Rating: PG-13

Chapter 5

Who can hope to be safe? Guard himself as he may, every moment's an ambush. - Horace

"Holy shit," Sam breathed, shutting off the Impala and hopping out. He hurried around the car to help Dean, knowing his brother would need to get there, need to see if Brenna was okay. Before he could get around to the other side, Dean had opened the door and was standing next to the car.

"Brenna!" Dean called. Sam's heart clenched at the weakness in Dean's voice.

Brenna emerged from the house, her eyes red, her face impassive. Glancing quickly at Dean, Sam closed the short distance between the house and the car in a couple swift strides, pausing at the base of the stairs.

"You okay?" he asked her.

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.

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

"Did they hurt you?" Sam asked, reaching out a hand to rest on her shoulder.

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

"Or what?" he asked, but he already knew. Dean had said it back on the highway. They had come for her.

"Or they t-take everything. Declan's debt is mine," she said. She shifted her eyes to look past him toward Dean, and Sam saw a strange expression in her eyes… as though she were reaching out to his brother without actually moving.

"Dean?" she said, suddenly. Sam saw her face pull together in immediate concern and he turned quickly back to where he'd left Dean standing next to the car.

In the wan light of the day, the bruises on Dean's cheek and neck were amplified by the pale skin beneath. He was braced, his legs slightly bowed, his right hand out as if searching for something, someone to support him. His eyes were wide and glassy, and he was staring right through Sam.

Sam stepped forward – he was only a few strides away - but Dean's knees buckled and he sank to the ground before Sam could catch him.

"Dean." Sam crouched next to him, slid his left arm under Dean's shoulders and carefully rolled him to his back off of his wounded right side. Dean's head dropped back slightly in the crook of Sam's arm. "Hey… hey, Dean," he whispered, feeling his breath hitch, hearing his voice catch, not caring.

Dean's eyes were open slightly, but he wasn't really looking at Sam. He wasn't really looking at anything. Sam's heart caught as he remembered seeing this look on Dean's face once before. In the rear-view mirror of the Impala. Just before their lives had been irrevocably shattered. Sam somehow knew that whatever Dean was looking at was so far inside of his brother that Sam would probably never see it. His pupils were so large there was barely a hint of green around the edge.

Sam pressed his lips together, cursing himself for listening to Dean and leaving the hospital. Even with the cops there, at least Dean would have gotten help. Would have been cared for. Now…

"Dean?" Sam whispered again.

The sound of his brother's name had become a life-line to Sam. He said it for reassurance. He said it in exasperation. He said it in anger. He said it in amusement. He said it in relief. And now… now he said it in fear. He carefully cupped the side of Dean's face, his palm at Dean's chin, and turned Dean's face toward him.

He was afraid for Dean, afraid for what his brother was willing to do for him, afraid of the path he was on, afraid where that path was leading Dean. He felt a now-familiar tug of desperation. He should leave Dean to keep him safe, but he had realized long ago that even when Dean was being an ass, he needed the solace his brother's presence provided. He simply needed his brother.

"Dean, I need you to look at me," Sam whispered, ignoring Brenna's presence nearby, ignoring the fact that they were huddled in the dirt just outside of the Impala, ignoring the deep throb in his shoulder, ignoring everything but Dean.

Dean blinked once, but Sam couldn't tell if he saw him.

"I need you to look at me, okay," he repeated.

Dean swallowed and his eyes rolled once, closing then opening forcefully as if he were trying to come back from something. He tensed in Sam's arms, struggling to move, then gasped, his eyes clenching tight.

"God, Dean –" Brenna started, kneeling on the other side of Dean. Sam saw her lift her hand to touch Dean in an automatic gesture of care.

"Brenna, no, wait, don't!" Sam cried, reaching out to stop her. He was too late.

As her hand closed on Dean's shoulder, she gasped, her eyes shutting tight, her body going rigid. Dean arched his neck, his back bowing slightly, his features fisting in a grimace of pain. Sam stared at them in shock for a brief moment.

Then Dean cried out. Sam jerked in reaction to that sound. It was a cry of pain, of defiance… it was a plea as much as a rebellion. Brenna opened her mouth slightly and lowered her head. Sam reached out to push her away when her eyes suddenly snapped open and he froze. She stared at him with her druid eyes and he suddenly found that he couldn't move. It was as if an invisible barrier kept him away from Dean, from Brenna. The volume of Dean's cry increased, a wordless sound that shook Sam's heart.

Brenna continued to stare at Sam and he narrowed his eyes at her, tensing his body against whatever force held him back, held him away from Dean. He pushed, leaned forward against the barrier she'd somehow managed to throw up and keep him away, curving his shoulders, resisting, reaching…

He was finally able to move his left hand from behind Dean and curled his fingers around Dean's wrist. Dean immediately went silent. His neck was still arched, his back slightly bowed, his eyes closed tight, but when Sam's fingers had grabbed his wrist, Dean's mouth had closed and Sam could hear him breathing harshly through his nose.

With a supreme effort, Sam reached out with his right hand, the wound in his shoulder protesting, aching, pulling, and he was able to touch Brenna. As soon as he felt her arm beneath his fingers, the force holding him away disappeared and he shoved her roughly away from Dean so that she ended sprawled in the dirt on her side.

A bird chirped. Wind rustled the branches above them. Sam panted, looking at Brenna. Brenna panted, looking at Dean.

"What the hell was that?" Sam demanded breathlessly.

Brenna shook her head and swallowed. Pushing herself slowly to a sitting position, not bothering to brush the dirt from her arms, Brenna continued to stare at Dean.

"What did you do to him?" Sam asked.

He still held on to Dean's wrist with his left hand. He wanted to pull Dean close, pull his brother away from Brenna, but he suddenly lacked the strength. He could do no more than sit and breathe and feel Dean tremble beneath his hand.

"I-I don't know…" Brenna gasped, licking her lips. "I didn't mean –"

"You know what happens when you touch him and he can't –"

"Sam, no," she shook her head, her eyes still wide, still fixed on Dean. "No, it wasn't that…"

Sam looked down at his brother. Dean's head had lolled slightly sideways, his breathing was still rapid, his eyes half cast and staring into the middle distance. As Sam watched, a thin trail of blood seeped from his nose.

"Jesus, Dean," Sam cursed.

He reached out with his thumb and wiped the blood away from Dean's top lip. Dean blinked once, rolled his eyes, closing them with a slight tremble, then forcing them open. Sam watched the green in his brother's eyes slowly return. He watched the pupils shrink, watched Dean struggle to focus. The whites of his eyes were blood-shot and raw looking, causing the color of his irises to stand out like neon.

"Dean, hey, c'mon," Sam pleaded. "Come on back to me."

And then Sam watched Dean see him.

"Dean… are you there? Are you… are you with me?"

Dean blinked again, then coughed weakly, drawing his hand up to his side. He caught his breath, then reached up to his lips, rubbing at the wetness there and looked at his fingers. His eyes widened and he looked back at Sam.

"What the hell?"

Sam smiled, relief so great he felt light headed. This vulnerable version of Dean that he had been seeing glimpses of scared Sam. He needed his brother to be strong, to be solid, to barrel through life ahead of Sam, clearing a path. He helped his brother shift into a semi-sitting position. Dean made it as far as resting the top half of his body against Sam's chest. He held his side and continued to wipe the blood away from his nose and lips.

"Seriously, Dude," he said to Sam, his voice low. "What the hell?"

"Something… happened when Brenna –" Sam didn't finish as Dean's head snapped up and he looked away from Sam to Brenna sitting in the dirt just beyond them.

Sam expected Dean to ream her as he'd done before. He was floored when Dean's next words were, "You okay?"

Sam lifted his eyes from Dean's profile to watch Brenna slowly nod, her eyes on Dean.

"How –" Dean started then winced, trying to straighten against an obvious pain in his side.

