Rating: PG-13


Chapter 4

Ruin and recovery are both from within. - Epictetus

The first thing Sam noticed was the darkness. It took a moment for him to realize that his eyes were open. The next thing he noticed was the dull ache in his shoulder. Grimacing, he slowly rolled to his left side. God, he was sore.

"Dean?"

Silence was his only answer. He was strangely surprised. Every time in the past when he'd been sick or injured, it was all he could do to keep Dean away. Dean would always be closer than his shadow until he was convinced that Sam wasn't going to collapse or disappear. Shifting, he winced against the pull at his shoulder.

"Dean?" he called again, wanting to make sure… wanting Dean there… confused why he wasn't…

He pulled his eyebrows together, trying to focus on the bed across the way, thinking maybe Dean had finally given in to exhaustion, had finally allowed his body to rest. He saw the dim outline of the pile of shop towels and engine parts. No Dean.

Groaning, he started to push himself into a sitting position. His shoulder burned with an oddly familiar pain. Stitches had always bothered Sam more than the actual wound, it seemed. As he slowly leveraged his body upright, he noticed the paper crumpled in his left hand. He cradled his right arm in his lap and worked to open the paper with one hand. He could see something was written on it, but it was too dark to make out the words. He sat for a moment on the edge of the bed, gathering his balance.

He realized quickly that he was shirtless – surmising that either Brenna or Dean had removed it to get to his wound. His stomach rolled sickening as he remembered the thrust of power from the wraith, the strange, weightless sensation of flying through the open doorway, and the blinding, teeth-numbing pain of the fence stabbing through the top part of his shoulder and halting his motion. He shivered slightly from the memory and the pain it renewed in his arm.

He craned his neck to look at the bandage that had been wrapped around the top of his shoulder. It was still clean and white – if his wound was bleeding, it hadn't yet seeped through to the surface. He felt slightly weak, definitely sore, but somehow also rested. He knew that it was thanks to Brenna's bitter-tasting beverage. The same one, he suspected, that she had administered to Dean when he was recovering from the banshee's attack.

Easing himself carefully to his feet, he fumbled a bit in the dark until he found a light switch on the wall. Turning it on, his eyes sought out his duffel of clothes. Being careful not to move his shoulder too much, he set the note on the bed and reached into the duffel with his left hand to retrieve a shirt. He was tempted to wait until Dean came back to get help putting it on.

His memory flashed to the almost angry look in Dean's eyes when his brother had found him. He knew that anger was at the situation, at not having prevented Sam from getting hurt. An almost childlike need for his brother's presence hit him like a punch to the gut. Just knowing Dean was around steadied Sam. He vividly recalled his complete relief when he'd asked in the quiet of the hospital room if Dean were there and the Ouija board planchette pointed to yes.

Suddenly he remembered telling Dean to go after Brenna. Insisting that he go find her. She'd been so…vacant before they'd been attacked by the wraith. Like something inside of her had shut down. The only person Sam had ever seen get under her skin had been Dean, and other than himself, the only person he'd ever see Dean open up to was Brenna. Not that she gave him much of a choice…

Thinking that Dean could potentially be awhile, he carefully shrugged into a long-sleeved shirt, slowly buttoning it up. Holding his arm stiffly at his side, he grabbed the note and went into the kitchen to find some aspirin. He flicked on the kitchen light and saw that the bottle was sitting on the counter where Brenna had left it after handing some to Dean just before they'd left for the stone church. He popped three into his mouth and ducked his head under the faucet to swallow some water.

Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he grabbed the note. It was Dean's handwriting. He frowned.

Sammy

You know I'll always watch out for you. But I gotta do this. I gotta bring him back for her and get rid of this thing. Before it hurts you again. Before it hurts anyone else. I'll be back. I promise.

Dean

"Goddammit, Dean," he roared. Crumpling the paper in his fist, he stormed out of the house. He saw immediately that the Impala was missing from its parking space in front of the bar. A light from the garage caught his eye and he turned to head in that direction instead.

"Always thinking you have to fix it," Sam grumbled to himself as he approached the garage. "Can't wait for help, can't let anyone help you…"

The garage looked like it had been ground zero for a nuclear explosion. The only thing not on the floor or in pieces was the Grande National. His eyes scanned the room, looking for evidence of his brother or Brenna. If Dean had taken her with him and left Sam behind he was seriously going to kick someone's ass.

"Brenna!" Sam bellowed. He heard a thump and a muffled curse coming from the back of the Grande National. He turned and grabbed the handle, yanking the back door open.

Brenna was sitting up, the coat that had been covering her sliding off of her shoulders. Her face was puffy from sleep, and she was rubbing the top of her head. Sam saw a half-empty bottle of tequila on the floor of the car. He raised an eyebrow.

"Sam? Wha-"

"Let's go," Sam said, in no mood for a witch with a hangover.

"What? Go where?"

"After Dean," he said. "Are you still drunk?"

She shoved her hands through her hair, pushing it away from her face and tucking it behind her ears. "I never got there in the first place," she pouted.

"Well good," Sam grumbled. "Get out of there. We have to go get him."

Brenna pushed the coat off of her and scooted out of the back seat. He blinked. She had what looked like a bruise on her bottom lip and she was pulling her torn blouse together with one hand to shield herself from Sam's eyes.

"What happened to you?" he asked, suddenly angry and afraid he'd been out longer than he thought. Had Eamon and his boys returned?

"Nothing," she snapped, then pushed past him to head toward the house.

"Brenna," Sam called after her, following her swift stride as she slammed through the door and headed to her room. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Sam," she called back over her shoulder.

He stopped outside of her room, pacing the narrow space of the hall while she changed her clothes. She emerged a few minutes later wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and a different pair of jeans. She was hopping, pulling the jean cuffs down over her brown boots.

"What makes you think Dean wants us to go get him?" she dropped her booted foot and straightened, her eyes shifting quickly to his shoulder, then back to his face.

"I don't give a damn if wants us to or not. We're going," Sam said, turning from her and heading back down the stairs and to the kitchen where Dean had left the duffel with what remained of their weapons.

"Maybe he just needs to be alone, Sam," Brenna continued as she followed him. "He's… he's been through a lot lately."

Sam whirled on her. "Don't you think I know that?" he yelled. "I've been watching him disintegrate in front of me for the past two months."

He reached into the duffel and grabbed his pistol, forgetting for a moment that he had a series of stitches in his right shoulder. It throbbed once, hard, and he gasped, closing his eyes as the world tilted around him. He grabbed the edge of the table for balance.

"You okay?" Brenna asked. He opened his eyes to see her reach for him.

No I'm not okay… my brother is out there alone fighting off an evil that he wouldn't let me face on my own… and I know he's hurting… and I'm scared to death that I'm going to lose him…

"I'm fine," Sam snapped, trying the phrase on for size. Brenna dropped her hand and narrowed her eyes. "Listen," Sam continued. "He went back to the church."

"What?" her eyes widened. "Why didn't you say so in the first place?"

"Because I just need you to trust me on this without twenty minutes of exposition!" Sam yelled, slamming the pistol down on the table and reaching back into the bag. The only useful weapon left inside was Dean's knife. And that would only come in handy if they ran into the human monsters while taking out the spirit…

"He went back to the church is hardly exposition, Sam," Brenna yelled, reaching into a kitchen drawer and retrieving her Glock. She checked the load and flicked the safety on. "Dammit, I probably pushed him to do it…" she muttered.

