Rating: PG-13


Chapter 2

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. - Ferdinand Foch

"Why didn't you call the cops on those bastards?" Brenna asked. Sam could hear heat and anger in her voice.

He turned away from the door and back to Brenna. His eyes dropped to her hands rubbing at the raw marks left from the ropes that had bound her. He felt suddenly heavy. If only it were that simple, he thought. But he knew they would never be able to call for help. Not anymore. There was no cavalry for the Winchesters. There was only himself and Dean. And for the first time in his life, Sam was scared that they weren't enough.

"We can't," he said, meeting her eyes. He felt a strange pull, as though the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room. He saw her bird-like eyes widen slightly and felt strangely dizzy. It took him a moment to realize what was happening. Dean was right. She did put a whammy on him.

"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 to steady himself and shake off the effect of her eyes.

He moved away from the door towards her, catching Dean in his periphery. His brother was standing very still, his gun at his side, looking at him. He should go check on him. Dean was never still. But he knew Dean would say that he was fine, just as he always did. He focused on Brenna.

"Where is Declan?" he asked her. He didn't know how long the men had been there, what they might have done to her.

"I don't know," Brenna sighed. "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 when her words died away. He narrowed his eyes, resting his right hand on his hip. "Any idea what spirit, or… where he would have gone?"

"No," Brenna rubbed her face.

Sam felt his heart catch a little at that motion. She covered her mouth with her hand, pulled her fingers together, then ran her fingers up the bridge of her nose to her forehead. He'd seen his brother do that very same pattern too many times to count.

"How long were they here, Brenna?" Sam asked, not realizing that he pitched his voice low to get under her wall – not realizing that he was handling her as he handled Dean.

Without warning, Brenna whipped her head over to face Dean.

"Sam." Sam heard the slur in his brother's voice. He vaulted to his feet, shocked to see how pale Dean suddenly looked, the blood on his face a glowing crimson stain against the translucence of his skin.

"Sammy…"

Sam saw Dean sway, saw the gun drop from his fingers, and it was as if he were suddenly moving underwater. He stepped forward as Dean's knees buckled, catching his weight as Dean sank lifelessly into his arms.

"Dean!" he called to him, stumbling a bit and going to his knees, holding Dean close to him.

"Dammit," he heard Brenna mutter and felt her move alongside him.

Sam shifted and turned Dean's body so that his arm was under Dean's shoulders, his brother's face turned up. He gently tapped his cheek. "Dean, hey… hey," he had trouble getting the words past his suddenly frozen lips. Dean's brows pulled together, his lashes fluttered, then he was still once more. Sam's heart stuttered. He couldn't take a full breath.

"I saw him get hit," he said in a choked voice. "I should have checked on him."

"Sam," Brenna snapped. "Stop that. You're not helping him by feeling guilty." She leaned close, her eyes darting over Dean's face. "He's got a pretty deep cut here," she pointed to the hairline just above his eyebrow, "and a decent-sized knot on the side here," she pointed to just above his ear. "I'm amazed he stayed on his feet so long."

"Damn stubborn idiot," Sam almost growled, his chest aching with helpless dread. He now lived with a constant quiet fear of watching Dean die… in front of him… in his arms… because of him. When all was quiet, he could still hear the wail of the flat-lining heart monitor, could still see Dean's body buck in reaction to the defibrillator.

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

"No," Sam said immediately. He felt his stomach turn to ice at the word, but he knew the last place they could go was a hospital. Dean couldn't go to any place that could potentially identify him. Sam knew that if Dean were conscious, he'd protest just as loudly.

"What the hell do you mean, no?" Brenna shot to her feet, her hands on her hips.

Sam looked up at her, his eyes dull with reality. "No hospital, Brenna," he repeated.

"Sam," Brenna cocked her head to the side, her eyes narrowing. Sam saw they'd returned to their normal green-gold, her pupils a normal size and not wide like the eyes of a predatory bird.

"Just help me get him up," Sam insisted, shifting his weight so that he could push himself to his feet. "You've healed him before."

"Yeah, but that was… different."

Sam shot her a look. "What are you talking about? You brought him back to life, Brenna."

Brenna shifted her eyes from Sam to Dean and back. "Sam…"

"Listen," Sam felt anger flare at her, hot and fast. He didn't want to register how quickly rage built inside of him these days, how much control it took to keep it in check, what that might mean… He said I might have to kill you, Sammy… The devastated horror in Dean's voice when he forced those words out into the tension-filled air between them echoed in Sam's head. "Dean is in the system. We can't go to a hospital, and he needs your help."

"Fake name?" She countered, still resisting. She had moved her eyes from Sam to Dean's face and kept them there. Sam watched as she pulled in her bottom lip, worrying it with her teeth.

"Physical description, blood type, any of it could give him away. We can't take that chance."

The blood from Dean's shirt was soaking into Sam's sleeve. Sam looked down at his brother's face, saw the freckles across the bridge of his nose stand out in stark contrast to the pallor of his face. Sam tightened his grip on Dean's shoulder; Dean's head rolled in the crook of Sam's arm, his forehead resting against Sam's chest. He looked up at Brenna.

"Please," he said, his brows pulled together. "Can you just… just help us?" For once, can't someone just help us

"God, Sam," she whispered, fisting a hand in the back of her short red-gold hair. "It's not that I won't help you." She met his eyes and he saw something there that he didn't understand. A sort of desperation - a fear that hadn't been present in her gaze until that moment.

"What is it then?" Too much time was passing. How long ago had Dean been hit? How long had he been bleeding? He knew head wounds bled a lot, but still… He moved his hand to the side of Dean's head and was relieved to see that the flow of blood had stopped at some point and was now just seeping from the cut along his hairline.

Brenna took a shaky breath, then crouched back down next to Sam. She reached out for Dean's hand, lying limp across his chest. Sam noticed that her fingers trembled and suddenly realized that she hadn't touched Dean yet. Not once since they'd discovered her presence.

As her fingers closed over his brother's hand, her head snapped back, her eyes closed and she stopped breathing. Dean went rigid, his neck arching up, his breath a strained exhale. Sam stared at them for a moment, shocked. Then suddenly he remembered New Orleans, when he'd called Brenna for help against the nightmare witch trapped inside of Dean. Dean had been unconscious and when she touched him, she'd been pulled inside his nightmare without warning.