"You… you were trying to block me and show me something at the same time," Brenna said, her voice rough. She cleared her throat. "I couldn't get out… I'm so sorry, Dean."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "You're sorry?"

Brenna looked over at Sam. "I didn't know –"

"Then you shouldn't have touched him," Sam snapped.

"Sammy," Dean's voice was low.

"I was trying to help!" Brenna bit the words off, her eyes angry and focused on Sam.

Sam clenched his jaw. "I told you to wait – I said to wait."

"Well, I didn't hear you."

"Then maybe you should listen a little harder!"

"Sam—" Dean tried again.

"You are unbelievable," Brenna shook her head. "You have just as much power to see what you need to – the power to help him and you run from it."

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about," Sam growled, shifting his eyes from Brenna to the battered house.

"Oh really? Then how did you push me away?"

"What do you mean how? I just did."

"With your mind, Sam – you pushed me away with your mind."

"I had to do something - you were killing him!"

"Sam!" Dean said.

"I was not," Brenna's voice shook. Her eyes darted from Sam to Dean and back. "I was stuck – he was… it was like… a lock on a window… like I wanted to see but he…"

"He didn't want you to see, don't you get it!" Sam argued. "He fought you hard enough he bled from it." His irritation with Brenna blossomed into an almost white-hot rage. He leaned toward her, over Dean. "You push and you push and you keep looking and keep asking and you break him down and then when you get where you think you want to go you just leave him to–"

"SAM!" Dean's voice was harsh, and the gasp of pain that followed the bark of his name snapped Sam back to his senses. "Enough, okay? Let it go."

Sam leaned back and looked down at Dean. "Dean—"

"Sammy," Dean sighed, holding his side and blinking at Sam. "It's okay. She's right…" Dean swallowed and closed his eyes, dropping his head back against Sam's chest. "She's right."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "What?" He ducked his head to try to peer at Dean's face. "What do you mean, Dean?"

Dean shook his head, straightening slowly, trying to sit up. His eyes remained closed, and his lips thinned to a line of pain across his face. It suddenly occurred to Sam that they were sitting in the dirt outside of the ransacked house. He looked up at Brenna who had her eyes on Dean, an expression of heartbreaking sorrow on her face.

"Did they tear up the inside of the house, too?" Sam asked softly.

Brenna nodded, not looking away from Dean.

"Is that bed still there?"

Brenna swallowed. "They didn't go into the side room," she said. "I think they thought it was a closet." She shrugged. "Looks like a closet."

Sam looked back down at Dean who had given in to gravity and was slumped over, cradling his ribs, his face pale, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow.

"C'mon, man," Sam said, curving his left arm around Dean's back. "Let's get you inside."

A line appeared between Dean's eyebrows as he worked to fold his legs under him and leverage himself up. Sam offered him as much balance as he could with one arm. Dean clenched his teeth against a groan of pain and Sam felt him tremble beneath his hands. Once on their feet, Dean swayed. Sam held him firmly, trying not to grip any of the bruised areas, but finding it difficult.

"That wraith sure did a number on you," he muttered.

"I think I might've pissed it off," Dean mumbled, his eyes still closed, as Sam turned him toward the stairs.


"It's a shame," the sentence was punctuated by a shallow gasp of pain, "I was working the Winchester," he stumbled slightly and Sam tightened his grip, "charm… speaking a foreign language…" he gasped, "using all my best lines…"

"Oh, you were totally in," Sam teased as he guided Dean up the stairs to the porch. "Little conversation by the fire…"

Dean let out a weak chuckle. "Yeah, I even had a wine glass…"

Sam nodded with a small grin as he watched Dean move carefully through the doorway and into the kitchen area. The house was a mess. Chairs broken and scattered, table collapsed in on itself, cabinet doors pulled off and dishes scattered and smashed along the counter and the floor. Sam looked to his left and saw that the sitting area had suffered just as much.

He was about to say something to Brenna when Dean suddenly sagged against him. Sam shifted and as quickly as he could hooked Dean's arm over his shoulder, crouching so that his brother wouldn't have to stretch.

"I got you man," he said.

"Sammy…" Dean called weakly.

"I'm here," Sam said.

"Damn, this hurts," Dean mumbled.

"I know, Dean," Sam answered.

"How much did I have to drink?"


"Room's spinnin' like a sonuvabitch," Dean's voice was fainter, his words slurring together.

Sam felt Dean's weight increase against him and his heart picked up speed. He looked up at Brenna standing next to the door of the side room.

"C'mon, Sam," she motioned. "It's okay. Everything's here."

Sam supported Dean's almost dead-weight as they moved through the door, Dean trying to help, his shoes dragging on the floorboards with each step. Sam hissed slightly as he lowered Dean to the bed, his shoulder protesting the movement. Dean sat heavily on the bed, his eyes bare slits of green. As soon as Sam straightened, Dean began to tip forward.

"Whoa," Sam stepped closer, grasped Dean's shoulders and eased him back onto the bed.

"Sam?" Dean's face was pulled in a tight grimace of pain.

"I'm here, Dean."

Dean blinked slowly, the time his eyes were open decreasing in length. Sam could see that Dean's eyes were unfocused, glassy. He turned his head on the pillow toward Sam's voice, his left hand resting across his chest, instinctively protecting his wounded ribs.

"Don't… listen to her, Sam," he mumbled, his eyes closing.

"To who, Dean?"

"There's always a choice," Dean's voice was getting fainter and Sam had to lean forward to catch the next part. "Always a choice…"

"A choice about what?" Sam whispered.

"Death," Dean said, then seemed to sag a bit in the bed, finally giving in to oblivion.

Sam blinked, straightening slowly to look at his brother. Dean looked suddenly very young. His dark lashes covered the purple shadows of exhaustion under his eyes, and an almost peaceful expression gave him an appearance of innocence that Sam knew he'd lost over twenty years ago. Dean sighed slightly and his brows pulled together in a pained expression that shattered the illusion of peace Sam had seen.

Sam needed Dean to act as his protector and clear a path for him in life… but what about Dean? Who protected him? Who helped pave his way? Sam sank slowly to the floor bedside the bed, then sat next to Dean's head with his back to the wall. Pulling his knees up he crossed his arms over them and dropped his head forward. John had been Dean's protection. Sam blamed the fortress Dean built inside of him on the transparency of the wall John provided for his oldest son.

But then even that had been destroyed. Sam shifted his head over, resting his cheek on his arm, and looked at his brother's battered profile. Sam missed John every day. He had a lot of regret when it came to his relationship with his father. He bit his lip, trying to quiet the sudden screaming of his heart. But Dean… Dean was his ground. His balance.

Brenna sat carefully on the edge of the bed, across from Sam. She had a white cloth in her hand and reached out to wipe the trail of dried blood from Dean's upper lip.

"Wait," Sam said, reaching out.

"It's okay, Sam," she whispered soothingly. "I won't let that happen again."

She trailed the cloth down Dean's face slowly. Sam shifted his eyes from Brenna's face to her hand, watching as she almost caressed Dean's face with the cloth. Dean lay still, his face lax, eyes closed. Even the line of pain between his brows had eased away.

"How come you can control it now?" Sam asked.

Brenna shrugged. "I guess I just… close off."

Sam licked his lips and nodded. He had felt that after every vision – raw, open, a conduit for images of people suffering, people dying. He wanted to hide, to retreat from everyone and everything until he could open his eyes and not be confronted by the images, until his head no longer threatened to roll from his shoulders in an attempt to escape from the pain.

Sam sat still, spent from pain and emotions, allowing Brenna to clean blood and remnants of soot from Dean's face.

"How did that happen, Brenna," he asked her, nodding toward Dean's face.

"I think you were right," she said softly, canting her head to the side and looking at Sam. "I think because he was fighting so hard, but… he wasn't fighting me this time."

"What do you mean? He looked like—"

"He was fighting himself," Brenna shifted her eyes over to Dean, holding very still. "There's something just under the surface… something that he knows, but doesn't… I don't know, understand, I guess."