"What was that?" Sam asked, shoving his pistol into his back waistband.

"He came to check on me…" Brenna said, leading the way to the door. They went outside and to the garage. "I was angry. Things…got a little out of hand."

Sam followed her, frowning. Dean rarely let things get out of hand. Especially with women. Sam may not know much about his brother's love life, but he did know that when it came to women, for Dean, it was all about control. "Is that how your lip got bruised?"

"Yes," she said, opening the driver's side door of the Grande National and climbing in without looking at him or giving him the option to drive. He moved to the passenger side, so accustomed to Dean driving that he didn't really think about it.

Pulling the pistol from his waistband and sliding it under the front of the seat in an automatic movement, Sam slid into the car, still frowning. "Dean… hit you?"

Brenna shot him an incredulous look. "Hell, no!" she said, bending forward and shoving her keys into the ignition. "Jesus, Sam, sometimes I wonder if you know him at all."

Sam clenched his jaw, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

"Let's get something straight," he said to her as she pulled away from the garage. His voice was low and he held his anger close to him. "I know my brother better than anyone. I know that he can be an ass, I know that he is insanely loyal, and I know he would die for me without giving it a second thought."

"Well, we agree there," she muttered.

"I know that he cares about you," Sam said, his eyes tracking from the road in front of them to Brenna's profile. "But… just because you can see things doesn't mean you know him."

Brenna blinked. He watched as she lifted her chin and curled her fingers around the steering wheel in a tighter grip. He didn't know why the idea that Brenna might know more about his brother than he did bothered him to such an extent, other than the fact that he'd been trying unsuccessfully to get Dean to open up to him for months now. Every time Sam caught a glimpse behind the wall, he seemed to freeze or be incapable of handling the burden his brother bore every day. He said that I might have to kill you, Sammy…

"Fair enough," she said softly. "I, uh… I used him. Not that he wasn't willing, but I pushed him on purpose so that I could… feel something other than…" her voice caught.

Sam softened. "I got it," he said.

"Why would he go by himself?" she wondered as they continued to barrel down the dark road, the Grande National's headlights their only guide to a safe path.

"To keep me out of it," Sam said. "To keep me safe."

"Which is, of course, why we're heading there after him," she said.

"Exactly," Sam ignored her sarcasm. "Dean may be willing to die for me, but I… I need him to..." He rubbed his face with his left hand. "I… just need him."

The dull ache in his arm was beginning to recede thanks to the aspirin, but he ached in places aspirin wouldn't reach. He had ached for months… since the cabin… since walking in and seeing Dean hold the Colt on their Dad…

"How long ago did he leave?" Brenna asked.

Sam looked over at her. "I was hoping you could tell me that." He glanced at the radio dial. It read 2:23. Very, very a.m. "What time was it when you…"

"Around eleven I think," she answered and he saw her eyes shift to the clock read-out.

Sam's gut clenched. "Drive faster."

www

"Smart, Winchester, real smart," Dean grumbled, slamming the trunk of the Impala closed. He'd been so focused on getting that damn note to Sam that he hadn't thought to check their flashlights. The batteries were dead in both. "Hard enough to see as it is…" he grumbled, digging into the pocket of his cargo jacket for a lighter. He'd lost his Zippo in Texas when they set old Mordecai Murdock's hell house on fire. Since then, he'd had to settle for a Bic.

He glanced at his watch before he started inside. There was just enough light to see the white hands on his watch face. Midnight. The witching hour.

"No problem, just get in, get the banishing spell, get Declan, get out," he muttered, approaching the door. "And now I'm talking to myself…"

Out of desperation or greed, Dean wasn't sure which, Declan had been compelled to unleash a power that could spell ruin for those the old man had loved... for those Dean loved. Dean's only advantage was that the wraith was tied to the object it protected. An object that was apparently important enough to Jack Collins's group that they were willing to risk the awakening of a wraith to get it... Dean moved quietly into the sanctuary, the starlight outside offering no solace inside the stone building. He flicked his lighter on, holding it high to see his way clear through the rotting pews to the altar in the back. Flanking the burnished cross on the altar were two brass urns filled with some sort of liquid. Dean looked up, expecting to see holes in the wooden roof. As he did so, his eyes caught on two candelabras fixed to the wall on either side of the altar; one was empty, the other had two candles still in it.

"Yahtzee," he commented, setting his shotgun down and grasping one of the candles.

He lit it, put his lighter back into his pocket, and shifted the candle to his left hand, picking up the shotgun with his right. He made his way carefully through the back preparation room, down the stairs, and started down the hall that led to the crypt room.

His steps echoed eerily off the stone floor. It sometimes surprised him that even after all the evil they'd hunted, all the spooks they'd killed, he could still get creeped out by the dark. Sometimes the possibility of fear was worse than the reality. He made his way to the crypt room and stepped through the door.

The smell of death was just as potent as it had been that afternoon. He knew that he would get used to it in a moment, but he had to put the back of his hand over his mouth and breathe shallowly. He instead smelled the gun oil and rock salt in the shotgun gripped in his hand. He made his way to Declan, walking around to stand next to the body.

"Hey old man," he whispered. "Sorry… we didn't get here in time."

He wondered briefly if John had gotten that message how differently this whole situation would have turned out. He wondered if John would have heeded Declan's plea to not send Dean and Sam. He still wondered why, other than guilt for what Declan had put them through during their last encounter, Declan had said not to send them.

Dean crouched down, setting the shotgun next to him. He held the candle high and began to search Declan's body for the banishing spell. He tucked into the inner pockets of Declan's coat, pulling out some track tickets, a folded racing form, and a picture of Brenna. Dean paused and looked at the picture. She couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen. It was summer, and she was wearing shorts and a pink and white-striped tank top. Her red-gold hair was hanging down her back and she was grinning impishly at the camera.

Dean smiled softly at the picture. A person can change a lot in fifteen years. But he could still see that smile in the adult face he'd studied, touched. He put the picture in the back pocket of his jeans and continued his search of Declan, rolling him over to reach his back pockets. As he did so, he realized the body had been lying on something. Holding the candle closer he saw what looked like a small gold cup, no bigger than a wine glass.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered in admiration. "You found it."

He glanced quickly around, completely expecting the wraith to be standing above him as it had before. He continued his frantic search of Declan's pockets and paused when he felt paper crumple under his hands. He reached into the pocket and pulled out two pieces of paper that matched the lists they'd been looking through earlier.

He looked at both. They were in Latin.

"Thank God it's not Gaelic," he muttered, holding the candle closer.

He made it half way down the page of the first paper before he realized that it was the summoning spell. He tossed it down. Setting the candle on the lower ledge of the cement crypt, he began reading the second paper aloud. He no sooner had gotten two words of the spell out when he felt a mighty pull on his torso, lifting him from his crouched position and throwing him back into the wall of urns with a bone-jarring force.

The impact shook him and he felt himself slide weakly to the floor. His vision swam and he blinked hard, shaking his head. He saw the wraith standing over the crypt, just above Declan and the Ardagh. And his shotgun.