"Brenna!" Sam yelled at her. Her jaw was tight and he could see tears leaking from the sides of her eyes. Dean started to shake and Sam saw his brother's fingers tighten around Brenna's with enough strength to turn his knuckles white.

Sam let go of Dean with one hand, reached out and forced her hand away from his brother's. "Brenna!"

The instant the connection was broken Brenna dropped her head and pulled in a long shaky breath. She fell back and sat down hard on the floor next to Dean. Her eyes had gone predatory and tears coursed freely down her cheeks.

"Oh, God," she breathed. "Sam… he…"

"What?" Sam asked frantically. He pulled Dean closer to him, unconsciously protecting him from Brenna's touch. When she'd let go of him, Dean had gone limp in Sam's arms, his breath coming in quick gasps. "What did you see?"

"John's… John's dead?" she blinked at Sam, seemingly unaware of the tears that flicked off of her lashes.

Sam swallowed, not relaxing his hold on Dean. His brother's face was pressed against his arm, leaving space only to breathe. Sam gripped his shoulders and kept one hand out toward Brenna as if to hold her away.

"Yeah," he answered.

"S-sam," her voice trembled. "He… I saw..."

Sam pulled his eyebrows together, tilting his head. "What did you see?" he repeated.

She rested tragic eyes on Dean's profile. Lifting a trembling hand, she swiped at the tears on her cheeks with an impatient gesture. "John… with yellow eyes… tearing him up… a… woman with dark hair… and John telling him…"

She looked quickly up at Sam.

Sam pressed his lips together. Blinking once, he said, "I know what Dad told him. I know what he has to do."

Brenna looked back down at Dean. "Sam… he's…"

Sam ducked his head to catch her eyes. "He's what?" Brenna's tears, the devastation in her eyes, shook Sam. She'd only held on to Dean for a minute – what could he have so close to the surface that would have hit her so hard?

"He fought me… he's hiding something, protecting something…" she whispered. "You… Sam, all I could see was you..."

In that moment Dean stirred in Sam's arms. With a weak groan, he lifted a hand and tried to reach up to the cut on his head. Sam caught Dean's hand, lowering it back to his chest, and shifted Dean against him so that he could see his entire face.

"Dean?"

Dean groaned again, his lashes brushing against his cheeks.

"Hey, Dean. That's it. Open your eyes," Sam encouraged softly.

"Sammy…"

"Yeah, I'm here, man. Open your eyes for me."

"…the hell happened?" Dean mumbled, his eyes still closed.

"You took a header to the bar floor, that's what happened," Sam said, brushing his fingers lightly over the crown of Dean's head.

"Dude, you wanna pet somthin' we'll get you that puppy," Dean grumbled, his voice slightly stronger, his hand reaching up to awkwardly brush Sam's hand away. He blinked his eyes slowly, and Sam watched the wide pupils slowly narrow to reveal the green of his brother's eyes as Dean focused on him.

"You okay, Sam?"

Sam shook his head with a small burst of a laugh. "Yeah, man, I'm okay."

"Your arm's bleedin'," Dean licked his lips, blinking slowly.

"Your head's bleeding," Sam lifted an eyebrow. "You remember what happened?"

Dean frowned. "Were we fightin' with someone?"

"Five someones," Brenna spoke up.

Sam watched as Dean blinked rapidly at the sound of her voice. He'd felt Dean's body jerk and tense in reaction. He shifted his eyes over to see Brenna sitting next to them. Sam watched, amazed, as the sleepy innocence was replaced by a guarded understanding in Dean's eyes.

"Oh," Dean said, then looked back at Sam. "Right." He pushed against Sam's chest. "Help me up, Sam."

Sam resisted, "Hey, Dean, wait a sec. You got hit pretty hard."

"So you'll stitch me up," Dean said, managing to push far enough away from Sam's chest to get himself into a semi-sitting, semi-slumped position.

"Dean," Brenna said gently. "I think you need to go to a hos—"

"No," Dean interrupted. "No hospitals. Now get me the hell up."

Sam sighed, shifted his feet underneath him and put his hands under Dean's arms, lifting his brother as he stood. Brenna stood with them. As soon as he was vertical, though, Dean's bravado deteriorated. With a weak "Whoa" he swayed back into Sam, his eyes closing, his hand reaching out for balance. Sam caught his shoulders.

"I got you," he said softly.

Dean nodded weakly and allowed Sam to brace him from behind.

"Where…" Sam looked at Brenna.

"I've got stuff up at the house," she sighed, admitting defeat in the Winchester Hospital Standoff.

She turned and led the way to the front door. Sam lifted Dean's arm across his shoulders, wrapping his left arm across Dean's back and around his waist. Dean hissed softly as Sam's arm pressed against his lower back. Sam remembered seeing James' boot connect, seeing Dean's back arch. He hooked his fingers in Dean's belt loops to hold his brother up, and ease the pressure on Dean's back.

Sam looked down at Dean's bowed head, watching as he forced himself to walk forward, to keep moving. Dean's feet were heavy, his stride slow. He wondered if Dean would push himself so hard if he weren't there. Did he put up this front, covering for any weakness, for the sake of Sam?

"You're thinking too loud, Sam," Dean said in a low voice. He didn't raise his head as they made their way across the dirt lot between the bar and the Kavanagh house.

"Do you do this because of me?"

"Gonna have to be more specific," Dean muttered, lifting his head slightly as they stepped up the stairs.

Sam balanced him as they stepped onto the porch and moved through the door. "You never let anyone take care of you."

"I don't need to be taken care of, Sam."

Sam just shook his head at that. Yes, you do. His brother was just as stubborn as his Dad had been. And, as far as Sam was concerned, Dean shared John's delusion of immortality. His father's habit of ignoring his own human frailty hadn't saved him from the demon in the end, and Dean had cheated death more than once… Sam pushed back the thought.

They followed Brenna into the small room just off of the kitchen. Another bed had been added on the other side of the fireplace. Stacked on it were several different piles of shop towels and machinery. Another truck was in the far corner of the room, lid open, clothes pulled out and tossed onto the floor around the base.

Dean allowed Sam to lower him onto the bed. He seemed to sink a bit when Sam released him, curling in on himself and wrapping his arms around his middle. Sam saw his hands shake as he buried them in the crooks of his arms. Sam looked up at Brenna. She was standing just inside the doorway, looking at them.

