black hair slicked back with hair oil. They were dressed similarly, too. Dark jeans, tight-fitting T-shirts and suit coats.

"Yeah?" said the pseudo-bartender. "And why's that?"

"'Cause we're thirsty now," Dean said, lifting a shoulder and skipping his gaze past the three at the bar to the man in the back. He hadn't moved; simply watched the story unfold. He looked like the men at the bar, but there was gray in his hair, and his eyes were steady, calculating.

"You're friends of Declan Kavanagh," said the third man at the end of the bar. It was more of a statement than a question.

Dean gave him a slow blink in response. This wasn't what he was expecting after hearing Declan's message, but a human threat was still a threat; just not the kind of threat he thought someone would call John for help about…

The man behind the bar growled to his brother, "James, bí ciúin."

"Cén fáth?"

The third man looked to the one behind the counter. "Mick," he said in a voice low, and thick with alcohol. "James is right. Declan had to have sent these guys," he shook his head, his heavy eyes resting on Dean. "I knew the damn fool couldn't summon that spirit."

Dean flashed a quick look to Sam who lifted his eyebrows in response.

"Calling the spirit is the least of our concerns, Liam." Mick shook his head, lifting his eyes from his brother's bleary expression to meet Dean's watchful eyes.

"Enough!" came a deep but reedy voice from the back. Dean and Sam raised their heads as one and looked at the man sitting in the back of the room. "Mick, get rid of 'em. We've got work to do. And one of you idiots lock that door like I told you to last night."

Mick looked to the man, then back at Dean. Dean squared his shoulders and saw Sam step up closer to the bar, just out of his reach. He swallowed as Mick leaned below the bar and pulled out a familiar-looking gun. It was the Glock Sam had given Brenna.

"You're kidding me, right?" Dean said, tilting his head to look at Mick. "Big, tough gangsters and all you got's a borrowed gun?"

Liam reached into his inside coat pocket and removed a switchblade. He flipped the blade out with an expert flick of his wrist and stood from his bar stool. Dean began to reach behind him for his own gun, his heart in his stomach at the thought of a close-quarters shoot out. He took a step back, his eyes flicking quickly to Sam, working to maneuver his brother out of the way, back to the shadows.

Sam wasn't cooperating. He seemed to actually want to tangle with the Irish trio. Dean knew Sam hadn't grabbed a weapon when he walked in. He had nothing to fight with…

"What about you, Slick," Dean said to James at the back of the bar, still gambling for time. "We got the revolver, the knife… you got a candlestick up your sleeve?"

In that moment, Dean lost all sense of time. He saw Mick flip the counter-break and step from behind the bar and heard the safety click off of the gun. Dean pulled his gun the rest of the way from his waist band and held it ready at his side, his eyes shifting from Mick to his brothers, weighing the threat level. He was feverishly thinking how he'd get the Glock from Mick when Sam suddenly grabbed one of the chairs next to them and with a roar that surprised all present, slammed it against the lower part of the bar, shattering the wood and leaving him with a jagged-edged club.

"We gonna do this or what?" Sam said.

Dean couldn't stop himself from blinking in complete surprise at his little brother. The look of anger and disgust in Sam's eyes was a completely foreign expression coming from him. It was as if someone else were standing in his brother's skin.

He wasn't given much time to contemplate the abrupt change in Sam, however, as Mick raised his gun and pointed it at Sam's head. Dean stopped thinking; he moved on instinct. His gun was up, aimed at Mick, and the echo of his shot filled the void of the room before he took his next breath. Mick cried out and dropped his gun, gripping his shoulder as his legs buckled under him.

Sam swung his chair-club and cracked Liam on the neck, forcing him to drop his blade and distracting him from going after Dean. Dean lifted his head to meet Sam's eyes. Sam raised the club again, drawing Liam's attention while Dean stepped forward to kick the discarded weapon away from the fallen brother and moving to gain control of the situation. In the same moment, James reached behind the bar and grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels by the neck as he advanced. Dean's only warning was the widening of Sam's eyes before James swung the bottle like a bat, shattering it against the side of Dean's head.