Pulling in a breath, Dean started to scramble forward to reach his gun, but felt that pull again, this time stronger. The side of his head slammed into the stone wall and he cried out. The impact opened a cut on his cheek and bloodied his nose. He lay still for a moment, willing the world to slow its suddenly frenetic spin. He had to get that shotgun.

He took another moment to catch his breath, then lifted his head slowly to see the wraith standing where it had been before, looking down at the Ardagh. Bracing himself, Dean rolled from his huddle on the floor, over the top of the shotgun, and came up with the weapon in his hand. He didn't pause to aim, he just fired. Again, the wraith disappeared in silence.

Not wasting time, Dean grabbed the Ardagh and stuffed it into his coat pocket. He couldn't hold Declan, the gun, and the candle, so he set the candle on top of the crypt where it would give off the most light for the longest amount of time and hoped his memory would guide him out of there. He gripped the banishing spell in his teeth so that he could get to it in a hurry. Picking up the shotgun in his left hand, he rolled Declan to his back with his right and grabbed the front of the dead man's jacket. With a mighty heave, growling through the pain the exertion caused, he hefted the body over his shoulder.

The candle's waning light helped him navigate the stairs out of the crypt room, but when he got to the long hall, he was enveloped in darkness. He bounced off the opposite wall before he knew it was there. Pain sliced through his head, setting his world spinning and he almost went down to his knees. He shook his head, adjusting his grip on Declan's body. He kept his left arm out to his side, his shotgun gripped tightly, and used the rock wall to guide himself down the dark hall, passed the empty rooms and to the base of the stairs. When the toe of his boot thunked against the stone step, he almost whimpered in relief.

He was so close. Up the stairs, through the sanctuary, out the door, back to Sam. He started up the stairs, his legs heavy from exhaustion, his head thrumming with renewed pain. He was so tired. So tired… He just wanted to give in, to lie down and to let it all go, just this once…

My brother…he could die without me… The memory slammed into him so fast, he tripped on the stairs and Declan nearly slid from his shoulder. He gasped and blinked, afraid to actually be seeing something before his eyes instead of the inky blackness he should be seeing.

Maybe he will, maybe he won't… A woman with dark hair and gentle eyes was staring at him. Dean couldn't breathe. He tried to shake off the image, tried to force his body to move again. It's an honorable death…a warrior's death…

"Wha-" Dean's head was spinning. The paper with the banishing spell fell from his mouth. He couldn't see it in the blackness. "Get a grip, Dean," he muttered. He let Declan slide to the stone steps, and reached into his pocket for his lighter. Holding it aloft, he flicked it on, searching the dim stairwell for the spell. He found it and grabbed it with the same hand he held the shotgun.

Letting his lighter go out, he stuffed it back in his pocket and reached down for Declan's collar.

"Sorry, man," he muttered, tasting blood in his mouth. It was still free-flowing from his nose and the cut on his cheek. He turned away from Declan and spit, trying to rid his mouth of the coppery taste. He started back up the stairs, dragging Declan behind him, unable to summon the strength to once again lift the body over his shoulder.

The odd memory was haunting him. Who was that woman? Why was he thinking of her now? Was Sam in trouble? Maybe it wasn't a memory… maybe it was like one of Sam's visions… but he'd be damned if he let Sam die a warriors death, honorable or not. Sam was not going to die. Not if he had anything to say about it.

He reached the top of the stairs, stumbling when he tried to step up once more. He knew the door to the sanctuary was directly in front of the staircase. He stuck his gun hand out, reaching for the doorframe as he moved forward.

He breached the threshold, and paused for breath, and released Declan next to the altar. Feeling blindly along the wall, he found the candelabra and fumbled along the empty holders until he found the remaining candle. Leaning against the wall, he lit the candle and turned to grab Declan again.

The wraith stood in the doorway.

"Shit!" He fired blindly with his left hand and missed. The wraith moved forward, its pale, featureless face reflecting the wavering candlelight. Dean dropped the shotgun and started to back away, reading aloud from the banishing spell as he did.

This time the pull on him was almost as painful as the abrupt stop when he was slammed back into the altar. He felt something give in his chest; he couldn't breathe. He simply held onto the spell and the candle, amazed that the flame still flickered. The altar rocked with the force of his impact, then settled. The cross slid off the back and the liquid-filled urns toppled, spilling their contents across the stone floor.

Dean dragged in a breath, wheezing through more of the spell, picking up where he left off. He could barely hear his own voice, but he knew all that mattered was that the words were spoken aloud.

"Abyssus abyssum invocat," he whispered. "A posse ad esse…"

This time he didn't even get a chance to stand. The wraith advanced, lifting him from his huddled position beneath the altar and sent him across the sanctuary. He slammed into a pew with a cry of pain, knocking the time-worn bench backwards into another causing a deafening domino effect throughout the empty room. He felt blood running down the back of his head into his collar and a sharp pain stabbed his side with every wheezing breath. The candle flew from his grasp, falling into the pool of liquid spilled from the urns.

Rather than be extinguished, the flame ignited the liquid, spreading quickly across the stone floor and eating its way up the wooden altar and the rotting wooden pews. You gotta be kidding me, Dean thought, watching the fire quickly surround him. What the hell was that? Oil? Incense? He tried to push himself up, but his arms trembled violently and he collapsed back onto the cold stone. He blinked, trying desperately to ward off the darkness. Giving into unconsciousness now would spell his death.

He weakly pushed himself over onto his back, trying to pull air into his tortured lungs. The heat from the fire was growing closer and he pulled himself away from the pews toward the stained glass windows in a slow backwards crawl. A sharp pain sliced through the palm of his hand and he realized that he was crawling across the glass shattered by Brenna earlier that day… or had it been yesterday… He couldn't think… couldn't breathe…

He looked back toward the altar, seeing Declan's body slumped there, the fire approaching slowly. He'd let Brenna down again… and if he didn't summon the strength to pull himself out of the church, he was going to break his promise to Sam. And that he could not do.

The air began to fill with smoke and he kept his head low. Coughing as the tainted air choked his throat and filled his lungs, he winced. He could see the side door Sam had been thrown out of earlier. He just had to get there. He began to slowly pull his way across the glass, trying to keep his clothes between the shards and his skin.

He hadn't moved two feet when he saw it. The wraith. Standing between him and freedom. He rolled to his side, lifting his hands in an automatic denial.

As the wraith advanced, its maw opening in a twisted version of a lovers kiss, Dean felt a strange pull – like static electricity – and knew it was his life beginning to ebb away. Without warning, the pain increased, intensified. All of his nerve endings were on fire. It felt like the wraith was pulling the blood from his body through his pores. His back arched against the pain and he screamed, unable to keep the agony at bay, unable to hold the resistance inside, unable to fight.

The pain was worse than the slicing pain of the demon pulling his heart from his chest. It was worse than the banshee's stabbing nails. It was worse than the werewolf's slashing claws. He screamed until he had no air and then his mouth remained open in silent agony, his eyes closed tight against the reality of death.

For one brief moment, the wraith paused, and Dean collapsed back onto the stone floor, trembling, almost whimpering. His whole body shook, his head spun, his heart stuttered. He didn't know why it stopped, but breathing for just one moment more was okay with him. Then he realized. The Ardagh. In his pocket. He felt his body being shifted slightly and knew the wraith was going to take it from him. He could no longer see the banishing spell, but he knew the last line.