Sam chewed on the inside of his lip, thinking. The memories that Dean had been experiencing since the blow to his head with the whiskey bottle… there was something there, Sam was sure of it. Brenna stood and carefully lifted the edge of Dean's black T-shirt to look at the bruising on the smooth plane of his belly. She shook her head.

"Why didn't Declan have this bruising?" she asked.

Sam lifted a shoulder. "Dean was banishing the wraith… It must have fought him."

"I'll say," she whispered. "Help me, Sam."

She turned away and pulled something out of the metal first aid kit sitting on the floor next to her. When she turned back, she had scissors in her hand.

"What are you going to do?" Sam shifted forward onto his knees.

"Cut away his clothes so that we can treat the bruises."

"He's not gonna like that," Sam said, even as he held Dean's T-shirt for her to cut it away from Dean's chest and arms.

"He'll deal," Brenna retorted.

They filleted the T-shirt, and Sam carefully eased it out from under Dean, wincing in sympathy as Dean groaned a bit in his sleep in protest of his body's movement. He pulled Dean's boots off, and helped Brenna remove his jeans, not missing the way Brenna averted her eyes from his as they did so. When Dean lay only in his boxers and bandaged ribs, the full effect of the wraith's vengeance hit Sam like a punch to the gut.

"Christ, Dean," he breathed.

The bruises ranged from harsh red slashes, to deep purple along his legs, arms, and torso. Dean shifted slightly, his brow pulling together. Sam saw him shiver once, and reached down to pull the blanket up to his brother's waist, offering Dean some warmth and Sam an escape from the visual of Dean's suffering.

Brenna left the room for a moment and Sam heard her feet crunch on broken dishes. He kept his eyes on his brother as she clattered through the broken furniture and cabinets to get whatever it was she needed. Dean's eyes flicked under his closed lids, and Sam couldn't help but wonder what he was seeing.

He heard something slam, a muffled curse, then he heard static from the kitchen radio and music filtered into the small room. Surprised that her radio still worked in all of the destruction, he shook his head, thinking back to Brenna saying she heard too much when it was quiet. After the latest events, he could easily believe there was something screaming inside of her that she had to drown out.

"Here," Brenna said, coming back into the room. "Hold this."

She thrust a metal bowl into his hands and opened the cap on the bottle of witch hazel. Pouring that in, she then mixed in a couple of pinches of powder from two small burlap bags she held under one arm, and then stirred it counter clockwise with her index finger. Motioning with her head, she directed Sam to sit on one side of Dean and she sat on the other.

"We're gonna soak these rags and lay them on him," she said, handing Sam several cloths like the one she'd used to clean up the blood. "It won't heal his ribs, or really help with the concussion, but it will ease the pain of the bruises, and should help with his fever."

"Fever?" Sam looked up in surprise. He reached forward and gently laid his hand across Dean's forehead. Dean's skin was warm to the touch. How did I miss that?

"Our bodies can only take so much abuse, Sam," Brenna said, soaking the first rag and easing the blankets back to lay it on Dean's leg. "It's just a reaction to the trauma." Sam watched her for a moment, idly wondering how they were going to do the same for the bruises on Dean's back.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. He felt his body begin to surrender to exhaustion as he held his eyes closed. The music from the shattered kitchen eased in and around him.

"But you always find a way to keep me right here waiting. You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting. And if you chose to walk away I'd still be right here waiting. Searching for the things to say to keep you right here waiting…"

Sam opened his eyes, looking at Dean. He began to mimic Brenna with the rags, starting with Dean's torso, careful of the wrapped ribs. It seemed strange to him to be this close to Dean, almost invasive.

He'd certainly taken care of Dean's wounds before. He'd helped John stitch Dean up after a werewolf tore into Dean's leg when Sam was fourteen. He'd carried Dean up the rickety basement stairs from the darkness of the basement when he'd been electrocuted killing the Rawhead. He'd held Dean's hand when the banshee's curse stopped his heart and as Brenna brought him back. And he'd carried him, bleeding from the chest, to the Impala after the demon had left their father back in the cabin.

"I've made a commitment. I'm willing to bleed for you. I needed fulfillment. I found what I need in you…"

But as Sam laid another rag soaked in the witch hazel solution across Dean's upper chest, he thought that this was almost too close, too real. The wraith pulled the soul, forcefully, painfully from the body. Sam remembered the feeling of the shtriga's attack. It had left him weak and shaken. Not broken and bruised.

"What if he didn't finish it first," he muttered softly.

"What?" Brenna was working her way up Dean's other leg, carefully keeping the blankets tented over him so that he didn't get chilled.

"Dean said he finished the wraith before it finished him, but… look at him," Sam said, laying one of the smaller rags across Dean's neck. "What if it… got a piece of him?" He looked over at Brenna's profile and saw her jaw muscle jump.

"Then you'll just have to help him figure out how to get it back, Sam."

"You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting. And if I chose to walk away would you be right here waiting. Searching for the things to say to keep me right here waiting…"

Sam swallowed. "When the semi hit us," he suddenly found himself saying, his hands quiet in his lap, his eyes on Dean's still features, "I was in the middle of trying to tell my Dad why I didn't shoot him."

He didn't look away from Dean, but could see Brenna out of the corner of his eyes. She stopped moving, a rag in her hand, poised over Dean's arm.

"It happened… so fast. I looked at Dean in the rear view mirror, and he was… barely there. And I looked at my Dad and he was so angry. And then I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, everything hurt and there was a man ripping the door off of the hinges and the colt was in my hand and all I could think was that Dean didn't hesitate," the words were tumbling out of him, tripping over themselves to reach the surface, to be exposed. "That guy in the alley was on top of me and I couldn't see and I couldn't hear and I knew he was going to kill me and Dean didn't hesitate. He used a bullet. He killed a man to save my life. He pulled me up and got Dad and got us out of there."

Sam felt his chest tighten as he stared harder at Dean. He wasn't really even aware that he was talking to Brenna, he was just talking.

"I don't know what made the demon leave that trucker, but I was gonna kill it. I was gonna kill it to save Dean. And you know," he blinked, looking down, "if I had there wouldn't have been a bullet left… and Dad wouldn't have been able to make that deal." And Dean could have died… and I would be lost…

"You don't know that, Sam," Brenna whispered.

"I know," he shrugged, his eyes down, "but I think about that. I think about that damn colt a lot. Almost as much as I think about Dad. The only reason I didn't shoot Dad in the cabin was because Dean was begging me not to." He lifted his eyes and looked at Brenna. "For a moment there, I really would have done it."

She simply looked back at him, not denying, not agreeing. She just let him talk.

"The trucker called 911 and I closed my eyes again and when I opened them someone was pulling me out of the car and they were… they were cutting Dean out. The car had almost crumpled around him, and they took him away, and the next time I saw him…"

Sam felt the wetness on his cheeks before he realized he was crying. He wiped the tears away with the back of his left hand. He didn't even care that Brenna was watching him. He hurt. He ached. And he was tired.

"He's all I got," Sam whispered. He felt Brenna's small hand on his forearm, resting carefully, comforting. "And I can't lose him."

"You're not gonna lose him, Sam," she said her voice low, soft.

"Sometimes I wonder if I already have," he confessed.

Brenna looked down, then squeezed his arm. "Sam," she said. He turned his eyes to her. "When I see Dean, I mean, when I, y'know, look into him, I am looking for him but all I see is you."

Sam pulled his eyebrows together.

"And it's not just a mission to save you, or protect you. It's you." She released Sam's arm and looked at Dean. "He confuses the hell out of me, and I know he's hiding something from himself, but one thing is clear. You are the most important thing in his life."

Sam swallowed. "That's what worries me," he said.

Dean's brows pulled together and he turned his head again, wincing. He blinked his eyes open, but Sam could see he wasn't truly awake. Brenna was in his line of sight.