Dean didn't feel the impact. It was simply as if he were suddenly deaf and blind. He was caught in a vacuum, able only to draw his next breath. He felt himself sink to his knees, felt the gun drop from his grasp, but he didn't hear it hit the floor, and he couldn't see... he couldn't see Sam... He blinked once, twice, his vision returning as a blurred mesh of confused images. He fell slightly forward, instinct the only thing that made him put his hands out before he hit the floor. He felt something warm and wet on the side of his face. It was hard to think. He knew he had to find Sam… someone had a… a gun… and he had to… had to make sure that Sam… why was it so hard to think?

He felt someone grip his coat and thought for a split second that Sam had found him when sensation suddenly slammed back into him through the force of a fist cracking across his jaw. His ears rang and he hit the floor hard, unable to get his hands under him this time to catch himself. He kept blinking, trying to clear his vision, trying to focus. If he could see Sam, he'd be okay. A foot in his lower back caused him to arch in a reflex from the pain and forced the air from his lungs in a rush. Light and sound flooded him as his air rushed out. He tried to shake his head, tried to push himself up, but the foot caught him again, this time across the cheek bone.

"HEY! Get the fuck away from him!"

Dean blinked again, trying to separate the blurred images into actual people and things. He knew that was Sam's voice. He'd know his brother's voice anywhere. But he'd never heard him that angry before. Not even when he had been fighting with John. Not even the night he left…

From somewhere above him he heard a crack of what sounded like flesh on flesh and tried to roll to his stomach, tried to get his hands under him again. He had to get up… get off the floor… help Sam. He succeeded in getting his left hand flat on the floor and pushed himself to his knees when he felt the foot slam into his ribs. This time as the air left him, so did a cry of pain.

"You touch him again, I swear to God I'll kill your brother," the venom in Sam's voice seeped through the haze of pain and confusion clouding Dean's brain.

He blinked again and shook his head, still on his hands and knees. Something sticky flicked into his eyes and he swiped at it with an impatient hand. Blood. His blood. Clarity cut through the remaining fog. The only thing that focused him faster than the sight of his own blood was the sight of Sam's. Using the back of a nearby chair, he pulled himself slowly to his feet, reaching to the bar for support. When he was on his feet, he blinked more blood from his eyes and searched the room for Sam.

His back was on fire, his face throbbed with every heartbeat, and the pain in his head made his vision swim. He pulled in a shaky breath, then saw Sam. His heart stopped. Sam stood above Liam, who was on his knees, his head pulled back painfully by Sam's grip of his hair. Sam's eyes were fierce. He had Dean's gun balanced carefully in his right hand, the inconvenience of his cast seemingly forgotten for the moment, and pointed at Liam's temple.

Dean swallowed, willing his heart to beat again as the room swam. He gripped the edge of the bar harder, looking for the other two men. Mick had pulled himself to the corner behind Dean, near the tables at the back and was holding his shoulder, his eyes on Sam. James was standing a few feet from Dean, his mouth bloody, his eye blackened. He had his hands out to his sides, his eyes on the gun pointed at Liam's temple.

Dean looked back at Sam. There was a rising bruise under his right eye, and what looked like a shallow cut on his shoulder. Dean blinked as he realized he'd just gotten his ass handed to him by an Irish gangster, and there stood Sam, looming over the threat like a reckoning.

"Dean?" Sam didn't look at him; he kept his eyes on the threat. Atta boy, Dean thought.

"M'okay, Sam," Dean breathed. He was okay as long as he didn't let go of the bar. Which was beginning to become a problem because he just noticed that he was shaking.

"You sure?"

"Let'm go." Dean tried to pull some strength into his voice this time. He saw Sam flash his eyes quickly up at him, then back to James.

"Get over there." Sam shoved Liam forward roughly by the hair and raised the gun to James. Liam crawled quickly away from Sam and toward his brother, standing only when he was next to James. Sam kept his eyes and gun on James as he crouched quickly to retrieve the loose gun.

He moved toward Dean, keeping the gun trained on the two at the end of the bar. Dean shifted his eyes from Sam to the man cowering in the corner. Sometimes the wounded threat was the deadliest. Mick shifted his eyes from Sam to the man at the back of the bar and Dean was hard-pressed to tell which person seemed to scare him more. Sam stepped up to Dean, handing him his gun, and shifting the Glock back to his left hand where he could grip it better.