"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti..." His voice was a thought, a whisper of hope. But it was his voice. And it was the end. The wraith shuddered, reached out, and with a sound like a star imploding, vanished, leaving Dean trembling and gasping for air, his broken body limp on the stone floor of the burning church.

As he worked to keep breathing, keep the air moving in and out, keep his heart beating, he realized that he was fighting a losing battle. The wraith had pulled a piece of him away. And without that piece, Dean couldn't save himself. His eyes fluttered shut as the heat of the fire licked at his face. His last conscious thought before slipping into the waiting darkness was Sammy

www

"Do you see that?"

"What? See what?"

"Oh my God," Sam whispered. "It's on fire. The church is on fire!"

Brenna floored the car down the gravel path and skidded to a stop just beyond the leaping flames that shot from the roof and out of the windows of the stone church. Sam didn't wait for her to shift into park; he had his door open and was running toward the building, holding his wounded arm close to him as he ran.

"Brenna, call 911!"

"SAM!" Brenna was shouting. "Wait – you can't go in there!"

Sam stopped just outside of the church, looking back at her briefly. "Dean's in there!"

"You don't know that," she panted, reaching him.

"Yes, I do," Sam nodded. He turned back to the building, pulling in a lungful of cool night air, and plunged into the fire.

The heat was intense; it burned his eyes, singed his hair, and sucked the cool air from his lungs, causing him to double over, gasping for breath. It was slightly cooler the closer he got to the ground. Squinting, water streaming from his eyes, he peered through the smoke and flames, moving carefully to what he remembered was the front of the sanctuary.

"Dean!" He called. The fire stole his voice and tossed it back at him, mocking his efforts. He continued forward, defying the power of the flames. "DEAN!"

He saw a figure slumped against the wall near the altar. He hurried forward, the heat of the fire pulling tears from his eyes, blurring his vision. The flames from the burning altar had taken over and were burning the figure's pant legs. Sam beat out the flames with his cast, preferring bruises to burns. He could barely see; the smoke was almost overpowering. Coughing violently, Sam leaned over and pulled him up, shifting the dead weight over his left shoulder. He turned and moved as swiftly as the fire would allow back through the sanctuary. He stumbled through the door and dropped his burden unceremoniously onto the hard earth as he fell to his knees in a fit of coughing.

"Sam!" Brenna grabbed his arm, heedless of his wound, and pulled him up and away.

"Get him," Sam croaked, grimacing as he felt the stitches in his shoulder give. His lungs ached, and he wiped furiously at the water streaming from his eyes.

He felt Brenna release him and a second later he heard her cry out. He blinked over at her. "Is he okay?"

"Sam, it's Da!"

"What?"

"It's Declan," she said and he heard the sob in her voice.

"Oh God," Sam groaned, looking back over his shoulder at the flames engulfing the doorway. He pushed himself to his feet, gripping his right arm with his left hand, feeling wetness there from the torn stitches.

"There's gotta be another way in…" Sam's dark eyes searched the flames. He wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. Flames shot from the doorway and forced him to stumble back a step.

"You can't. It's too hot!" Brenna cried, tears flowing freely down her face as she gripped the body of her grandfather to her.

"Stop it!" Sam yelled, turning to her. "I'm not going to leave him in there, do you hear me? He pulled me from a fire twice. I'm getting him back."

"But, Sam—"

"I'M GETTING HIM BACK," Sam yelled, his heart in his throat, his eyes blurring. He turned from her, frantically searching the burning building for an answer, another way in. He couldn't lose Dean, not now… not when he was just starting to get through, not when he so badly needed Dean to save him…

"The side door," Brenna suddenly yelled.

Of course, he thought, turning instantly on his heel and heading around the burning church to the side door next to the cemetery. Taking a breath, he ducked low under the flames and the billowing black smoke and crawled into the building using just his left hand, his right held protectively against him, covering his mouth and nose with his right hand.

Sam blinked against the heat. Where is he… gotta find him… He shuffled across broken glass, hissing as a shard sliced his hand. Squinting his eyes against the smoke, he tried to peer through the burning pews. As he shuffled forward again, his hand hit something solid, something leather. A boot. His eyes flew over to see his brother sprawled on the floor under the partially shattered stained glass windows.

Dean's face was bloody and bruised. Sam could see bruises on his hands and neck, too. He crawled closer to him, pressing a shaky hand on Dean's neck, praying. He felt the faint thrumming there beneath his fingers – not strong, but enough to show him Dean was still with him. He looked back over to the doorway he'd crawled in and thought quickly how best to get Dean out of there when he could only use one arm.

Just then, a horrendous cracking sounded from above him. He looked up quickly and realized the fire-weakened roof was starting to come down. Bits of flaming wood fell down around them, sizzling when it hit hands, his cheeks. He brushed it off of Dean when the pieces of fiery shrapnel landed on his brother. Coughing violently, he leaned over Dean and tried to pull him up against him with his left arm. Dean was dead weight. His head lolled against Sam's wounded shoulder and Sam bit back a cry of pain.

The cracking increased in volume and suddenly a beam fell into the middle of the sanctuary. Sam cried out in surprise and fear. He curved his broad shoulders around Dean's face and chest as the shower of sparks rained down on them. He started to scoot slowly back toward the door, dragging Dean with him when another beam fell, this one close, effectively blocking his path of escape.

The heat was beginning to suffocate him. He curled himself around Dean's limp form, shaking from the effort of the coughs, wiping the fire-induced tears from his eyes. Dean's chest barely moved with the motion of his shallow breathing. His skin was hot from the flames, his body completely lax in Sam's arms, as if he'd already surrendered to the inevitable.

"Not yet," he whispered in Dean's ear. "Not yet, Dean… "

"SAM!"

Brenna's voice sounded light years away. He lifted his swollen eyes, squinting from the heat.

"Sam… the window!"

He looked at the stained glass windows above them. The burning ceiling beam had cut them off from the ones that were empty of glass, but the ones directly above him looked wide enough… if he could just break out the rest of the glass… He adjusted Dean against him, searching for something on the ground heavy enough to break the glass, wishing he'd kept his pistol, and suddenly felt something in Dean's jacket pocket. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a gold cup of some kind, heavy and solid.

Coughing, he reared back and with his best left-arm throw, he tossed it through the closest window, shattering the remaining glass.

"Sam!" Brenna's voice sounded closer.

"I got him!" Sam yelled hoarsely. I got you, Dean… I won't let go…

Clumsily he pushed himself to his feet, wincing as his shoulder pulled and as more sparks rained down on them from another falling beam. Gritting his teeth, he slid Dean's cargo jacket off of his brother's body and slung it over the base of the window to protect them from the bits of glass still embedded in the window sill. He then hooked his arm under Dean's arms and across his chest. He pulled him up and slumped him over the windowsill on top of the jacket. Smoke poured out of the window above their heads. Peering over Dean's prone form, Sam saw that the ground was about two feet down. He scooped up Dean's legs, pushed him over the ledge, and let him drop the rest of the way.

"I've got him, Sam," Brenna called. Sam could barely see her pulling Dean away from the window by his wrists. "Get the hell out of there!"