"You said you had –"

"Right," she blinked, then stepped out of the room.

Sam looked back at Dean, seeing his brother's eyes already on his face. "Not exactly a room full of happy memories," Dean said, lifting the corner of his mouth, then reaching up and touching the cut on his head with tentative fingers.

Sam offered him a small smile in agreement. His chest tightened and he pressed his hand against his sternum. Dean had died in this room. Brenna had saved him, but Sam had actually felt, physically felt, the pain of his brother's death. His heart thudded once, hard, beneath his fingers.

"Sammy? Hey, you okay?"

Sam met Dean's eyes. A bruise was appearing across Dean's cheekbone where James' foot had connected. Blood was drying on the side of his face and his neck. His eyebrows were raised, waiting for his answer.

"I'm okay," Sam said. "Just… "

"Winchester ghosts are the hardest ones to fight, man," Dean said in a low voice, dropping his eyes to the floor.

Sam made a sound that was part chuckle, part sob, and he saw Dean lift his eyes to his face just as Brenna returned. She carried with her a bowl of water and a white cloth, a metal kit, and clutched in her teeth, a small burlap bag. Sam stepped over to her quickly and took the bag from her mouth and the bowl of water from her hands before she sloshed it all over herself.

"This isn't the bag of dust that blows up banshees, is it?" he asked with a slight grin. She lifted her eyes to his, raising an eyebrow. "Didn't think so," he finished stepping over to Dean on the bed.

"Here," she said, handing Dean a bottle of pills.

"What are these?" he asked, staring at the bottle.

"Cyanide," she quipped. "It's aspirin, you idiot. What else would it be?"

Dean sighed, then unwrapped a hand from his chest to accept the bottle. He tapped four out in his hand and tossed them back. Sam raised an eyebrow, watching as Dean dry-swallowed the pain medication.

"Sam, clean him up," Brenna ordered. She emptied the bag of powder into the water, swirling it with her finger.

"What's that?" Dean asked.

"It will help with the healing," Brenna said, not looking at him. "Trust me on this." She turned to the other bed, set the metal kit down, and started taking things out one item at a time

"You're a mess, Dean," Sam said, shaking his head.

Dean sighed. "Yeah… whiskey always goes right to my head."

Sam chuckled and sat down next to his brother. He purposely sat close – partially to be able to reach Dean's wound easier, and partially to see what Dean would do, if he would move away. When Dean simply held still, allowing Sam's knee to stay touching his, Sam frowned. He wet the cloth and began to gently clean the side of Dean's head and his neck, paying special attention to the cut and the knot above his ear. Dean closed his eyes, and Sam saw him tighten his free hand into a fist, his other hand still wrapped around his ribs.

Dean didn't make a sound, but Sam had spent his life watching his brother - knowing that if he didn't look for the tell-tale signs of pain, no one else would notice, and Dean would never confess. Over the years he'd discovered many ways to see the pain Dean worked so hard to mask, and one of those ways was the forced rhythm of Dean's breathing. Sam knew without a doubt that there was a song in Dean's head right now, and that he was counting the beats, matching his breathing to the rhythm so that he wouldn't give himself away.

"What is it?" he asked as he gently cleaned around the gash on Dean's head.

"What's what?" Dean asked, his teeth clenched.

"The song," Sam said, seeing Brenna lift her head and look over her shoulder at them.

Dean opened his eyes and slid them sideways to look at Sam, not turning his head. He didn't say anything for a long moment, and Sam remained silent, waiting. Dean frowned, then closed his eyes again.

"Kashmir."

"Long song," Sam commented, setting the now-pink towel in the bowl of rust-colored water.

"Yep," Dean said, stiffly straightening his back.

Brenna walked over and handed Sam the suture supplies. Sam looked at them, then back at Dean.

"Why don't you do this, and I'll go get our clothes?" Sam said.

"What?" Brenna and Dean demanded in unison, staring at Sam.

Sam blinked. "You got blood all over you, Dean. Brenna can handle this, I'll just go get –"

"You do it, Sam," they said at the same time, neither looking at the other.

Sam shifted his eyes from one to the other, confused. "What's with you two?" They both opened their mouths, and Sam lifted a hand. "One at a time."

Brenna's voice came out in a rush. "You're used to this, Sam."

"You stitched him up before," Sam countered.

"He was unconscious," she replied.

"Not the whole time," Dean muttered, looking at her hands, then at the floor.

"Oh," she sighed, her shoulders sagging. "Right."

Sam pressed his lips together. "Is this about… before?"

Dean lifted his head, tenderly prodding the cut and closing his eyes. "No," he sighed.

"It isn't?" Brenna asked, surprise evident in her voice.

Dean blinked at her. "Is it?"

"Oh for God's sake," Sam sighed. "Brenna, help my brother. Dean, don't look at her eyes. I'm going to get our clothes." He dug into the pocket of Dean's coat, pulling out the Impala keys.

"Sam," Dean called when Sam was almost out of the room.

"What?" Sam turned in the doorway, irritated.

"Nothin'… just, don't take too long." Dean pulled his eyebrows together, his expression serious. Sam pulled his head back slightly, realized that Dean had been telling the truth. It wasn't about being alone with Brenna… it was about being without Sam.

"You bet."

Getting their stuff from the Impala proved to be trickier than he'd thought. He hadn't realized how often Dean had grabbed the extra bag since he'd broken his hand. Nonetheless, he was back in the house with their duffels of clothes and one bag of weapons inside of fifteen minutes. When he walked back through the door, he heard Brenna's voice, sharp and irritated.

"It wasn't as if I did it on purpose!"

"What, I'm just supposed to trust you on that?"

Sam stopped inside the door, out of eyesight, listening.

"Yes!"

"Sorry, sweetheart, I don't trust blindly."

"You don't trust at all."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You don't trust anyone, Dean. You don't even trust Sam!"

Sam caught his breath, tightening his grip on the handles of the bags.

"The hell I don't!"

"You're afraid of him."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Brenna," Dean's voice had gone cold. Sam breathed shallowly, waiting. He registered that Dean didn't deny what she said. Dean's afraid of me?

"You're afraid of something. That much I saw."