"I was gonna go with her," Dean muttered.

Sam draw back, surprised. It was exactly what Dean had said to the doctor in the hospital. Dean closed his eyes, his head rolling slightly on the pillow toward Sam. Sam rested his hand on Dean's shoulder.

"Who were you going to go with, Dean?"

Dean didn't open his eyes. "Tessa."

Sam looked up at Brenna, surprised. She met his eyes, and shrugged.

"Who's Tessa, Dean?"

Dean pulled his eyebrows together, then opened his eyes again slowly, looking at Sam.


"Hey, man, you with me?"

Dean blinked again, looking down at his chest. "What did I miss?"

Sam grinned. "It will help the bruises," he said.

"Dressing me up like a mummy?" Dean's voice was rough, like it hadn't been used in days. Sam saw that his eyes seemed clearer. He shifted in the bed and Sam moved to push an extra pillow behind him, sitting him up higher in the bed.

"It's a druid thing," Sam shrugged. "Dean?"


"Who is Tessa?"

Dean's eyes opened wider and he blinked a couple of times at Sam. "What the hell you talkin' about?"

"You said that you were going to go with Tessa," Sam said, leaned forward, his hand pressing down on Dean's shoulder.

Dean lifted an eyebrow, giving Sam a look. "You okay, Sam?" he asked.

"He's right, Dean," Brenna said. "You said that – right before you woke up."

Sam noticed that Dean didn't look over at her when she spoke. He looked back down at the rags and bandages on his chest. A line appeared between his brows and his face was tight.

"Dean?" Sam shook his shoulder slightly.

"What?" Dean's voice was irritated.

Sam knew he was close to crossing the line, to pushing Dean back inside of himself, but it was starting to add up for him. "Listen, remember in Dad's journal, how it says reapers take on different forms?"

Dean raised his eyes, the green of his irises practically glowing out at Sam. "Yeah, so?"

"Dude… what if," Sam looked down and swallowed. "What if Tessa was a reaper?"

Dean's eyes dropped and Sam watched them dart furiously, working to remember, working to figure it out, working to understand.

"Dean," Sam ducked his head, trying to catch Dean's eyes. "You were with me in the hospital."

Dean looked up at Sam, his eyes cloudy, unfocused. "With you?"

"I, uh… I felt you somehow," Sam shrugged. "I don't know if it's my psychic thing or what, but… Dude, you talked to me. On the Ouija board."

Dean blinked at him, but Sam could tell that he wasn't seeing him. His eyes were focused inward.


Dean's eyes shifted away, darting again quickly in thought. "She had yellow eyes," he whispered. He looked back at Sam. "She had yellow eyes, Sam."

Sam tilted his head to the side, suddenly acutely aware of Brenna sitting so very still on the other side of Dean, aware that she'd seen what had happened to them through his eyes, aware that she knew Dean blamed himself for John's sacrifice. Dad's dead because of me… what could you possibly say to make that all right…

Sam swallowed. "Like the demon, you mean. Like Dad."

Dean nodded, his lips twitching, the muscle in his jaw jumping. He blinked once at Sam, and then as though someone had stuck a tap in him, Sam watched as Dean's heart drained from his eyes leaving them empty, dead. Fisting his hands, Dean pushed himself higher in the bed, then began pulling the rags from his arms and chest.

"What are you doing?"

"Gotta take a leak," Dean mumbled. "You mind?"

"Dean, hey," Sam snapped at him. "You can't—"

"Here," Brenna interrupted Sam.

She began reaching for the rags on Dean's chest, then helped him remove them from his legs. Dean didn't say a word to her, and they didn't once look at each other. Sam sat silently and watched, brooding. It was the standard Dean Winchester way of dealing. Shove it down, push it behind the wall, ignore that it was there, that he was scared, that he was confused. Just move move move. Motion is the key to survival. His brother was like a shark.

When the rags were removed, Brenna stepped back and with gentle hands, helped Dean turn slowly in the bed. Sam stood to allow his brother room to hang his legs over the bed. Sam noticed the fine sheen of sweat covering Dean's face as a result of that effort. If Dean noticed that he was clad only in his boxers, he didn't seem to care. Dean wrapped an arm around his ribs, bracing himself on the edge of the bed with the other arm and looked up at Sam through narrowed eyes.

"When I get back," Dean said through clenched teeth, "we gotta go get that… wine glass."

"What?" Sam and Brenna exclaimed at the same time.

"No way, man. You're not going anywhere," Sam snapped.

"You found the Ardagh?" Brenna cried.

"Dean, seriously, you need to rest," Sam continued.

"Where is it? Why didn't you tell me?" Brenna stood up from the bed.

"Shut up, both of you," Dean yelled, then winced, trying to straighten his right side. His breath hitched and he closed his eyes.

"Dean—" Sam stepped forward.

"Sam, I swear to God—"

"Just let me help you," Sam interrupted.

There was a chill in the room, so Sam turned quickly from Dean and grabbed a pair of sweatpants from the duffel on the floor at the foot of the bed, and carefully helped his brother ease into them. Gripping Dean under the arm with his left hand, he helped him to his feet. Dean gritted his teeth and growled as he stood. He was sweating and his breath was coming in short pants, but he was standing.

"You look like crap," Sam said, shaking his head.

Dean cracked his eyes open and peered at his brother. "Just point me in the right direction."

"I'll help you," Sam said. He wasn't about to let go of Dean and watch him crumble in front of his eyes a third time.

"The Ardagh," Brenna said, "where—"

"In a minute!" the brothers snapped at her in unison. As Sam helped Dean to the doorway, he looked over his shoulder at Brenna. She sat heavily on the bed, her hands fisted in her lap, her face pale, her eyes hot. Sam sympathized, but at the moment, his concern was for Dean.

"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered, looking out at the destroyed house.

Sam turned back and realized that there was no easy way to maneuver through the debris, even just in the short distance between the small room and the restroom. A bird flew in through the opened doorway, through the house, and out of one of the shattered windows in the back of the house. He shook his head.

"Hang on a minute, Dean," he said, propping Dean up in the doorway. He felt Dean tremble a bit and he looked at him quickly.

"Dude, this sucks out loud," Dean muttered, his face pale. He wrapped his arm around his bandaged ribs, the grey sweat pants sitting low on his hips.

Sam shoved the broken chairs and pieces of dishes and glass away from the wall so that there was a path clear from where Dean stood to the restroom. He'd barely finished when he looked up and saw Dean moving toward him, one hand on the wall. Sam shook his head, reaching out a hand.

"I got it," Dean grumbled, moving past Sam and into the bathroom. He shut the door behind him and Sam stood on the other side, staring at the door.

"Why didn't you tell me, Sam?"

Sam looked over to see Brenna standing in the doorway. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and her jaw was set. The music was louder outside of the small room.

"Tell me, is it more of the same and where can I find it? Tell me, is she fighting for air and where does she come from?"

"I forgot," Sam told her honestly.

"You forgot," her voice was brittle, her eyes switching from hot to ice-cold. "Twenty-four hours, Sam."

"I know," he said, turning back to the door and resting the flat of his hand on it. "I know."

"Tell me where it is," she demanded.

No way in hell, he thought. She was enough like his brother that she would go searching for the Ardagh by herself and he knew Dean wouldn't be able to handle Brenna getting herself hurt. He sighed. He didn't think he'd be able to handle it. He heard water running in the bathroom. He closed his eyes. His shoulder throbbed, his head pounded, and for one brief moment, it felt like his life was trying to swallow him whole.

"Sam," Dean's voice was faint through the door. Sam tried the handle. It was unlocked. He eased the door open.

"Tell me where it is, Sam," Brenna said again. He paused with the door part-way open and spared her a silent glance before he opened the door and stepped in.

Dean was braced in front of the sink, his arms on either side of the white porcelain, his head bowed, his eyes closed. He was visibly shaking. Sam didn't say a word. He stepped up next to him and slid his left arm across Dean's bare back, helping his brother lift an arm across his shoulders. Turning carefully, he eased Dean out of the bathroom, down the small area free of debris, and past Brenna into the small bedroom.