"Dean," Sam started, his tone low, meant only for his brother. "You're bleeding all over the place."

"I got hit with something," Dean muttered, reaching up with his gun hand to touch his throbbing head.

"Bottle of whiskey," Sam said, shifting his eyes from Liam and James to Dean's face. "You went down so fast… I thought…"

Dean heard the slight tremor there betraying the sudden bad-ass image Sam was conveying. He was relieved.

"I'm up now," Dean said, his voice shaking.

He knew Sam was a fighter, knew he could hold his own. But even after all they'd seen, all they'd done, everything they'd lived through, Sam had managed to retain an innocence about him that Dean wasn't sure he himself ever had. It was almost a sweetness – a hopeful outlook on life that Dean couldn't share. Didn't know how to share. And since that morning outside of Rivergrove, Oregon, when he'd finally confessed to Sam the burden John had left with him, Dean watched with helpless agony as Sam's remaining innocence slowly drained away and was replaced by a desperate focus to deny his destiny.

"Check him," Dean said, nodding his head at Mick in what was a thin reflection of his normal tone. He was having trouble pulling in a breath and the pounding in his head was beginning to drown out rational thought. Sam moved across the room, stepping up to the tables and behind Mick. He leaned over to check Mick's pockets, and the man pulled away, an angry glint in his eyes. He released his wounded shoulder, reaching for something in his inside pocket before Sam could get there.

Dean lifted his gun in a shaky grip. "HEY!" He barked.

"There's no need for that," came the voice from the man at the back. Dean had almost forgotten about him. "Liam, James, get your brother and get to the car. Wait for me there."

"Pop –"

"Silence!" the man roared back at Liam, his hand slamming onto the table with a jarring sound. "You were given one task. One! And this boy with a broken hand bested you. Now leave."

Across the room from him, Dean saw Sam flick an eyebrow at Liam. He couldn't help but grin. He turned to look back at the man at the table. Sam, too, turned to face him as Liam and James helped their wounded brother off of the floor and out the front door.

"Well, you've made the acquaintance of my sons. I am Eamon, but most people call me Sir."

"Think you should join your sons outside, Eamon," Dean snapped, wrapping his arm around his ribs, tucking his gun under his arm, and pulling himself up straighter. He noticed Sam had squared his shoulders. Only one man in their lives deserved to be called Sir.

"Seems we have some things to discuss," Eamon said, stepping slowly from the shadows. He was thinner than his sons, but Dean could tell at a glance that he was powerful. There was something about the way he carried himself; when he spoke people listened, and then acted on what he said.

"What's to discuss?" Sam shot back.

Easy, Sam, Dean threw him a look.

Cocky in the face of stupidity was one thing… This man was an intelligent adversary, and Dean was in no condition to put up much of a fight. He released his grip on the bar. The room immediately tilted, but he pulled in a breath and balanced himself. The blood running from the cuts on his head had begun to soak the collar of his shirt and pool at the base of his neck. He released his ribs, shifting his grip on his gun, and was relieved when he was able to stand without swaying.

"Well, for one," Eamon said, then glanced to his right into the shadows of the room. "There is the fate of your young friend."

Dean stiffened and darted his eyes to the shadows. At Eamon's signal, a fifth man stepped toward them. He was much larger than the other three, his face impassive, his eyes cold, and gripped in his large hands was Brenna.

"Son of a bitch," growled Dean through clenched teeth.

She was blind-folded and gagged, with her hands tied in front of her. The fifth man held her tightly against him, facing out. Dean realized she had been there, in the shadows, unable to speak, unable to see, the entire time. The way they held her made him suspect they knew of her power.

"What we're looking for is not worth her life," Eamon continued, stepping forward so that he was an arm's length away from Brenna. "But I'm not above killing her to get it. And Danny, here, is like an attack dog. Once he starts… it's very difficult to get him to stop."

Dean's eyes darted from Eamon to Danny to Brenna and back. Danny's hands looked massive on Brenna's slim shoulders, and his eyes were cold. He stared toward Dean, but not at him. He seemed to simply be waiting to be told what to do next. Without looking down, Dean double-checked that the safety was off of his gun.