"You shouldn't have seen anything," Dean growled.

"Again. Not on purpose."

"You knew what would happen," Dean accused.

"I was trying to help you!" Brenna raged. "It's not like I'd planned on you being here."

"Well, damn lucky for you I was!"

"I would have gotten out of it."

"How? They had you tied up, Brenna. If S-sam and I hadn't –"

Sam heard Dean's voice falter and his heart dropped. He stepped forward, still not within eye line of the two in the other room. He paused when he heard Brenna's voice, low, soothing.

"Easy, whoa, it's okay, Dean. You're okay." All of the anger had drained from her voice.

Sam moved forward into the room. He saw Dean on his knees in the center of the room, bent over at the waist, Brenna on the floor next to him, her arms wrapped around him. He was pale, one hand braced on the floor, the other clutching Brenna's forearm. Sam saw that Brenna had managed to stitch his cut and had gotten him to remove his bloody shirt, which was in a pile next to the bed.

"Where the hell is Sam," Dean muttered weakly, his eyes on the worn wooden floor.

"I'm here, Dean," Sam said softly, stepping forward. "What happened?" he set down the duffels, addressing Brenna, but his eyes were on his brother. He leaned down and put his hand on Dean's bare shoulder.

"We – uh," Brenna began, having the grace to look guilty. "We were talking. He just got a little dizzy, I think."

Dean raised his head to meet Sam's eyes, and for a second, Sam thought he saw something reflecting there that he hadn't seen since that brief moment on the side of the road, after they'd killed the zombie and left Lawrence. Dad's dead because of me…

"What took you so long?" Dean tried to push Brenna's arm away, but she held onto him until Sam was able to take some of Dean's weight.

Sam pulled Dean to his feet, swallowing the immediate smart-ass comment that came to his lips and opted instead for sincerity. "It was hard to carry it all with my cast."

"Oh," Dean said, moving to the bed on wobbly legs. "Sorry, man. I wasn't thinking."

Sam dug into Dean's duffel and handed him a clean black T-shirt. Dean took it and as he pulled it over his head, Sam caught sight of the large bruise coloring his lower back. He winced.

"Dean," he said, stopping him from pulling the shirt all the way down.

"What?"

"Your back, man," he said. "That bruise looks bad."

Dean grimaced. "Yeah, I think that bastard was a soccer player," he muttered. He glanced at Brenna. "Sorry… Futball."

"It's all boys playing with balls to me," she retorted lifting an eyebrow. "But I think I have something that will help that bruise."

She turned back to the kit, then approached them with a bottle of clear liquid and some gauze pads.

Dean raised his eyebrows. "Vodka?"

"Witch hazel," she said.

"Witch hazel?" Sam and Dean echoed at the same time.

"Don't even start," she said. "Sam, when I'm done here, we'll take a look at that arm." She wetted a pad and leaned close to press it on Dean's back

He hissed at her touch, then slowly relaxed. She continued to ease the liquid into his bruise until Sam saw Dean start to slump forward, his eyes drifting closed. He rested his forearms on his knees and dropped his head. After another minute, Sam nodded to Brenna and she pulled away. Sam dropped the base of Dean's shirt. Dean lifted his head and blinked heavily, trying to keep his eyes open. Standing, Sam cupped the back of Dean's neck and carefully eased him back on the bed.

"Wha—"

"Dean, just rest for a minute, okay?"

"No, Sam, I–"

"Just take it easy," Sam lifted Dean's legs by the knees and helped him stretch out.

"Don't want to sleep," Dean mumbled, blinking slow, exhaustion, pain, and painkillers starting to defeat even his indomitable will.

"I know, Dean," Sam whispered. "I'll wake you in about four hours."

Dean forced his eyes open. "Gimme the keys."

Sam pulled his eyebrows together. "What?"

"To the Impala. I want the keys."

"What for?"

Dean leveled his eyes on Sam, and he saw that look again, the look that sucked the air from his lungs and turned his stomach to ice. That look that said I can't lose you

"I'm not gonna go anywhere, Dean," Sam said, his voice harder than he had intended. Brenna was right. Dean didn't trust him.

"Keys, Sam," Dean insisted, keeping his eyes open with an obvious effort.

Sam pressed his lips together, pulling in a breath. He looked at Dean. Dean looked back. He could see that they were at a moment they'd never been to before. If there was one thing that he knew beyond doubt it was that Dean believed in him. When he didn't believe in himself, Dean was there, supporting, pushing, encouraging. He grew up with that faith and as he looked at his brother's pain-filled green eyes he realized that he'd taken it for granted… and he might be losing it.

"Fine," he said, digging the keys out of his jeans pocket. He leaned over, picked up Dean's hand, putting them in his palm and closing his fingers around them. When he stepped back, he saw that Dean's eyes had closed. He stood looking down at him until he heard Dean's breathing even out into a steady rhythm of sleep.

www

"I heard you," Sam said, sitting across from Brenna at the table in the center of the room between the kitchen and the bedroom where Dean lay. He kept the door open so that he could listen for Dean, and so that Dean could see him if he woke up. The bandage Brenna had wrapped around the shallow cut on his arm was tight. He rubbed at it, flexing his arm.

"Heard me what?" Brenna asked.

She had her laptop open in front of her, eyes on the screen, her hands around a pewter mug. Sam could smell the coffee. He hated that smell now. He didn't think he'd ever be able to smell coffee and not think of seeing his father, lying so still on the floor of the hospital room. It was the last thing John has said to him, the last thing he'd asked of him. Coffee.

"Talking with Dean earlier," Sam said. He could hear music playing softly from behind them on the counter. It sounded like Zeppelin's Over the Hills and Far Away.

"I know," she flicked her eyes up at him. "I could tell by the way you talked to him."

"You like Zeppelin?" he asked, surprised.

"Yeah," she nodded.

"I swear Dean's worn out about ten of their cassette tapes," Sam mused.

Brenna smiled. "I always have to have music playing," she said. "I hear too much when it's quiet."

"He doesn't trust me," Sam said suddenly, leaning over and putting his head in his left hand, resting his cast on the table. He traced a figure eight on the wood table with the index finger of his right hand. He heard Brenna sigh, heard the click of the laptop screen as it closed.

"Sam," she said. He didn't look at her. "Look at me."