Sam didn't need to be told twice. He reached up to grasp the window ledge with his left hand and swung a leg over the sill, straddling the opening for a moment before dropping to the ground just as Brenna pulled Dean out of the way. He heard more beams fall into the sanctuary as the wail of the fire engine sirens echoed in the distance.

He stumbled to his feet and helped Brenna pull Dean further from the fire. They all collapsed in a heap just outside of the front gate of the cemetery. Sam couldn't stop coughing. He gasped desperately for breath between hacks, spitting out black phlegm when he was able to breathe. He held his shoulder tight in an effort to stave off the sharp pain lancing through the wound. Brenna lifted his chin, looking at his eyes. He pushed her hand away and moved to Dean.

Dean was pale beneath the blood and the bruises. His breathing was there, but shallow. His face was still hot. Sam pushed the sleeve of his shirt up and saw that the bruising on his hands and neck traveled up his arms. He ran a careful hand over the back of Dean's head and it came away bloody.

"God, Dean," he rasped. "What the hell happened to you in there?"

"Sam," Brenna said, her eyes on the fire engines.

Sam's instinct was to gather his brother up and run, but he could barely stand. He couldn't take a deep breath without coughing. And he had to get his brother some help.

"Bring them over," he whispered, pulling Dean's upper body close to him, wrapping his left arm carefully around him. Dean's head rolled to the side. Sam sat still, holding Dean, watching the firemen and women pour from the trucks, turn water onto the fire, do their jobs. He saw an EMT ambulance open its back doors when Brenna approached. He saw her gesture back to them, then over to where she'd laid her grandfather in the grass.

Sam thought fast. Cover story, fake names… He had to keep it simple, keep it straight, keep them out of trouble.

"You okay, kid?" the man who approached him carried a portable oxygen tank and a red med kit.

Sam nodded, but started coughing. Another man and two women carrying an orange backboard followed him. Before Sam could say anything else, the oxygen mask was placed over his mouth and nose and he could suddenly breathe again. Cool air flowed in and the heavy ache in his lungs began to recede. He blinked in weakened bliss. Then he felt someone trying to pull Dean from him and he pulled away from the oxygen, tightening his arm around his brother.

"It's okay," the man with the oxygen mask said. He had blue eyes with deep lines at the corners. "They're gonna take care of him. Just let him go…"

"No," Sam croaked. He couldn't let him go… he'd promised.

"You can stay with him," the blue-eyed man said. Sam decided to call him Sinatra. Dean would think that was funny. "You just gotta let him go for a minute."

Sam knew that what Sinatra was saying should make sense. He knew that they were there to help. He knew that Dean needed help. He just couldn't make his arm move. He lifted watery eyes to Sinatra's, silently pleading for help.

"It's okay, kid," Sinatra repeated, placing the oxygen back on Sam's face and easing Sam's arm away with a gentle hand. "He'll be right here, okay?"

Sam nodded, keeping his eyes on the man and two women who wrapped a C-collar on Dean before lifting him from Sam's lap and laying him carefully on the orange backboard. They were talking in rapid, staccato bursts of sound as they checked Dean's eyes, his pulse, his blood pressure. One hooked a saline IV up to Dean's right arm. Another spoke into a black walkie-talkie. The third began to carefully roll her fingers over Dean's chest and belly, reporting to her findings to the team. Sam could see their mouths moving, but it was as though they were speaking another language. He couldn't understand a word coming from the group and he couldn't seem to tear his eyes from Dean's soot-covered face so still above the C-collar.

"What's his name, kid?" asked the man who was holding the IV bag above Dean's body.

"D-Dean," Sam croaked out. He couldn't think of a cover name that his brother would respond to from this state. Dean needed to hear his own name.

"Let's get you two checked out, okay?" Sinatra said, holding the oxygen mask on Sam's face with one hand, and gently examining his now-bleeding shoulder with the other.

Sam nodded and allowed Sinatra to pull him up. He wavered a moment, but with the help of the fireman's strong arm, he was able to follow the trio to the ambulance. They loaded Dean onto the stretcher, and then Sinatra helped Sam inside to the waiting hands of the male EMT.

The doors shut and only when the ambulance started to pull away did Sam remember Brenna. He looked out of the back window and saw her standing in the gravel road, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, silhouetted by the burning church behind her.

Three hours later, Sam was sitting in a ridiculously curved plastic orange chair, his elbows on his knees, his head in his left hand. His cast had taken on a grey hue, thanks to the smoke. His chest still ached from the smoke he inhaled, but he'd been assured that would pass in a day or two. They had examined and cleaned his shoulder, replaced the stitches, and redressed the wound. He'd been offered a sling, which he refused. A soft-voiced nurse had given him a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers. His various burns has been salved and treated, and the slice on his palm from the shattered glass had been stitched.

He was informed that he should go home and rest. He politely told them to go to hell. He wasn't going anywhere until they let him see his brother, whom they'd wheeled away from him in a flurry of words and action that Sam didn't understand. So he waited.

A cup of coffee was suddenly thrust under his nose. He clenched his teeth to hold back the bile that immediately rose to his throat at the smell. He sat up, raising his eyes to meet Brenna's.

"Hey," he rasped.

"Hey," she whispered. "No?" she asked indicating the coffee.

He shook his head and waved it off. She sat next to him and sipped the hot beverage.

"No word yet?"

Sam shook his head, his throat still rather raw. "Declan?"

"They took him to the, uh, morgue."

Sam nodded. "Will they…"

"Do an autopsy? I don't know. Probably." Her throat worked and she blinked a few times. Sam realized that she was working to hold back tears. He resisted the automatic urge to comfort her. Instinctively, he recognized that comfort was not what she needed at the moment. "Pretty suspicious circumstances, don't you think?"

"You can stop it," Sam said, clearing his throat. "The autopsy I mean."

"Yeah," she whispered, looking at Sam out of the corner of her eyes. "I could just take him."

Sam nodded. "That's one way."

"I brought the Impala," she said, handing him the keys.

"Thanks, Brenna," he whispered. "But… how…"

"Don't worry, Sam," she smiled and stroked a slim finger down his cheekbone, wiping off a line of soot that hadn't been cleaned off when they checked him out. "I know my way home."

"Mr. McGillicuddy?"

Sam shot to his feet. "That's me," he said, turning from Brenna's surprised eyes to face the doctor who was looking down at a clipboard.

"Your brother's stable," the doctor informed him. "But I have to say, his injuries are…"

"What?" Sam prompted.

"Well, you said he was attacked at that abandoned church before you were caught in the fire?"

Sam nodded.

"Whatever… weapon… they used on him caused bruising that I've never seen before," the doctor sighed, rubbing his eyes and then looking at Sam. "He has a concussion, which I suspect he had already based on the sutured cut we discovered on his temple. We stitched up the back of his head. He has two broken and one cracked rib, right side, but it looks like they'd been broken before."

"He, uh, has a physically…demanding job," Sam replied when the doctor looked at him, pointedly.

"And that would be?"

"Uh—" Sam coughed, buying himself some time. "He's uh, a bull rider," he supplied when he could breathe again.

"Well, I would highly recommend you try talking your brother out of doing that much longer," the doctor commented. "His bruising is… extensive, to say the least."

"When can he leave?"