"Well, what the hell do you want?" Dean said, the audible tremor in his voice betraying the pain his stance concealed.

"Simply what we were promised as recompense for our sizable loan to Mr. Kavanagh," Eamon replied. He moved around to the other side of Danny, his eyes on Brenna.

Dean stepped to the side, keeping the trio in his wavering sight. He was moving in the opposite direction of Sam, who was still across the room, slightly shadowed. Eamon kept his dark eyes on Dean, following his shaky steps as he made a show of moving closer to the bar. He leaned his elbow on the edge, letting it take the most of his weight, and kept his gun at a low aim directed at Eamon. In his periphery, Dean saw Sam slip into the shadows, working to position himself almost directly behind .Danny.

"Maybe you tell me what that is and I'll see if I can get it for you," Dean said, working to keep the focus on him and away from Sam. He failed.

"It won't work," Eamon said coldly, his voice slightly raised. He didn't move his eyes from Dean's, but it was evident he was addressing Sam. "Danny is indiscriminant. He will kill or maim whomever I tell him to."

Eamon flicked an eyebrow at Dean, then meaningfully looked slowly over his shoulder into the shadows behind Danny. Dean couldn't tell if he saw Sam. He just knew he didn't like the look offered in his brother's direction.

"Hey, Don Corleone. Eyes front," Dean said, tipping the barrel of his gun toward Eamon's head.

"Call him off," Eamon ordered.

"Bite me," Dean countered, lifting an eyebrow.

Eamon looked at him, seemed to decide something, then reached out to trace a finger down Brenna's cheek. Brenna silently twisted away from his hand, the first movement she'd made since Dean had seen her. Danny slid his arms from Brenna's shoulders to her head and neck.

"You know," Eamon mused, his eyes still on Dean, challenging him. "Human life is so fragile. Our bodies are intricate, fascinating machines. Yet they can be broken so easily."

His finger continued to stroke Brenna's cheek and Dean saw her lip curl in silent disgust. Dean clenched his jaw, biting off a retort, his eyes hot. He tightened his grip on the gun, pulled his arm from the bar, and cupped the butt of the pistol in his left hand, steadying his aim.

"One small move, and her neck snaps, her life ending," Eamon said, watching Dean.

Danny tightened his grip on the side of Brenna's head and neck. Dean heard her swift intake of breath.

"Don't you fucking think about it," Dean said, his voice low and dangerous.

He raised his gun up to point unwavering at Danny's head. Anger, hot and powerful, suddenly filled him. The world had come into sharp focus at Brenna's gasp. The pain he'd felt from the fight vanished for the moment. He kept his eyes on Danny, his gun pointed at the man's head. His arms were steady, his body language unmistakable: if one wrong move was made, someone was dying today.

"Tempt not a desperate man," Eamon taunted, a mirthless smile curling up on side of his mouth, his finger still slowly stroking Brenna's cheek. Brenna couldn't pull her face further away because of Danny's restraining grip. Dean didn't lower his gun. He'd lost sight of Sam in the shadows. He desperately hoped Eamon had as well.

"Declan was warned," Eamon continued.

"I'm not Declan," Dean snapped. "Now let her go."

No one moved.

Dean cocked the gun. "Let. Her. Go."

He took two deliberate steps forward, his gun now an arm's length from Danny's forehead. The man was so tall that Brenna only came to his shoulders. Dean had a clean shot, and he was completely prepared to take it if the big Irishman made one more move to follow through with his threat. When Eamon remained silent, Dean stepped closer, the barrel of his gun inches from pressing into Danny's face.

"I'm not in the mood to say it again," Dean said, keeping his eyes on Danny, Eamon in his periphery. "So unless you want me to give your attack dog a new way to whistle…"

He saw Danny shift doubtful eyes to Eamon, then back to Dean. As if by a silent command, he loosened his grip on Brenna's head and neck, moving his large hands back to her shoulders. Dean took a half-step back, shifting his eyes from Danny to Eamon, but keeping his gun on the big man holding Brenna. Out of the corner of his eyes, Dean saw the briefest hint of movement. Sam…

Unexpectedly, Brenna stiffened. She suddenly spread her bound hands as wide as she could, stretching out her fingers. He had only a moment to register this before Sam swung the barrel of the Glock in a sneak attack from behind, cracking it across the back of Danny's head.