Keeping his head down, he raised his eyes to look at her through his lashes.

"Jesus, you look twelve years old when you pout," she said in a soft voice.

He pulled his brows together. "I'm not pouting."

"Bullshit," she raised an eyebrow. He lifted his head, cocking it to the side, challenging her.

"Sam, don't pay attention to what I was saying to Dean," she said, shaking her head.

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"Because I didn't get the whole picture," she rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I just got snatches… and I was trying to get a rise out of him. Get him angry enough to tell me something."

"You weren't making it up, though," he said, still looking at her through his lashes. "You said he was hiding something…"

"I also said he was protecting something," she countered dropping her chin and meeting his shadowed stare. "He is afraid of something, Sam. I don't know what it is. But I don't think it's you…"

"You don't think?"

"Well, he pushed me out before I could see much else."

"What do you mean, pushed you out? He was unconscious."

"Yeah, well," she rolled her neck rubbing at the back of her head, flipping out her wild curls. "He's damn strong, your brother."

Sam looked down. "He's had to be," he muttered.

"What the hell happened to you guys?"

"It's a long story," Sam said, his heart clutching at the thought of recounting what they'd been through. "Besides, we're not here to talk about us. We're here to help you. Help Declan."

"Sam," she said softly. "Don't push me away. Tell me whatever it is that's happened hasn't changed you that much."

At that he straightened up, looking at her. "What do you mean?"

"Something has… has touched you," she said, her eyes sad. "Something that is… gutting Dean."

Sam felt his chin tremble. He opened his mouth, but closed it again. He didn't know what to say. He wanted her to know, but he didn't want to have to tell her. He glanced to the shadowed room where he could see Dean sleeping, head canted to the side, one arm across his chest, face pulled into a frown. He swallowed and looked back at Brenna.

"It's… it's a lot," he warned her, hoping she understood what he was asking her to do.

She licked her lips and nodded, reaching for his hand. He knew she would be seeing it through his eyes, but something told him just her knowing would somehow help them. Help Dean. And he knew that there was no way Dean would ever offer her this information willingly. He barely spoke about it with Sam.

When Brenna wrapped her slim fingers around his hand, he looked at her, pulling back slightly at the sight of her predatory eyes. He felt that same sensation of the air being sucked from the room, and suddenly memories of the events that sent their lives spiraling out of control replaced Brenna's face.

As he witnessed the events that had shaped their survival over the last few months, he saw one constant thread amidst the agony of losing his father, surviving his visions, fearing his future: Dean. Dean fighting, Dean hurting, Dean holding him, Dean saving him, Dean teasing him, Dean begging him…

When Brenna released his hand, Sam was trembling. He blinked rapidly, surprised to feel wetness on his cheeks. He couldn't quite catch his breath. He lifted his left hand and wiped away the tears that had left a salty trail, watching Brenna do the same.

"Oh," she said, sitting back.

"I told you it was a lot," Sam whispered with a shaky smile.

She just nodded, then got up and went over to the kitchen counter. Since I've Been Loving You was playing. She turned the music up, standing directly in front of the speakers, and leaned her forehead against the cabinet above a set of wine glasses that hung by their stems.

"Brenna –"

"I just need a minute, Sam," she said softly.

He sat, looking at the table, waiting quietly. Next to her laptop he saw a worn, brown accordion file held together with a frayed piece of bailing twine. Cocking his head to the side he reached over for it, pulling it to him. Glancing up at Brenna he saw her back was still facing him. Sam knew he should ask before prying, but over a year on the road with Dean as his constant companion had affected his code of ethics a bit.

He opened the file, pulling out the papers and glancing at each of them quickly before retrieving the next. It looked like a series of lists. Lists of names, lists of locations... One looked to be a list of horses and breeding patterns, another was a tally sheet of funds. Then he pulled out a list that caught his attention and his breath in one glance.

"Holy shit," he breathed.

"What?" Brenna turned and approached the table. "What are you doing, Sam?"

"I know what this is for," Sam breathed, not looking away from the list in his hand.

"Tell me," Brenna's voice was suddenly hard. He looked up at her. She was standing behind the chair she'd recently vacated, gripping the back until her knuckles turned white.

Sam swallowed. "These are ingredients for a summoning spell. A pretty powerful one."

"How do you know that?"

"'Cause our Dad used one," said Dean from the doorway of the bedroom.

Sam jumped and crumpled the paper in his hand. He mirrored Brenna's rapid head turn.

"Dammit, Dean," Sam cried out. "You scared the shit outta me."

"That's right, isn't it?" Dean was leaning on the door jam, one hand wrapped around his middle, his eyes cloudy with sleep and narrowed in pain. He was looking at Sam with an unreadable expression.

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "What are you doing up?"

"I always wondered how he got that stuff into the hospital," Dean said, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Didn't figure on it being you, though."

"He said it was for protection," Sam protested. "I didn't know until I got to Bobby's."

"But you brought it anyway," Dean said, not looking up, not raising his voice above a murmur.

Sam didn't know where Dean was going with this. He was still dizzy from the memories Brenna had pulled from him. "Yeah," he whispered, licking his lips. "Yeah, I brought it."

"But… you were pissed at him, weren't you, Sammy?" Dean seemed to be looking for confirmation of a memory that Sam knew he couldn't have had. Dean hadn't been there. He'd been down the hall, two minutes from flat-lining.

Sam cocked his head to the side, watching Dean stare at the floor, trying to read the expression on his face. "Yeah, man, I was pissed at him. I thought he was planning to take on the demon…"

"Stupid, macho showdown…" Dean muttered, his eyebrows pulled together. He reached up with his free hand and rubbed at the back of his head, furrows of confusion on his face.

"What did you just say?" Sam had felt his heart skip a beat at Dean's words.

He clearly remembered yelling those words to John. He remembered the fight. He remembered wondering how far it would go this time without Dean there to intervene. And he remembered the glass, flying off of John's tray, shattering.

"What?" Dean looked up, his eyes cloudy.

"What did you just say, Dean?"

Dean shook his head, blinking. "Nothin'… I think I was… I don't know. Dreaming. Or something." He looked over at Brenna, then back at Sam. "What are you guys doing, anyway? Why didn't you come wake me up?"

Sam glanced at the clock in the kitchen. "It's barely been an hour, Dean. I said I'd come back in four."