The doctor sighed, almost like he had expected this question. "We really need to keep him here for observation for a few days. Amazingly, there doesn't seem to be any internal bleeding, but, with the beating he took…" the doctor shook his head. "His lungs sustained some damage from the fire, and until he really wakes up, we don't know how severe the concussion is."

"Can I see him?" Sam asked, trying hard not to bounce on the balls of his feet.

"Of course," the doctor turned and led the way. Sam glanced over his shoulder at Brenna. She smiled at him, waving him on.

"I'll catch up," she said, biting her lip.

Sam nodded and followed the doctor into Dean's room. Sam stopped short of approaching Dean's bed. Dean lay still, just a shade darker than the pillow his light brown head rested on. Purple smudges of exhaustion swept the base of his eyes, hidden only by his lashes. His neck, arms, and hands – the only other parts of him that were visible beneath the blankets – were covered in the angry bruises that Sam had noticed before. He had butterfly bandages on the cut across his cheek bone, the white of the tape contrasting sharply with the scattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. An oxygen cannula was across his face.

Sam was trying to remember how to breathe. Trying to remember that this time they hadn't told him a month at the most.

"Has he woken up?" Sam whispered.

"Once," the doctor said.

"Did he say anything?"

"He was pretty out of it," the doctor commented. "He just said I was going to go with her."

Sam looked over at the doctor. "With her?"

The doctor shrugged. "I was hoping you could tell us."

Sam shook his head and looked back at Dean. He moved forward, shoving the empty chair close to his brother's bed. He sat down and reached up with a trembling hand to lightly touch Dean's fingers.

"I'll come back to check on you in a few hours. There's some paperwork we'll need you to fill out," the doctor said.

Sam barely registered that he'd left. He was looking at Dean's face. Thinking that he'd seen his brother in a hospital bed one too many times in their young lives. Thinking that Dean's quest to keep Sam safe, to watch out for him, was going to get him killed one day. Thinking that they both might be better off if Sam really did leave. Thinking that he knew deep down, if he ever did that, Dean would come looking for him.

"You'd find me," Sam whispered, staring at Dean, but not really seeing him.

"You leavin'?" The voice was like sandpaper on rock, but it was Dean.

Sam blinked, surprised to find his brother's eyes open and on him. The paleness of his features made his green eyes look impossibly large, but even in this moment, Sam saw that they were shuttered; hiding something that Sam couldn't understand.

"No, man," Sam shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Good," Dean whispered, and closed his eyes once more.

Sam watched him sleep, and when he was sure that Dean wouldn't pull away, he curled his fingers around Dean's, anchoring himself. He was so tired. He leaned forward, rested his forehead on the bed next to Dean's arm, careful not to touch any of the bruises, and closed his eyes.

www

Dean knew he was in a hospital even before he opened his eyes. He could tell by the smell. The antiseptic that it seemed all hospitals used overpowered even the residual ashy smell of the fire on his skin and in his hair. He didn't want to open his eyes and see the white walls and white curtains and white sheets. He just wanted to fall back into the blackness. He wanted to sleep, to rest, to run away.

There was not one place on his body that didn't hurt. The ache varied from an intense sharp pain in his chest to a soreness of muscles along his legs and arms. His head throbbed and he could feel the pinch of the IV in the crook of his arm. Whatever they were giving him, it wasn't strong enough. He longed for oblivion; instead, he forced his eyes open.

He could feel the annoying hiss of air from the cannula as it pumped oxygen into his nose. He blinked slowly, trying to bring the blurry white world into focus and lifted an uncoordinated hand to pull the plastic tubing away from his face. He dropped his hand back wearily, closing his eyes. His right hand was tingling and he tried to rotate his wrist to relieve the pins and needles feeling, when he suddenly noticed his brother was attached to it.

"Sammy." His voice was a hoarse mockery of sound. His throat protested the assault and his lungs ached beneath the sharp pain in his ribs.

"Five minutes, Dean." Sam's mop of brown hair covered part of Dean's arm, but Dean saw that he'd rested his forehead on the bed careful not to touch any of the bruising that literally covered Dean's body.

"Sam, wake up."

Sam groaned, half-heartedly trying to push Dean away, then he suddenly, truly woke up. He sat up abruptly and looked at Dean with wide eyes. "Dean?"

"You awake?" Dean swallowed, watching Sam's eyes take in his face. He saw how carefully Sam was holding his right arm close to him.

"I'm awake," Sam nodded, blinking. He rotated his neck with a barely suppressed groan. Dean imagined he was pretty stiff and sore from his chosen sleep position. Not to mention being thrown into a wrought-iron fence.

"You got me out?" Dean rasped, blinking, focusing, breathing. The last thing he remembered was the insane heat of the fire as it hungrily advanced.

"Yeah," Sam nodded, paling slightly.

Dean closed his eyes briefly, pulling his eyebrows together. Sam had come after him. Sam had pulled him from the fire. Sam had been in that fire.

"Sam," Dean opened his eyes and flexed his fingers, watching Sam look down, as though suddenly realizing he was still holding Dean's hand. He let him go and sat back a bit in his chair. "Sam, we have to get out of here."

"Dean, you need to stay –"

"No," Dean shook his head. He winced at the throb that echoed through the back of his head. "We have to get out of here."

"Dean, have you looked at yourself?" Sam dropped his chin, leveling his gaze on Dean's eyes. "What is all that bruising from, man?"

"The wraith," Dean swallowed, blinking once.

"The wraith?"

"I found Declan's banishing spell," Dean said. God he hurt. What was the point of an IV if it wasn't going to bring him relief?

"Hey," Sam was leaning forward, towards him. "Dean?"

"What?"

"You, uh… you went kinda pale there for a second," Sam said, sitting back down slowly, cupping his left hand over his right elbow.

"Your shoulder okay?" Dean felt a cough coming on and tried to resist, knowing how it would wrack through his ribs.

"It'll be fine," Sam let go of his arm as though by the act of holding it he'd given something away. "You banished the wraith?"

Dean nodded, and then coughed a chest rattled burst of air. He pressed a hand to his right side, trying in vain to ease the pain. Sam handed him a spare pillow from the foot of his bed. Dean clasped it to his chest as he continued to cough. When he was done he leaned back weakly on the bed.

"Damn smoke," he breathed. He blinked bleary eyes at his brother. "We have to get out of here, Sam."

"Dean, c'mon, man," Sam's voice sounded young and scared. "Please, just a day. Give it a day."

Dean panted for air, shaking his head. "We may not have a day."

Sam sat back, regarding him, a thoughtful expression on his face. "You think they can find you that fast?"

"If they're looking," Dean nodded, swallowing. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

"I wish you'd let someone take care of you," Sam said softly.

"You will," Dean whispered.

"You just…"

When Sam didn't continue, Dean looked at him. "What?"

"You look tired, man," Sam finished.

Dean blinked, resting back against the pillows. "I am tired, Sam."

I'm tired of this life… this job… this weight on my shoulders… He confessed it once to Sam. He'd been as honest as he could. He couldn't have ended it all – and if Sam had contracted the demonic virus, Dean knew exactly what he would have done - with John's words still a secret between them. But Sam knew now. Sam knew what John had made Dean promise. Dean looked back over at Sam. His brother's dark eyes were staring at nothing, at the past, into the middle distance, tears swimming there.