The big man instantly released Brenna, who fell forward, catching herself with her outstretched, bound hands before her face hit the floor. Dean whirled and grabbed the front of Eamon's jacket, turning the elder man and slamming him against the bar, his gun pressed to the man's cheek. Danny fell heavily to his knees and Sam swung again, hitting the big man at the base of the neck and toppling him.

Dean kept his gun pressed into Eamon's cheek, his forearm across the older man's chest, holding him against the bar. He looked over his shoulder. Brenna had pushed herself to her knees and was pulling the blindfold and gag from her face. Her eyes wildly searched the room until they saw him. He met her look for an instant – long enough to see the bird-like wide pupils of her sighted eyes – then he shifted his eyes behind her to Sam. Brenna turned the other direction and saw Sam.

Dean blinked, keeping his eyes on Sam. "He out?"

Sam nodded, watching Dean hold Eamon against the bar. Dean felt Eamon begin to push away and pressed the barrel of his gun harder into the man's cheek. "Hold, still," Dean snarled, "or I just might decide to see how fragile your body is."

A sudden cry behind him caught Dean's attention. It sounded very much like a caged, wounded animal. He looked toward Sam again and instead saw that Brenna had pushed herself to her feet and was advancing on the prone form of Danny lying at her feet. Accompanied by a string of swiftly spoken Gaelic, she began kicking Danny along the back and legs, stomping on his arm and hand when her attack didn't seem to do enough damage.

"Whoa!" Sam stepped forward, dropping the gun he'd used as a club behind him. "Whoa, easy!"

Brenna ignored him, continuing to kick the shit out of the unconscious man. Sam caught her at the waist, lifting her up and away from Danny's body. Brenna continued to struggle, her small but powerful body almost sliding from Sam's grip. He hoisted her up to his hip and backed away. Dean silently watched the scene unfold, his gun pressed deep into Eamon's cheek, his left arm holding the elder man roughly against the bar. He almost wished Sam would allow her to continue. Pain and anger rolled from Brenna in waves and Dean thought he could feel them hit him with each throb in his head.

Sam was saying her name. Dean watched as his brother held Brenna carefully against him until her struggles slowed. She lifted her eyes to Dean's face, but carefully avoided meeting his eyes. They both knew how swiftly she could connect to him, and how helpless the wake of her power left them.

"Easy," Sam was saying softly into her ear.

Dean watched her watch him and he saw her begin to relax as Sam's calming voice coaxed her into a waiting chair that was just a couple of feet away from Dean. If he let go of Eamon, he could reach out and touch her. And he suddenly wanted to do just that. He wanted that contact. He wanted to touch her. And that irritated him. He shoved Eamon back against the bar with extra force when the man attempted to straighten.

"What the hell took you guys so long," Brenna finally breathed, her voice shaking from either fear or fury, Dean couldn't tell.

Sam crouched in front of her, gently removing the ropes from her wrists. Dean continued to watch as Sam winced at the raw marks the ropes left behind, then lifted his eyes back to Brenna's face. He looked at her chin, her jaw, her lips, her short, wild hair… anywhere but her eyes. He realized that his shaking had eased. With Brenna watching him, he felt stronger. She cut her gaze from him, and looked down at her wrists. Dean turned back to Eamon, blinking to focus on the narrow face and dark eyes.

"Let me get him out of here," Eamon spoke up, his voice muffled by the barrel pressed into his cheek, his eyes shifting to Danny's prone form.

"What, so you can regroup and come back?" Dean said, shifting his stance, trying to keep his balance. "I don't think so."

"Declan Kavanagh owes a debt," Eamon snapped. "He will pay."

He had to end this, now, Dean realized. He was losing focus, losing strength. He shot his eyes down to Sam. Sam was still crouched in front of Brenna, rubbing her wrists. He didn't look up at Dean, seeming to finally believe Dean's mantra of I'm fine. Only this time, he wasn't fine.

"Declan isn't here," he stepped back, allowing Eamon to straighten, but didn't lower his gun. "You want him to pay, you need to find him. Not her. You hear me? Do I make myself clear?"