"Oh," Dean moved further into the room, pulled out a chair, and dropped into it. "Well, what have we got?"

"Go back and rest, Dean," Brenna spoke up, her hands closing over the accordion file and pulling it away from Sam, closer to her.

"I'm fine," Dean shook his head and reached for the papers stacked next to Sam.

"You need –"

"I said I'm fine," he snapped at her.

"It's not like we're going to leave you here, Dean," Brenna said quietly.

Sam shot surprised eyes in her direction, then looked back at his brother. Dean lifted his green eyes to meet hers, his gaze direct, unflinching. Sam watched as a silent battle of wills took place in front of him. Brenna's eyes remained her own unique shade of green-gold, but she stared back at Dean with an intensity that would have shaken Sam. Dean didn't look away. He didn't blink. He waited, his expression seeming to say I can do this all day

To Sam's surprise, Brenna blinked first, looking away. Dean nodded and sat back. She shook her head, pulling her bottom lip in and chewing on it.

"You guys just need to do it and get it over with," Sam muttered, looking down.

"Who says we haven't?" they asked in unison, both looking at Sam.

Sam's eyes shot up to Dean first, then back to Brenna. Their unapologetic stares caught him by surprise. He looked back to Dean who grinned at him.

"Take it easy, Sam," he said, reaching over to clap a hand on his arm. "We're here to do a job, right?"

"Uh," Sam's mouth was dry. "Right."

"What else you got there?"

Brenna sighed, then shoved the accordion file at Dean.

"I found this when I got here," she said. "I was… away," she shifted her eyes from Dean to the file and kept them there. "I'd left this place behind not long after I saw you guys in New Orleans. Long story," she glanced briefly up at Sam, who offered her a rueful smile. "Couple of nights ago, I heard Declan call to me…"

"Wait, what?" Dean interrupted. "You mean, he didn't, like, call you call you?"

"No," she shook her head. "Since… since I was able to, um, connect you and Sam that day in New Orleans, I've been practicing."

"Practicing what?" Dean looked wary.

"I don't know… my abilities. Whatever druid thing I inherited," she looked at Dean and Sam saw the challenge there. Dean closed his eyes, resting his head in his hand like it was suddenly too heavy to balance on his neck. He waved his fingers at her, asking silently for her to continue.

"Anyway, I heard him – like I heard you in the bar," she looked at Dean.

Sam looked at Dean. "Huh?"

Dean lifted a shoulder, silent.

"She heard you? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know," Dean grumbled. "I couldn't get you to look at me, Sam," Dean said softly.

"You try talking?" Sam was angry. He couldn't figure out exactly why, but the idea that Dean had called to Brenna – silently or otherwise – and not to Sam… coupled with the fact that she'd heard him… bothered Sam more than he wanted to admit.

Dean rolled his head on his hand to look at Sam. "I did try, but… Look. I think we're missing the point here," he looked back at Brenna. "Which is…"

"Which is," she echoed. "That I knew he was in trouble. Like real trouble."

"As opposed to the fake kind?"

Sam shot Dean an irritated glance, intending to hush him, but stopped himself when he saw that his brother once again looked pale, drawn. He was holding his head up in his hands and Sam was convinced that if it weren't for that, it would be resting on the table. The smartass comments seemed to be his only line of defense against the exhaustion and pain that were obviously threatening to overtake him. Sam didn't know what was keeping Dean going other than sheer will.

"Well, he's been… betting, apparently," Brenna sighed, pulling some of the papers from the accordion file.

"You do all this?" Sam asked.

"No, actually," she chuckled mirthlessly. "Declan did. He may be an idiot, but he's an organized idiot, I'll give him that. He's been going to the tracks, from what I can tell. And losing."

"The tracks?" Dean asked.

"Horses," Sam clarified.

"Oh."

Sam pulled some of the other papers toward him, looking through them. He watched Dean out of the corner of his eyes. Dean held very still except for the ring finger on his right hand which was tapping out a rhythm with a measured patience. As Sam rifled through the papers from the file, looking for something to help them find Declan and what the old man had gotten himself into, he suddenly realized that Dean was tapping in time with Stairway to Heaven. He wondered briefly if Brenna knew about Dean's method of dealing with pain, and if she'd chosen Zeppelin on purpose.

"Eamon said that Declan owed someone bigger than him," Sam muttered. "Which means nothing really, since we don't know who Eamon even is."

"I do," Brenna said. Sam lifted his eyes to her face, noticing how still she'd suddenly become. "He's part of the IRA in the states. He, um, helps supply them, I guess."

"IRA?"

"Irish Repub—"

"I know what it is, Sam," Dean cut him off. "I meant… how the hell does Declan find the IRA in Blackroot?"

Brenna didn't look at him. She simply smiled sadly, her fingers rubbing the edges of a piece of paper. "You'd be surprised what you can find if you look under enough rocks. My Da… he lived in a rock garden most of his life."

Sam remained silent, realizing, not for the first time, how little they actually knew about Brenna or her family. Other than her druid ancestry, which had come to light only when the truth of the banshee had been revealed, they knew only that she'd been raised by her grandfather and ran the bar/motel with him. Until recently.

In the silence, Zeppelin wailed in the background.

And if you listen very hard, the tune will come to you at last, when all are one and one is all, to be a rock and not to roll.

"What is it?" Dean asked her in a gentle voice when she didn't continue. Sam had only heard him use that voice with one other person: him.

"This… summoning spell," Brenna lifted her eyes to Sam. "What does it do? Besides the obvious, I mean."

"Well," Sam sighed, picking that paper up again, looking at the familiar words. "Basically, whoever, or… um, whatever, they want will appear when the spell is completed." He looked over at Dean. "Eamon said that the spirit was a double-edged sword…"

Dean nodded, his finger continuing to beat out a Morse code on the worn table top. "He also said that they wanted to be paid back…"

Sam sat back and looked at his brother without really seeing him, his eyes inward, searching the database of his mind. "What kind of spirit could possibly help Declan repay a debt?"

Dean shook his head, rubbing his forehead in obvious pain. Sam winced in sympathy. He opened his mouth to ask Dean if he was okay, when Dean dropped his hand and straightened, picking up another list from the top of the pile next to Sam. Sam saw him frown at it. Dean turned it quickly to look at the back and Sam caught sight of the front sheet. It was in Gaelic. He reached across the table and handed it to Brenna.