"Declan," Dean asked, wincing as his ribs protested.

"We got him out," Sam said, not lifting his eyes. "It almost finished… didn't it?"

"What?"

"The wraith," Sam swallowed, his jaw muscle clenching. He still didn't look up and Dean suddenly found that he needed to see Sam's eyes. He needed to see the continuous questions that forever lurked in their depths. "It almost… took you."

Dean lifted a shoulder. "I finished it before it could finish me," he grinned weakly.

"Too close, man," Sam shifted his gaze over to Dean, blinking. One tear dropped from his eye and made a wet trail down Sam's cheek. Dean felt like a fist wrapped around his heart at the sight of that tear. "It was too close, Dean. If I hadn't woken up when I did… if we hadn't gotten there…"

"But you did, Sammy," Dean said, clearing his throat. He fisted his right hand, then reached for Sam's sleeve. Wrapping his fingers in the soft material, he pulled at Sam's arm, drawing his eyes. "You got there. You got me out."

"This can't keep happening," Sam shook his head, his throat working convulsively.

"What?" Dean rasped.

"This… this double-standard you have for us."

"Aw, Sam, c'mon –"

"No! No, I'm serious, Dean."

Dean tried to take a deep breath, but a harsh beat of pain shot through his side. He settled for breathing shallow, blinking at Sam, waiting him out.

"You tell me I can't go off by myself… like I did," Sam said, his voice trembling slightly from the effort to keep his emotions in check. He stared hard at Dean, and Dean saw the result of his actions echoing in Sam's eyes. "You may not have come right out and said it, but… but I know now that it scared you to wake up and figure out I was gone."

Hell yeah, it scared me, Dean thought. "The note," he began.

"A note? A note? Dean?"

Dean just blinked.

"You would tie me up and throw me in the trunk of the Impala before you'd let me do what you just did."

Damn straight, Dean thought, watching Sam.

"But you don't give it a second thought to leave me behind if you think it will protect me," Sam finished, his lips pressed tight. He pulled his face together to try to still his tears. "Dean… who's gonna save me if you get yourself killed?"

"Sam…" Dean breathed, his chest tight. He only thought about keeping Sam safe.

Sam simply looked at him.

"I didn't think of it like that," Dean finished.

"I know," Sam whispered. "I know you didn't."

"But, uh," Dean swallowed, wincing. "I will now, okay?"

Sam pressed his lips together and nodded. He gently pulled his left arm from Dean's grasp, wiping the back of his hand over his cheek. "So, he really had the banishing spell on him?"

"Not only that," Dean said, thankful for the end of the chick-flick moment. "He found the… the thing."

He watched Sam's eyebrows go up. "The Ardagh?"

"Yeah," Dean blinked, his vision blurring. He was wearing out faster than he realized. He had to get out of the hospital before he passed out again. He knew instinctively that the danger hadn't passed with the banishing of the wraith. "Sam, you gotta get me out."

He pushed himself forward, clumsily lifting the blankets off. Sam stood, shoving the chair away from the bed with the backs of his legs. Dean groaned as he moved his bare legs slowly from the bed to hang off of the side. He was surprised to see the bruising there.

"Dean, seriously—"

"Sam, either help me or get out of my way," Dean panted. Sam didn't move. Dean licked his lips, raising his eyes to meet the frustration in Sam's gaze. "It's not just me, man," he said, his voice rough. "Those guys will be back."

"What guys?"

"The Irish guys," he said, willing Sam to follow his line of thinking. It was becoming too difficult to talk. Sitting put an ungodly amount of pressure on his ribs. He reached over and started to pull the IV from his arm.

"Wait! Wait, I got it, I got it," Sam said, reaching for a piece of gauze and tape that was sitting on a tray on the nightstand next to the bed along with some latex gloves and a suture kit. He reached for Dean's IV, removed the needle with a practiced ease and covered the small, bloody hole with the gauze, taping it in place.

"Dean."

"Mm."

"The Ardagh's a gold wine-glass looking thing, right?"

Dean nodded. He dropped his eyes to Sam's hand, to the leather strap Sam wore around his wrist. He focused on that strap. Pulling air in and easing it out, he focused on that strap, forcing away the blurred edges of his vision, forcing away the darkness that he could feel advancing.

"Shit," Sam muttered.

"What?"

"I threw it out of the window of the church."

"We gotta get it back."

"I know," Sam said. "How you want to do this?"

"Beam me out?"

"Funny," Sam stepped away, and Dean bit back a groan. The strap was gone. His focus was gone. The darkness was coming.

"…get your clothes… have to sneak… Impala in the…"

Sam's voice was fading in and out as though Dean were sinking under water. Water. He needed some. Now.

"Sammy," he rasped. Suddenly Sam was there. Crouched in front of him.

"I'm here," Sam said, his left hand reaching out and wrapping around Dean's shoulder. Dean realized he'd started to tip forward. Sam braced him.

"Water," he said.

Sam straightened and in seconds a white plastic cup was held under his nose. Dean wrapped his fingers around it, drinking greedily. "More."

Sam gave him more, cautioning, "Go easy there, brother."

Dean felt the water travel down his parched throat, seeming to coat his insides with coolness. He took a cautious breath. Pain, yes, but he could see again. His vision balanced. He looked at Sam.

"Better?"

"Yeah," Dean nodded, gripping Sam's forearm with his right hand and pulling himself off of the bed. Sam braced him until Dean thought he could balance. He turned to pick up the clothes that Sam had tossed on the bed. They smelled of fire.

As he reached for his boxers, he felt himself tip, and knew he was going down. There was no way he could catch himself. Before he was even off center, he felt Sam's arm snake around his shoulders, catching him, holding him.

"If you're gonna be stubborn about it," Sam said, his voice close to his ear. "At least let me help you get out of here in one piece."

Dean gritted his teeth. He let Sam help him back down on the bed. He looked down at Sam as his brother adjusted his pants so that he could step in. Thanks for not giving up on me, Sammy… The memory came so fast he gasped. He could see himself on a bed, a tube in his mouth. He saw Sam sitting on the edge of the bed, Dad's journal in his hands.

"Dean?"

"What the hell," Dean breathed swaying slightly on the bed, reaching for Sam's shoulder to steady himself.

"You with me?"

"Something's… something's wrong, man," Dean muttered, rubbing his hand over his burning eyes.

"I told you, you need to stay—"

"No, it's not that," Dean said, holding on to Sam's shoulder, trying to ignore the fact that his brother was pulling on his jeans, trying to ignore the deep ache from the bruises on his legs and hips. "I keep… seeing stuff."

Sam's head pulled up, Dean's shirt in his hands. "Stuff?"

"Like… memories… or… I don't know… dreams."

"You mean… like the Ouija board?"

Dean blinked. "Yeah."

Sam helped him pull his arms through the sleeves of his T-shirt, then slowly slipped it over his head. Dean winced as the shirt brushed across the stitches at the back of his head. He felt like friggin' Frankenstein with the amount of stitches he had in his head at the moment. He held still as Sam helped him lower the shirt over his wrapped ribs.

"They're memories, Dean."

Dean blinked in surprise. "Of what?"