Dean kept his eyes on Eamon, working desperately to mask the weakened tremble that was building from his lower back and spreading through his chest. For one moment his vision wavered, but he didn't move, didn't lower his gun.

"Crystal," Eamon snarled, then rubbed his cheek slowly where the barrel of Dean's gun had left a bruise.

Dean took another step back, standing next to Brenna's chair, just beyond Sam. He kept his gun pointed on Eamon. "Get him and get out."

Eamon stepped over to Danny's unconscious form, picking him up with an ease that surprised Dean. He turned to face Dean.

"Declan doesn't just owe me. He owes someone much bigger than me."

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Bigger than you, huh? Stop. You're scaring me."

Eamon moved past Dean toward the door. "You'll see." He spared Dean one last glance. "The spirit he summoned is a double-edge sword. He either controls it, or it kills him." He seemed to offer this more like a token than a warning. Eamon looked at Brenna, smiling coldly, then moved out the front door, leaving it open behind him. Only when he was out of sight did Dean lower his gun.

Sam stood up and walked over to the front door. He closed and locked it, his back to the room.

"Why didn't you call the cops on those bastards?" Brenna asked, venom in her voice.

She was looking at Sam, rubbing her wrists. Dean knew he couldn't block the power of her druid gaze, but he missed her eyes. He'd felt stronger somehow those moments she was watching him. Now he felt cold… and the room had started a slow spin. He watched as Sam turned away from the door and back to Brenna, his shoulder's bowed slightly. Dean realized he could hear a strange sort of humming in his ears. It was starting to overpower their voices.

"We can't," Sam was saying.

"You're wanted by the police now?" Brenna asked, incredulous. "Demons weren't enough for you guys?"

"Long story," Sam sighed, running a hand through his hair.

Dean wanted his brother to look at him. He wanted someone to look at him. He was starting to feel odd – like he was disappearing. His fingertips tingled and the tremble in his chest increased to full-on shaking. He tried to take a step toward Sam. He wasn't far away, just a few feet really. If he could move toward him, maybe Sam would see him. He couldn't seem to move. He knew that if he took one step, he was going down. The cuts in his scalp from the whiskey bottle were throbbing in harmony with the bruises on his back and ribs. He cursed his own inability to avoid that hit, knowing the sleepless nights had finally bit him in the ass.

The humming grew louder. Static on his internal radio station, drowning out his brother's voice, muffling Brenna's words… the only thing he could still hear clearly was his Dad. John's voice low, desperate, pleading in his ear… you've got to save him, Dean… nothing else matters… if you don't save him, you will have to kill him…

"Where is Declan?" Sam was asking.

"I don't know," Brenna sighed. Her voice sounded tinny in Dean's ears, like she was talking across a long-distance phone line. "I got back here two days ago… I heard him call for me… but, when I got here he was gone… the place was a mess…"

"Eamon said he summoned a spirit," Sam continued. Dean saw him narrow his eyes, his cast-bound hand resting on his hip. "Any idea what spirit, or… where he would have gone?"

"No," Brenna rubbed her face and Dean watched Sam's eyes soften. He looked from Sam to Brenna. He wanted to step forward; he wanted to gather her up. He wanted to be able to hear something other than John's words.

"How long were they here, Brenna?" Sam was asking softly, concern for what Brenna had gone through evident on his face.

Dean was beginning to get desperate. Sam still hadn't looked at him, and Dean was shaking. Dark spots were collecting at the corners of his vision and the humming was taking over, drowning out even John's constant plea… his insistent command.

"Sam," Dean tried. He knew his lips moved, but he couldn't hear himself. Sam didn't lift his eyes from Brenna. He swallowed. Maybe he was disappearing. Maybe… he looked down at Brenna. Brenna…

Brenna suddenly whipped her head over to Dean.

"Sam," Dean slurred, finally, blessedly hearing his own voice. The gun fell from his numb fingers and he felt himself sway. "Sammy…"

He never saw Sam launch forward to catch him. He never felt his brother's arms saving him from crashing into the floor. He never heard Sam's desperate call of his name. He only knew the blessed release from pain as he fell forward into the waiting darkness.