Dean held his jaw tight and he puffed harsh bursts of air through his nose. They reached the bed and Sam eased him down. Biting back a groan, Dean eased carefully to his back on the bed.

"Still want to go after the Ardagh?" Sam asked softly.

"Yes," Dean bit out.

Sam shook his head.

"Just gimme a minute," Dean panted.

Sam reached over to the metal first aid kit and grabbed the aspirin bottle. He shook four out into his hand and touched Dean on the shoulder, handing them to him. Before he could reach for the bottle of water sitting next to the bed, Dean had dry-swallowed the painkillers and was staring intently at the ceiling. Sam saw his lips moving in beat with the song from the radio, and tilted his head slightly, listening.

"I'm so afraid of the gift you give me. I don't belong here and I'm not well. I'm so ashamed of the lie I'm living. Right on the wrong side of it all…"

Sam suddenly realized Dean was counting. He saw him mouth six seven eight, then the verse changed and Dean began again at one. Sam sat down on the side of the bed, his back to Dean, and leaned his arms forward on his knees. He could see Brenna standing in the doorway, arms still crossed, face impassive. He felt the bed tremble as Dean's body betrayed him. Sam dropped his head, his voice directed toward the ground.

"Hold me now I need to feel complete, like I matter to the one I need…"

"Go to sleep, Dean."

"Can't sleep."

"Yes, you can."

"It'll get away from me," Dean said through clenched teeth.

Sam turned slightly to look at Dean over his shoulder. Dean was still staring at the ceiling, his eyes large and intent, his jaw tight.

"What do you mean?"

"Sam…" he paused and closed his eyes briefly. "I'm barely hanging on, man." He opened his eyes and looked at Sam. Sam felt his heart stop at the look in Dean's eyes. "I can't let go."

"Just sleep, man," Sam said. "It will all be here when you wake up."

"Will you?"

Sam's lips twitched and he pulled his brows together. He looked down, pulled in a breath. There was so much he wanted to say to Dean in that moment. So much he wanted his brother to know. That he was scared about his future, his destiny, that he was angry at John for not telling him the truth, that he was sorry John was gone but grateful every day that Dean was here, that he needed Dean to be there no matter what… that he needed Dean to save him.

But when he looked back up at Dean and met his brother's wounded gaze, he knew that Dean really only needed to hear one thing.

"Yeah, Dean. I'll be here."

As though the words were permission, Dean's eyes drooped, then closed. Sam watched as his body visibly relaxed. He pushed himself to his feet, drew the blankets up to Dean's shoulders and stepped away from the bed. He hoped this lasted – he couldn't remember the last time Dean had slept more than an hour or two.

"Where is it, Sam," Brenna whispered.

"Jesus Christ, Brenna," Sam whispered back fiercely. His patience was thin, his temper simmering just below the surface. "I thought you cared about him, for God's sake."

Brenna's eyes flashed hurt once, then went cold again. "I do care about him, Sam. More than he'll ever know."

"Then give me a damn minute, okay?"

Brenna stepped forward, into the room, right up to Sam. She barely reached his shoulders, but her presence was powerful. Sam resisted the urge to take a step back.

"I have less than twenty-four hours," she whispered, her eyes literally snapping with barely suppressed anger. "These guys do not mess around, Sam. They will come here. They will burn this place to the ground and they will not care who gets caught in it."

Sam took a breath and grabbed her upper arm, turning her and marching her out of the room. Their feet crunched on the broken pieces of plates and glasses. He didn't stop until they were in the center of the ruined kitchen, out of earshot if they were quiet.

"We won't let that happen," he promised.

"Sam, you can't stop it with rock salt," she retorted. Pulling her arm roughly from his grasp, she shoved her hands into her hair, pushing it behind her ears. She turned away from him and leaned against the sink. "When they killed my parents," she said, her voice soft, "they did it to make a point. Declan told me. They were… brutal." She turned from the sink and looked directly at him. "I can't let that happen to him – to either of you."

Sam nodded, his jaw tight. "It won't, Brenna. But you have to wait for us."

"Dean's not going to be in any shape to fight them off," she protested, gesturing to the bedroom door.

Sam rubbed a hand over his mouth. "I don't think that's gonna matter," he muttered. Running a hand through his longish hair, he shifted his eyes to the radio behind her.

"There's a shadow just behind me, shrouding every breath I take, making every promise empty, pointing every finger at me…"

"Brenna, listen," he said to her taut back. "Just give me a few hours. Let Dean sleep… and we'll figure out something. I promise." The words felt heavy in his mouth, and pulled at his heart.

She turned from the sink to face him. "You promise?"

Sam nodded, worrying his lip with his teeth. "We'll figure it out."

She leveled her eyes at him. "You know they have plans for the Ardagh, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"They're planning something. We give it to them, people die."

"We won't let that happen, Brenna," Sam said, his voice low.

He was suddenly cold. It was hard to think. He rubbed his forehead, closing his eyes briefly. He just needed a break… She pushed past him silently and he watched as she approached the broken front door.

"What are you doing?"

She tossed him a look. "Putting this back up."

Sam shook his head as he watched her bend at the knee to try to leverage the large wooden piece up. "You are just as bad as Dean," he muttered, going over to her and grabbing the door with his left hand.

Once it was in the air, he used his right to balance and they maneuvered the door to a semi-straight covering of the opening. Brenna balanced it as Sam wedged a couple pieces of broken chair to keep it in place.

"What did you mean," he said, jimmying the wood piece into place, "when you said I had the power to help Dean?"

He saw her look quickly at him out of the corner of his eyes.

"Your visions, Sam," she said.

"I can't control them, though," he argued.

She lifted a shoulder. "So you learn," she said.

He stepped away from the door, looking at her. "Easy as that," he said sarcastically, brushing his hands off on his jeans.

"I never said it would be easy," she argued, cautiously stepping away from the door. "I can't really control that glass breaking thing… but I learn to control the connection I have to people, control what I see and when."

Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Except with Dean."

She frowned. "Yeah," she said. "Except with Dean."

Sam started to walk away from her to the bedroom. "Maybe you're too close to him," he tossed back over his shoulder, almost holding his breath as he waited for her answer. When she was silent, he paused and looked at her. She was standing where he left her, hands on hips, eyes cast down. "Maybe you need to… I don't know… back away a bit," Sam suggested with forced casualness.

She didn't lift her head. "If that's what you want, Sam."

"What I want?"

She bit her bottom lip. Lifted her head and rested her eyes on him for a moment. Then without another word, she worked her way through the debris of the house and headed to the stairs. He watched her go, thinking about her last comment. He heard a low mutter followed by a groan coming from the small room and it pulled his attention away from Brenna. Hurrying into the room, he saw Dean twisting slightly in the blankets on the bed, a sheen of sweat on his face, a line between his brows.

"Easy," Sam murmured, crouching low beside the bed. He grabbed one of the discarded rags that Brenna had draped over the basin and slowly wiped down Dean's sweaty face. "Easy, Dean. It's just a dream."

Dean frowned in his sleep, twisted again, and fisted the blankets in his hands. You have the power…to help him…and you run from it… Could he really help Dean? He knelt next to the bed, setting the rag down on the floor beside him, and closed his eyes.

"If you wake up," he whispered, "don't make fun of me for this, okay?"

He reached out his left hand and placed his fingers on Dean's cheek and temple. He put his right hand on Dean's shoulder. He held very still, concentrating on Dean, on his breathing, on easing his brother's pain. After about five minutes, his knees began to ache and his back was stiff and the only thing he felt from Dean was a steady tremble of muscle beneath his right hand. He sighed, rocking back on his haunches.

"Well," he said softly. "It was worth a shot, I guess."