"Of," Sam rubbed a hand over his mouth, taking a step back. Dean gripped the side of the bed. "Of when we were in the hospital."

"What?"

Sam shrugged. "After the accident."

"But… but I…" Dean looked down at the floor.

"You were in a coma."

"Yeah."

"But… you also… weren't."

Dean looked up, surprised. He opened his mouth to protest when they heard the door click. He froze. Sam stepped around the curtain, looking. Dean heard the door open, heard voices in the hall, heard a woman say that she had to check on the patient in three, then heard her step away, the door shutting. Sam looked back at him.

"We gotta go," they said in unison.

Sam bent down and pulled on Dean's boots. He straightened, and reached out a hand to help Dean stand. "Sorry, man, but, your coat, uh, burned up."

Dean clenched his teeth. "At least I wasn't in it," he said. "Dude, you seen my –"

Sam dug into his pocket and handed him the gold Egyptian amulet hanging from the piece of black leather, and Dean carefully eased it over his head. Dean took one step forward and didn't fall on his face. He considered that positive reinforcement.

"Sam, where is-" he started as they reached the door. Sam held up a hand and Dean leaned against the wall, waiting. Sam stuck his head out of the door, looked both ways, then opened it wide enough for Dean to slink through.

Each step sent a flash of hot pain through his right side and his head started spinning half-way out of the door. He reached out blindly for the wall and caught the sleeve of Sam's shirt instead. Carefully, swiftly, Sam tucked his left arm under Dean's right, bending Dean's arm at the elbow. Dean remained silent until they reached the exit of the ER, appreciating his brother's subtlety.

The cool morning air made his eyes water. He searched the lot for the familiar black shape of home. When he saw the Impala, he felt his shoulders ease. Sam was looking over his shoulder.

"Uh, Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"Think you can go any faster?"

God no… His vision had started to blur as they walked, but he took a shallow breath and nodded.

"Good, 'cause… we got company," Sam gripped his arm tighter and lengthened his strides.

Dean bit hard on his bottom lip to keep the groan inside. They reached the Impala and Sam leaned Dean against it, unlocking the door. Dean closed his eyes and felt his body trembling against the cool metal of the car. When he heard the familiar creek of the door, he slid gingerly into the passenger seat, leaning against the door as soon as Sam slammed it shut. He blinked as he watched Sam hurry around to the driver's side. Only then did Dean see a man in a white lab coat and two police officers hurrying across the parking lot.

"Hang on to something," Sam said in a low voice, rotating the wheel with the palm of his left hand. Dean would never say it, but he thought Sam was handling his baby remarkably well with one hand.

"What if they follow us?"

"We'll hide the car," Sam said, his voice leaving no room for argument.

Dean braced himself against the door, cradling his ribs and breathing in low pants as Sam pulled out onto the road and roared back in the direction of the Kavanagh's bar. The pounding in Dean's head began to increase with Sam's speed. He soon couldn't hear anything over what he assumed was his own heartbeat. He closed his eyes trying to breathe through his nose and quiet the panic growing from the pain inside of him.

Today's your lucky day kid…

Dean's eyes flew open with a cry. His vision began to white out, but he could still clearly see the impossibly familiar face… and those eyes. He pressed the palm of his hand to the bridge of his nose.

"Dean!"

"God, Sam, pull over," he groaned. The world was spinning and he was completely certain he was about to fall off.

"We're almost –"

"Now!"

Sam slowed the Impala and pulled over to the side of the road. Dean barely got the door open before he tumbled out and emptied his stomach. The heaves took over and the pain in his ribs canceled out his vision for a moment. He was shaking and didn't realize until he heard Sam's voice repeating easy, easy now, just take it easy, Dean, that his brother had gotten out of the car and was standing next to him, a gentle hand on his back. He hurt all over.

His hand shook as he wiped the back of it across his mouth.

"She had yellow eyes," he panted, swallowing.

"Who, Dean?"

"I don't know, dammit!" He was angry at himself, at his weakness. Angry that he was remembering things he shouldn't be able to and that he couldn't figure out why. Angry that Sam was holding him up because he was shaking too badly to do it himself.

"Okay," Sam was saying, his voice low and easy like he was talking to a cornered wild thing. "It's okay, man, we'll figure it out."

"Sam," Dean whispered, leaning back against the door frame. "Where's Brenna?"

"I don't know," Sam answered. "She brought the Impala to the hospital and I haven't seen her since."

"They're gonna come for her," Dean said, closing his eyes, his voice sounding weak to his own ears. "They're gonna come for her."

He felt Sam ease him back onto the seat of the Impala with a grumbled "…never shoulda taken you out of the hospital…"

"Stop it, Sam," Dean said, making his voice as sturdy as possible. "You saw those cops."

"Yeah, I saw 'em."

Sam got back into the car, looked over at Dean, who looked back with careful eyes. He pulled back on the road. They drove the rest of the way to the Kavanagh's in silence, Dean using the time to bring his trembling body under control, to pull the focus of his mind away from his aching body and direct it to the job they still had to do. The minute Sam pulled into the lot between the bar and the house, Dean knew he'd been right: they had come for her, and that he was too late.

Brenna's Grande National was parked between the garage and the house, windows shattered, hood up, and tires flat. As Sam pulled to a stop, Dean's eyes tracked over the house. Every window in the front was smashed, the front door was off its hinges and lying cock-eyed in the doorway, and the spindles from the porch railing were all broken out.

"Holy shit," Sam breathed, shutting off the car and hopping out.

Before Sam could come around to help him out, Dean had opened the door and was painfully pulling his body upright. He scanned the empty lot with anxious eyes, his heart hammering.

"Brenna!" he called, his voice weak, but deep in its fear.

She emerged from the house, her eyes red, her face impassive. He thought she seemed to waver for a moment in the doorway, then realized that it was his vision. He took a couple of unsteady steps toward the house. He felt like he was actually moving backwards when he saw Sam approach the steps hurriedly.

"You okay?" Sam asked Brenna, closing the distance between them with his long-legged stride.

Brenna nodded mutely. She had yet to look at either of them. She sat down heavily on the top step just as Sam reached her. Dean took another step toward them. If he could just make it to the steps…

"They were here," Brenna said in a dull voice. "They were here when I got back."

"Did they hurt you?" Sam asked and Dean watched as he reached out a gentle hand to rest on her shoulder.

She shook her head and Dean felt his heart begin to beat again.

"I have twenty-four hours," she said, her tone unchanged as she lifted her eyes from the ground to look at Sam.

"Or what?" Sam asked. Dean took another step closer to her. He was so close. If he could just make it to the steps…

"Or they t-take everything. Declan's debt is mine," she said, her voice hitching on anger or tears, he couldn't tell. He'd never seen her cry, and he hoped to God he never would. She turned to look at him and Dean felt his heart stop again. Her eyes were her normal green-gold, but he knew he'd seen the devastated look they held before. In Sam's eyes. When they stood in front of their father's funeral pyre.

"Dean?" she said, her eyebrow pulling together, her body tensing as she began to move toward him, her hand reaching out, reaching for him. Dean saw Sam turn to face him.

He knew Sam was trying to reach him before he fell, but as his knees buckled, all he saw were Sam's eyes that night, all he heard was the crackle of the fire, and as he sank to the ground, he swore he could feel it burning him.