"What does this say?"

She looked at it, her confusion evident. "It's a list of… endearments, I think. Pulse of my heart, my love, my soul… wait… this is odd."

"What?" Sam leaned forward.

"Says, hanamacha goid."

"Oh, well, that is odd," Dean said, sarcasm evident in his voice.

She ignored him. "Literally that means steal soul. I have no idea –"

"Holy shit," Sam breathed. He sat back, blinking. "Soul-stealer."

He suddenly looked at Dean as Dean lifted his head and met Sam's eyes. "Wraith," they said together.

"Um…what?" Brenna chimed in.

"Sam, where's Dad's journal?"

"Your duffel," Sam answered. He started to rise.

"I'll get it," Dean said, pushing himself to his feet. Sam found himself holding his breath, expecting Dean to topple over the moment he was upright. To his relief, Dean made it from the table to the duffel and back without falling over. Once seated again, he handed the journal to Sam. Sam pulled his eyebrows together in a question.

"Too hard to focus," Dean muttered, carefully rubbing at his temple, near the cut, his silver ring catching the dull light from the lamp above.

"'K," Sam said, watching Dean with narrowed eyes.

Dean's eyes were on the table, his breathing slightly rapid, his fingers tapping the rhythm to Heartbreaker as the song played softly in the background. Sam flipped the journal open to the page he wanted. Since John's death he'd read the journal so many times he practically had it memorized. He knew right where he wanted to look. Pulling his eyes from Dean's face, he found the passage in the journal he was looking for.

"Wraiths are spirit-like creatures that must be summoned or banished. They act as a guardian over a person or a thing. Only by summoning the wraith can you find the item, and only by banishing the wraith can you retrieve it."

"How does a wraith get attached to the person or thing?" Brenna asked.

Sam lifted a shoulder. "Curse, spell, something like that."

"So… why is it called a soul-stealer?" she asked, her jaw tight, her eyes on Sam.

Sam sighed. "Because that's how it kills. It… sucks out your life force. Your will to live. It's not the only spirit or witch that does that, but it's the most vicious."

"Why? What do you mean?" Brenna asked, her voice wary.

"It…" Sam paused, looked at Dean, at the journal, then back at Brenna. "It purposefully causes pain as it kills. Others just suck out your soul to feed and then discard you. The wraith…"

"Intends to cause pain," she finished.

Sam nodded.

"Sam," Dean said suddenly. "Tell me there's a banishing spell somewhere in there."

Sam knew the answer, but looked through the pages of the journal John had dedicated to wraiths anyway. "No, man."

"That seem weird to you?" Dean tilted his head.

Sam shrugged. "We ever have to hunt one before?"

"Not that I remember. But… I just find it hard to believe that Dad didn't…"

Dean stopped and Sam felt the echoing pang from what Dean didn't say. He missed John all the time, but it was times like these when he really felt his absence. He closed the journal and began to rifle through the papers on the table. Declan had written most of his lists in English, but some were in Gaelic, and some a mixture of the two. Sam looked through each page carefully, handing them to Brenna when he didn't understand. He shifted his eyes periodically to Dean.

Dean didn't look at either of them. He seemed to be trying to stare a hole through the wooden table. Sam was waiting for him to give in, to just admit to the pain he was in. Sam knew Dean was hanging on by his fingertips. He could tell just by the way he held his shoulders, by the infrequent banter, by the simple not Dean way he was acting.

He started to say something to Dean about going to rest when Brenna spoke up.

"Huh," she looked up at Dean, saw that he hadn't raised his head, frowned, then looked over at Sam. "You ever hear of the Ardagh?"

Sam shook his head.

"It's a chalice… like the Celtic Holy Grail. Supposed to be made of pure gold and be adorned with, um… emeralds, I think. At least according to this." She held up a paper.

"Oh, you gotta be kiddin' me," Dean spoke up, lifting his head. "That's what they're after?"

"Looks like," Brenna nodded, not looking at Dean.

"Friggin' Ireland Jones," Dean muttered.

Sam sat back. "So… Declan summons the wraith. He had the right ingredients. He had to have taken the summoning and banishing spells with him, wherever he went."

"Sam," Dean was shaking his head. "He called Dad two days ago."

"And I, uh, heard him about that same time," Brenna said, sounding unsure as she spoke it if they believed her.

"If he didn't do it just right," Dean said, looking at Sam. "What did his message say?"

"Something about bringing something back… he set it loose, Dean."

"Set it loose, and called Dad for help. But… what I don't get is where is he now? He called Dad, knew he screwed up the spell…" Dean frowned at the table. "I mean, he had to know those guys would come looking for him."

"And… why wouldn't he want us to come?" Sam wondered.

"What?" Brenna asked.

"His message to Dad… he said whatever Dad did to not let us come."

"So of course the first thing you did was head this way," Brenna muttered, shaking her head.

"Well, what did you expect us to do?" Dean snapped at her. Sam looked at his brother, surprised by the emotion he heard in that sentence. "I know you know Dad's… gone."

"I know," she said, staring back at him. "But there had to have been a reason Declan said that… maybe you should have listened."

Sam looked back at Brenna. Her voice increased in volume as she spoke, and her eyes were hot. She was matching Dean angry glare for angry glare. Sam held his breath.

"Right," Dean scoffed. "A reason. From the same crazy Irishman who lied to everyone – even you – about the banshee and almost got us all killed."

"He had a reason for that, too, Dean!"

"I don't get why you're defending him."

"Because he's my family!"

"It isn't like he's given one thought to protecting you!"

"He didn't even know I was here, Dean. What do you want from me?"

"How 'bout a little honesty, huh?" Dean yelled. His whole body was tense, his hands fisted, his eyes snapping as they stared at Brenna. "Declan screwed up! He made a deal with some dangerous men, and managed to put you in danger again."

Brenna stood up, shoving her chair back from the table. "So, what, Dean? I'm supposed to just leave him to his own fate? Is that right?"

"Maybe!" Dean stood as well, leaning on the table. Sam watched, surprised at the tremble he saw in Dean's chin, the jump of the muscle in his cheek. "Maybe you should let him figure this out for himself. Maybe that's why he didn't want us to come – because he knew you'd get involved. Maybe he's trying to keep you safe."