Dean's dream seemed to have given him some peace for the moment. Sam crab-crawled back across the narrow space and leveraged himself up on the edge of the adjacent bed, keeping his eyes on Dean. Looking over his shoulder at the engine parts and shop rags, he sighed. If he could just close his eyes for a minute… he stood and carefully emptied the bed, putting the items into the opened trunk at the foot of the bed. He stretched out on his back, cradling his right arm, his shoulder a dull, throbbing reminder that he wasn't any more of a match for a wraith than Dean. He closed his eyes and listened to the familiar rhythmic sound of his brother breathing.

A low murmur of a woman's voice teased the edge of his consciousness. Sam felt himself smile at the sound, once so familiar and comforting. It took another level of wakefulness before he realized that it wasn't a dream… it wasn't Jessica… it was real, and it was near. He cautiously turned his head and looked toward Dean's bed. The room was dark except for two candles lit on the mantle above the stone fireplace. They gave off a soft yellow glow that illuminated Dean and Brenna.

Sam blinked bleary, sleep-heavy eyes and tried to focus. Dean lay as he had before, blankets pulled to his waist, arm protecting his wounded ribs even in sleep. But now Sam could see that his skin glistened with sweat, and he was shivering. As Sam brought his brother completely into focus, he could see Dean's lips slightly parted, his brows pulled together in pain, and his chin trembling from a fever-chill.

Brenna sat on the other side of Dean, away from Sam, and was murmuring softly. He realized that she was singing. He strained his ears to catch the tune. It was in an odd rhythmic cadence… Sam blinked. He could see clearer now. She held Dean's hand at the thumb in one of hers, and with the other, she trailed a cloth down Dean's face, over his shoulders, across his chest.

Sam thought to move, to go over and relieve her, to take care of his brother, but then he saw Dean stiffen and clench his jaw, a muscle in his cheek twitch. His head pressed back against the pillow and his neck arched against some unknown pain. Brenna's arm tensed as she gripped his hand tighter. She raised her voice slightly and Sam recognized the words. She was singing Metallica. To Dean. His eyebrows shot up.

"Never opened myself this way, life is ours, we live it our way, all these words I don't just say, and nothing else matters…"

Dean seemed to hear her. He slowly relaxed into the pillow, easing the air out of his lungs slowly, and Sam watched as his hand eased back on the grip he had around Brenna's slim fingers. Sam held still, watching them, seeing something he hadn't seen since he was very young: Dean responding to someone's care besides his.

When he was a boy, Dean had let John care for him when he was sick or scared. Sam had watched and had recognized the same pattern of low, easy talking when Dean had cared for him. But as he grew, Dean stopped letting John take care of him. He stopped allowing anyone to see he needed to be cared for, until, Sam realized, he stopped believing that he needed it.

As Sam watched Brenna once again trail the cloth down Dean's sweaty face, soothing him, holding him with her words, with the cadence of her song, with her understanding of how he dealt with pain, his heart ached for the touch he'd lost and the touch Dean would never allow himself to have. The touch of surrender, of faith, of believing in someone else's ability to keep his heart safe, to not betray him. The touch of a woman who loved him. Sam felt his eyes burn and he turned his face up to the ceiling, blinking away the tears of memory that threatened to spill.

"I can't… let him know…" Dean breathed, his voice rough with pain and fever. Sam looked back over at them.

"Shhhh," Brenna soothed, carefully running the pad of her thumb across Dean's eyebrows, working the worry line from his face. "It's okay, Dean."

Dean shook his head slightly, his eyes still closed. "He won't understand." His voice was low, his lips barely moved, but somehow Sam heard every syllable.

"Yes he would," Brenna assured him. "He would, Dean."

Sam licked his lips, wondering if Brenna really knew what Dean meant, or if she was just reassuring him.

"Sleep," she murmured, still stroking his face. "Sleep, Dean. Tá mo chroí istigh ionat."

Sam was struck by the beauty of those foreign words in Brenna's voice. As he watched, she leaned over and carefully pressed her lips against Dean's. Dean responded, lifting his head slightly from the recesses of the pillow, but Brenna pulled away, pressing her fingers against his mouth. She stood and pulled the blanket up higher onto Dean's chest.

Sam held still, watching her. She set the rags on the metal first aid kit, then picked up a pewter mug. Sam's eyes opened wide when she walked over to him, setting the mug down beside his bed. He wondered how long she'd been aware that he was awake.

"He needs to drink that when he wakes up," she whispered.

"Where are you going?"

"Don't worry about that, Sam," she smiled. "Just take care of him."

"Brenna, don't –"

"I've got it under control," she interrupted him. She looked over her shoulder at Dean. "He's been asleep for about six hours now," she said.

Sam blinked. Dean hadn't slept that long in weeks. Then he realized what that also meant. Brenna's deadline was fast approaching.

"I'll see you in the morning," she said, looking back at him.

The dancing light from the candles reflected in her eyes and Sam shivered slightly at the effect. She left the room and he lay back on the bed, listening to the silence punctuated only by Dean's soft breathing. He lost track of time. He might've fallen back to sleep. The sound of his name roused him and he realized that the soft light from the candles had been replaced by the pale light of dawn.


"Hey," Sam sat up, holding his wounded shoulder, now stiff from a night of not moving.

He looked over at Dean, noticing how the sheen of fever was gone from his brother's face, but that the bruises still stood out against his pale skin.

"It was me…" Dean whispered, his head tilted to the side, his eyes wide as they stared at Sam, but, Sam saw, no longer glassy. "I thought she was talking about you…"

Sam stood stiffly and walked the short distance to Dean's bed, sitting on the edge. "Who, Dean?"

"It was an honorable death, she said. A warrior's death," Dean was staring right at him, but Sam got the disconcerting feeling that he was seeing someone else. "When I remembered that before… I thought she was talking about you. I thought she meant you were going to die… But, I remember it now… She was talking about me."

"You didn't die," Sam said, reaching for Dean's arm, but pulled back when the look in Dean's eyes shifted from distant to focused.

"I was gonna leave you, Sammy…"


"I thought you wouldn't understand… that you'd think I wanted to leave…"

"Why would I think that?"

"I had a choice," he said, licking his lips, then reaching up and rubbing his face. "She gave me a choice, and I was gonna choose to go with her."

Sam felt cold. He put it together quickly. Dean was talking about Tessa. He knew a reaper had been after Dean in the hospital, and Sam was now certain Tessa was that reaper. Dean had been forced to choose to die.

"You didn't, Dean."

Dean dropped his hand and shifted to his side. "Because of Dad."

Sam remained silent. He didn't know what to say to that. He didn't know that it wasn't the truth. And he didn't know how to tell Dean that he was glad.

"Where's Brenna?" Dean asked, looking past Sam, out of the doorway of the small room.

Sam started to shake his head, when the realization dawned on him. "Shit!"

Dean looked at him. "What?"

"Dammit!" Sam shot to his feet. "She's just enough like you to do it, too."

"What the hell are you talking about, Sam?"

"She went after the Ardagh," Sam looked down at Dean.

"What? How do you know? How does she even know where it is?"

Dean pushed himself slowly to a sitting position, cradling his ribs, his hair sticking up in tufts around the back of his head. Sam saw that the bruising that decorated the canvas of his brother's skin was more colorful than it had been before – the red welt-like marks were fading to a deep purple, and there was a display of greens and yellows across Dean's chest and back.

"Not that hard to figure out, man," Sam grumbled. He stalked over to the duffel of clothes and began digging in it. "We've been exactly two places since we got here, and it's obviously not here."

"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered. He rotated his legs over the side of the bed. He started to push himself to his feet.

"Wait," Sam ordered.

"Sam, I'm not staying here, while—"

"Would you shut up a minute, Captain Paranoid?" Sam retrieved the pewter mug and handed it to Dean, who was staring at him with raised eyebrows. "You need to drink this."

"What is it?" Dean took the mug from him, peering into it.

Sam shrugged. "Witches brew. Just drink it."