"A minute ago he's letting me walk blindfolded into the lion's den, and now he's martyring himself to keep me safe?" Brenna's face was red and her hands were fisted at her sides.

Sam looked from her to his brother, waiting for Dean's logic to get him out of this word trap.

"Oh, hell, Brenna, I don't know," Dean said, his voice an octave lower. He scratched the back of his head, then rubbed his mouth. He took a step away from the table, turning toward the wall behind him, resting a hand on it, his arm bracing the rest of his body.

"That's what you think, isn't it?" she said softly, her head tilting to the side.

Sam registered the change in her tone. He held very still, realizing that they'd forgotten about him. He thought about what she'd said earlier; he wanted to see what she got out of Dean.

"What?" Dean snapped, turning from the wall.

"You think if you and Sam hadn't gone after John… that if you'd stayed at Bobby's with the Colt… that Sam would have been spared. The demon wouldn't have found him… and you wouldn't be faced with –"

"Don't," Dean interrupted. "Don't say it."

Brenna was speaking slowly, as if she wasn't aware she was talking out loud. "He told you to stay… he told you not to come and you did anyway. You saved your Dad, and… you think…"

"Stop," Dean said in a low voice. "Just… stop."

"Dean?" Sam whispered.

He felt like Brenna had scooped his lungs from his chest with her words. Dean looked at him and for a moment Sam saw his brother's heart in his eyes – raw, bleeding, barely beating. Then as he'd managed to do so many times over the last months, Dean emptied his eyes of all emotion until they were simply mirrors of green in his tense features.

"Dean," Brenna said, drawing his attention to her. "I have to find him. I don't know if I can save him… but I have to find him."

Sam watched Dean release his breath and with it the trembling anger that had seemed to overshadow his logical thought. He didn't know what to do with what he'd just heard. He didn't know what Brenna meant by his being spared. Dean had been on a mission that day. Nothing could have stopped him from getting their Dad back… He said I had to save you…

Sam had no idea what do to next. He simply stared at his brother. He wanted Dean to look back at him. He needed the balance, the reassurance of Dean's eyes. The look that said as long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you. He believed those words. And he suddenly needed Dean to say them again.

Dean blinked and nodded once as though coming to a conclusion. Sam watched with his heart in his throat as Dean swayed suddenly, reaching out blindly for the back of the chair.

"Hey," Brenna started, stepping forward.

"I'm okay," Dean pushed her away with his words. "I'm fine."

He sat down slowly. Sam stared at him. He was prepared to stare until his eyes dried up and fell from his head if that's what it took for Dean to look back at him. He couldn't seem to draw in a complete breath. Dean… please…

As though he'd managed to tap into Brenna's perceptive powers, Dean raised his eyes to meet Sam's. This time they weren't exactly empty; Sam saw himself reflecting back at him. Dean's heart had been pushed back down deep behind his internal wall. He offered Sam a tip of his chin, causing Sam to mimic him. Brenna dropped back into her chair.

"Any idea where we start to look?" Dean asked him.

Sam swallowed a sigh, almost afraid to look away from him. Two weeks ago, all he could think about was leaving Dean – getting away, finding out what The Demon had in store for him, finding the other children like him. He'd been convinced that he needed to do that without Dean; it was his destiny. He was the only one that could change it. But the minute he'd gotten in over his head, he'd called Dean.

"Uh," Sam started to rifle blindly through the papers in front of him. He was having trouble thinking. He couldn't get the image of Dean tied to the chair, being held by knifepoint as bait out of his head. He flicked a couple of papers off to the side.

"I, uh…"

Dean had found him. When Sam needed him, Dean had found him. Dean had saved him. Saved Ava. He said I might have to kill you, Sammy…

"Sam," Dean's voice was low, steady. "Sammy, look at me."

Sam lifted his eyes. He met Dean's look and suddenly he could breathe again. His world balanced.

"We're okay," Dean said. "You get me?"

Sam nodded. Suddenly he realized what he had to do. He reached for Brenna's laptop. "Brenna, does Declan's phone have a GPS?"

When she didn't answer, he looked up. She was staring at a piece of paper.

"What?" Dean asked.

"This is a list of names," Brenna said, her voice paper-thin. "Names and amounts. I-I think it's the people Declan owes."

"Okay…" Sam prompted.

"There's a name here… Jack Collins. He's the… the big man. The one Declan owes that's more powerful than Eamon."

"How do you know this?" Sam asked.

"Because… when I was a kid, he saved my life."

Dean's eyebrows went up, and Sam sat back. Brenna didn't elaborate, just stared at the paper.

"Brenna?" Dean said softly.

She lifted her head. As she looked at them, Sam saw her pupils widen, the colored irises stretching until her large eyes were once again those of a bird's. Her hand began to shake and her jaw clenched. Without warning, the wine glasses in the kitchen shattered.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean exclaimed, ducking instinctively.

Sam immediately realized why the broken bottles in the bar had been such a puzzle. It appeared that they'd been hit by something, but the unblemished mirror confused him. Now he knew… it had been Brenna.

"Brenna," Sam said, trying for a soothing tone. "I don't get it…"

She blinked, her predatory gaze unnerving. "He saved my life," she repeated, her voice trembling. "After he killed my parents."

Dean stared at her a moment, his fingers slowly curling into a fist. He suddenly stood, stepping away from the table and walking with a resolute stride into the bedroom, returning with their bag of weapons. He dropped it on the table with a jarring thud. Sam looked up at Dean, surprised. It was as though Brenna's words had triggered something inside of his brother.

Dean's color was back, his green eyes dark. If Sam couldn't see the darkening bruise on his brother's cheekbone and the stitches on the side of his head… if he didn't know that his brother hadn't slept more than four hours in the last seventy-two… if he hadn't watched that whiskey bottle shatter, hadn't watched Dean fall to his knees… he would never know anything was wrong with him. His brother's mask was firmly in place. His jaw was set, his hands steady.

"Dean, what are you –"

"You track that phone, Sam," he said. "You find where he is."

Sam's fingers were already flying over the keyboard. "What are you going to do?"

Dean pulled out one of their shotguns, ejected the spent shells, checked the triggers, and broke the barrel so that he could look down the empty chambers.

"I'm going to kick some ass."