He pulled out Dean's clothes, glancing to make sure Dean did as he was told. He suppressed a grin when Dean shuddered from the taste. He handed his brother a grey Henley, black T-shirt, and jeans. He watched closely as Dean reached out and took the clothes from him, watching for signs of a returning fever.

"You need help?"

Dean took a breath and squared his shoulders. "I'll get back to you on that," he said.

Sam changed out of his smoke-saturated clothes, and watched as Dean stood on unsteady legs, pulling off his sweats and stepping into his jeans. He paused a moment to lean against the fireplace before pulling the shirts slowly over his head and easing his arms into the sleeves. Sam shook his head. Dean was obviously feeling better; he had that expression he wore that said he'd rather chew off his own arm than ask for help.

Waiting until Dean could once again step away from the support of the wall, Sam stepped out into the destroyed kitchen holding their duffel.

"What the hell?"

Sam looked back over his shoulder at Dean's comment. Dean was looking around the ruined room with wide eyes.

"Dean, this is the third time you've seen this," Sam said, spacing his words carefully.

Dean looked up, his eyebrows inverted V's of surprise. "Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious," Sam said, frowning. Dean had been pretty out of it last night… going after Brenna, facing the IRA, was not something he needed to be doing right now. He needed to be in bed, rest, healing. But one look at the line of steel that was Dean's jaw made Sam realize any argument to that end would fall on deaf ears.

He looked away from his brother and saw that the door he and Brenna had wedged in place was still there. "She must have gone out another way," he muttered, pulling out Dean's knife.

Without looking, he handed the knife and its sheath back behind him to his brother and felt the weight of it lifted from his hand. He took a gun from the duffel, checked the chamber and ejected the magazine, reloaded, flicked the safety on, and handed it back to Dean, then did it once more for himself. He looked back at Dean who was standing near the kitchen counter, looking down at the radio.

"What?" Sam asked, tucking the gun into his waistband.

"Were you guys listening to Metallica last night?" Dean's eyebrows were pulled together.

Sam pulled his arms around to his sides slowly, watching Dean. Dean's eyes darted quickly in thought as Sam remained silent. He watched as Dean straightened, realization dawning slowly. He turned and looked at Sam, his eyes going cold with resolution as they rested on Sam's face.

"Let's go get her back, Sam," he said. Sam nodded once and went to the door, removing the wedges of wood. They took a step back in unison as the door toppled backwards into the house, then, stepping on the fallen door and out onto the porch.

The air was chilly, and Sam could see his breath condense in front of him. He looked askance to Dean and shook his head slightly at the site of his battered brother. Dean stood with his legs braced apart, his hands at his sides, his eyes surveying the lot. The Grande National was still there, broken. The Impala was still there – and Sam noticed for the first time that the passenger side door was slightly ajar.

"What'd she do, walk?" Dean said.

Sam shrugged. "What would you have done?"

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Walk."

They stepped down the stairs of the porch, Dean pressing a hand to his damaged ribs. Sam winced in sympathy, but didn't bother suggesting he stay behind. He knew that he could drive away from Dean and look in the rearview mirror and see his brother walking down the road after him, bruised and broken or not.

"You know where the… wine glass… is?" Dean asked, gritting his teeth as he slid into the passenger side of the car.

Sam started up the Impala. "I threw it out of the window - used it to break the glass and get you out."

Sam saw Dean press his lips together. "You did good, Sammy," he said in a low voice.

Sam smiled to himself as he pulled out of the dirt lot and onto the highway toward the church lot.

"So did you," he said.

Dean pulled his head back in question. "What are you talking about?"

You taught me to fight, you taught me to survive, you taught me who I was and how to hold onto that, you fought for me, you killed for me, you resisted, you believed, you stayed…

"You stayed."

Dean was silent for a minute, then he shook his head with a whispered, "Jesus, Sammy…"

"I don't care if you think it was because of Dad, Dean," Sam said, glancing over at his brother's battered face. "You stayed. That's all that matters to me."

Dean said nothing, focusing his gaze out of the front window, his left hand cradling his side protectively. Sam didn't push. He could wait. He would wait. There was more to say, more Dean needed to know. They drove the rest of the way to the church in silence, the hum of Led Zeppelin's In My Time of Dying filtering through the interior of the Impala. As they approached the turn off, Sam could smell the ashes mixed with a dampness of the morning.

"Damn," Dean breathed, surveying the blackened hull of the abandoned church.

Sam's stomach clenched at the sight. Dean had been in there – they both had been in there. The walls that had been made of brick were still standing, but had crumbled significantly and were edged with black. Narrow tendrils of smoke wafted through the windows from what Sam assumed had been the roof, pews, and altar. Fire was destined to be part of their lives, and seemed to crave to be the reason for their demise. Sam shook his head. He caught sight of the black car the same time Dean did. He shared a look with his brother, stopped the car, and killed the engine.

"They found her," Dean stated in a deadly voice.

He opened the door and stepped out. Sam joined him, marveling for a moment the ease in which Dean suddenly moved. If he couldn't see the bruising, he might have forgotten that anything had happened to his brother. Dean pulled his gun out, flicked off the safety, then started for the church with barely a glance back at Sam. He began to walk toward what once had been the front door.

"Dean," Sam hissed.

"What?" Dean looked back over at him, his eyebrows furrowed in irritation.

Sam jerked his head to the side of the ruined building. Dean looked to where Sam was indicating, then nodded in understanding.

"Good thinking, Sammy," he said, a slight smile on his face. They moved slowly to the side door, splitting their attention between that and the front opening.

Sam knew that Brenna could have figured it out, could have realized what it was he'd thrown out of the window during the fire, but he scanned the ground for the small golden goblet anyway. He didn't see it. Dean leaned with his back to the wall just outside the opening. He held his gun up, at the ready, and it took Sam a moment to see that he was catching his breath, balancing himself. His face was covered in a fine layer of sweat and his lips were pressed tight.

Sam opened his mouth to ask Dean if he was up to it when they heard the voices. They were increasing in volume as they grew closer. Sam closed his eyes, concentrating, separating. Three men, one woman. All were speaking Gaelic. All were angry. They moved through the ruined church until they were parallel to the side door. He opened his eyes and met Dean's. Dean nodded once and rolled around the edge of the doorway to step into what once was the sanctuary. Sam was at his heels.

"Hey!" Dean barked, his gun pointed at the head of the closest man. All four whipped around to look at them. Sam immediately recognized Eamon and two of his sons. He figured Mick was the one that was missing, since his shoulder had very recently been ventilated by Dean's well-placed bullet.

"Who are you people," Eamon snarled, his lip curling in disgust.

Sam mimicked Dean's stance, narrowing his eyes as James – or was it Liam? – pulled Brenna tight against him and she gasped.

"Just the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass," Dean quoted, not dropping his eyes, moving forward slowly.

"This has nothing to do with you," Eamon said, grabbing Brenna from his son and roughly pulling her to him.

"Let go, you bastard," she growled, swinging, clawing, and kicking.

Before Sam or Dean could do anything, Eamon turned Brenna around and backhanded her across the face, sending her sprawling in the ashes.

"You just signed your death warrant, Chief," Dean said, his voice low and dangerous, cocking his gun to punctuate his sentence. Sam's eyes darted from Brenna on the ground, holding her bleeding lip, to Dean's profile as his brother advanced on Eamon. The other two drew their guns and pointed them in unison at Sam.

"Kill me, and he's next," Eamon said calmly, flicking a challenging eyebrow at Dean. "You can't win."

"That won't matter to you," Dean said. "'Cause you'll be dead."

"You would risk him?" Eamon said, narrowing his eyes at Dean.

Sam felt sweat break out on his upper lip, his eyes on Dean. His brother's face was impassive, his eyes steady, his arms braced.

"What happened to your timetable, Pops," Dean asked. "You're about twelve hours too early."

"Our needs changed," Eamon roughly kicked one of Brenna's legs out of the way as he approached Dean.

Sam heard her gasp and shifted his eyes to her. As he did so, he saw the small pistol that was in Eamon's hand, dropped from a holster in his sleeve. As if in slow motion, Sam saw Dean shift his attention for one moment down to Brenna at her gasp of pain, saw Eamon lift his hand, expertly shifting the gun from the palm of his hand to his grip and cock it as Dean's attention turned back to face him.

Sam knew he wouldn't be fast enough. He moved toward Dean, oblivious of the brothers' guns trained on him, thinking only that Dean wouldn't see it, Dean wouldn't know. He propelled his body as quickly as he could, but it was as though he were moving underwater. He knew he wouldn't be fast enough. He had a brief moment to register the look of resignation that crossed Dean's face before the unexpected punch of power knocked them off of their feet.

Sam landed hard on his back, the wind exiting his lungs in a rush. Dean's shoulders and head hit Sam's chest as he fell back into him. Time suddenly resumed its normal speed and Sam struggled to sit up, pushing Dean with him. He looked around and saw that Eamon and his sons were sprawled on the ground, each in a different direction. He looked over at Brenna.

She sat in the ash, her bottom lip bleeding, her jaw red, her eyes predatory. She looked dangerous and fragile at the same time. She shifted her druid eyes to Eamon, watching as he sat up.

"It's unnatural…" Eamon panted. "This power you have. I told Jack," he continued, holding his arm. Sam saw blood trickling down the side of the elder man's face. "I told him we should have killed you when we had the chance…"

"What?" Brenna said, her voice ice-cold.

Sam pushed himself to his feet, reaching down and pulling Dean with him. Dean moved slowly, the fight seemingly knocked out of him, and Sam didn't want to think what Brenna's punch of power had done to Dean's already broken ribs.

"Oh, yes," Eamon panted, clearly not finished torturing Brenna with facts from her past. "I was there. I put a bullet in your mother's eye. You didn't know that did you?" His chuckle sent chills up Sam's spine. "You saw it, you know. You watched the whole thing."

Brenna crouched low, looking very much like an animal about to pounce.

"You're right, old man," she growled. "You should have killed me when you had the chance." Sam saw her hand reach blindly in the ash and watched as her fingers closed confidently around the grip of Dean's gun. He hadn't even realized Dean had dropped it. "Because you've lived long enough to regret it."

She stood, pointed the gun at him, quickly stepped over the top of him and pushed him to the floor with her boot. Shifting once, she pressed the sole of her shoe into his neck and Sam heard him gasp for air.

"Brenna, wait," he tried. He stepped forward, reaching his hand out. He never saw the hit. His leg was swept out from under him as he stepped forward, and Sam flipped to his back, the air once again leaving him. James – Sam recognized him now as the sadistic bastard who had used Dean as a soccer ball - pressed a knee on Sam's sternum and a gun to Sam's forehead.

"Let him go," James said, his eyes on Sam, but his words directed to Brenna.

Sam thought wildly where is Dean one second before he heard Liam cry out, and something clatter to the ground. He frantically shifted his eyes to the side and saw Liam standing awkwardly against the wall, Dean's bowie knife sticking out of his hand, his gun on the ground at his feet. Sam shifted his eyes trying to see his brother. Dean was leaning slightly forward, his right arm extended in the follow-through from his throw.

"Look at that," Dean said, a slight tremor betraying him only to Sam. "Turns out there is a reason to bring a knife to a gun fight."

Sam heard Dean's boots hit the floor, listened as he walked over to Liam, listened as Liam cried out again when Dean pulled his knife from the Irishman's hand.

"Oh. Sorry," Dean lied. Sam could now only see Dean's legs from the angle he was laying. James pressed the gun harder into his forehead and Sam closed his eyes, biting back a groan. The knee in his chest was starting to constrict his breathing.

"Listen to me," Dean said, his low voice commanding authority. "You're both going to back off, and we're going to settle this nice and easy."

"Forget it," Brenna growled.

"Brenna," Sam heard Dean drop his voice. "He'll kill Sam."

"So you kill him before he can," she shot back.

At that James reached up and grabbed a fistful of Sam's hair, yanking his head back and shoved the gun into the soft part under Sam's chin. Sam couldn't hold the groan of pain in this time. The barrel of the gun pressed his jaw together painfully hard.

"Don't risk it, boy-o," James taunted. "You wouldn't want to be accidentally killing him in the process."

"You shut up," Dean snapped. "Brenna," he said again, his voice low. "Please."

"You heard him, Dean!" Sam heard Brenna's gun cock. "He shot her. And he could care less."

Sam heard something shift and he forced his eyes open. If he didn't know better, he would say he heard Dean's knife hilt rub against his jeans as Dean adjusted his grip.

"Brenna, please," Dean tried again. "I can't let you do this."

"You gonna stop me, Dean?"

"If I have to."

Sam closed his eyes.

"He killed my mother."

"I know," Dean whispered.

"He deserves to die."

"I know," Dean said again.

"Dean..." her voice seemed to catch on his name, as though saying it brought her focus back.

"I will do what I have to, to save him," Dean seemed to be reminding her.

"I know," Brenna answered, and her voice was so final that Sam tried to say something, tried to cry out, tried to stop her, but he couldn't open his mouth against the gun. He held his breath, waiting, listening, hoping.

Suddenly, the pressure against his jaw vanished. He opened his eyes. Dean face immediately replaced James' looming presence. He shifted his eyes to the side and saw James standing next to his father, Eamon rubbing his neck where Brenna's boot had left a tread-shaped bruise.

"You okay, Sammy?"


"C'mon, man," Dean offered his hand, which nearly made Sam laugh. Dean could no more pull him to his feet right now than he could run a marathon. Sam stood on his own power, noting as he did so that Dean looked like a gust of wind could knock him on his ass.

"You have the Ardagh," Eamon rasped.

"Yeah," Dean shrugged. "So?"

"Jack will come for it," Eamon predicted. "And he will leave nothing in his wake."

"Jack's a real bad-ass, is he?" Dean lifted an eyebrow.

"He will come for it," Eamon repeated.

Dean motioned to Eamon with the tip of his knife, Liam's blood still on the blade. "You know what? You tell him to come."

"Dean?" Sam asked, rubbing the base of his chin.

"Tell him to come, meet us at the bar, at what, noon tomorrow?" Dean turned to look at Sam, as though checking his thinking. "Yeah, noon sounds about right."

"And why would I do that?" Eamon demanded.

"Because you want the…"

"Ardagh," Sam supplied.

"Yeah," Dean nodded. "That."

Eamon glared at Dean, then motioned with his head for James to gather Liam and leave. As he followed his sons out of the door, he glanced back at Brenna.

"Tiocfaidh ár lá."

Sam saw Brenna's head snap up.

"Póg mo thóin!" she replied.

Sam watched the Irishmen leave, and waited until he heard the car pull away, until he turned back to Dean. Dean was literally swaying on his feet. Sam reached out and grasped his arm, steadying him. His worry increased when Dean leaned his shoulder against Sam's. He looked over at Brenna, who stood silently, watching them, Dean's gun hanging loosely from her grip.

"This is it," Dean said, his voice nearly a whisper. "No more, okay." Sam glanced down at him. Dean was looking at Brenna. "We do this together, or we don't do it at all."

Sam held tighter to Dean's arm, watching Brenna. Her tongue darted out to the cut on her lip, her eyes slowly receding to their normal green-gold.

"They're gonna win," she said.

"No, they won't," Sam responded.

She shook her head. "Jack really is a bad-ass, Dean," she said, rubbing the back of her hand over her mouth. "He may have saved my life, but he still managed to find a way to take it away from me."

Sam felt Dean pull away from him, and he kept his hand on Dean's arm to balance him. He looked at his brother's profile, saw the pain in his features overshadowed by the strength in his eyes.

"Then we gotta take it back."