Rating: PG-13


Chapter 6

If you're going through hell, keep going. - Winston Churchill

Dean kept his eyes on Eamon as the Irish gang exited the church. That man was going to be trouble. Dean knew instinctively that he wouldn't stick to the noon deadline, but he hoped that Brenna and Sam believed. He knew they needed to believe to get through what was coming. Especially Sam. He needed to believe that they could win, or Dean was afraid of what Sam might do – he used to know… he used to know his brother better than anyone. But since finding out that he could go, as he put it, dark side… Sam had been a bit harder to predict.

As he watched the men leave, Dean's vision wavered and he felt himself sway. Sam's hand was instantly gripping his right arm, just above the elbow. He couldn't help it; he let himself lean into Sam's grip until his shoulder was touching his brother's. He knew it would worry Sam, but it was that or let himself fall over. At the moment, leaning on Sam was the lesser of two evils. He wanted to be strong…needed to be unbreakable, but at the moment he felt hollow, and he knew that he was as close as he'd ever been to breaking.

"This is it," Dean said, his voice nearly a whisper. "No more, okay." He looked over at Brenna. She was standing with her feet braced apart, his gun hanging limply from her fingers. "We do this together, or we don't do it at all."

He felt Sam's hand grip tighter on his arm, but he kept his eyes on 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," he heard Sam respond in an automatic denial.

Dean almost shook his head in wonder, but he forced himself to remain still. It was one quality he admired most in Sam: his inability to believe that evil would triumph over good. Even after all they'd been through, even after all they'd lost, Sam still believed that the light side of the Force was stronger than the dark. Dean desperately hoped he never lost that.

Brenna shook her head in response to Sam's denial.

"Jack really is a bad-ass, Dean," she said, rubbing the back of her hand over her mouth, looking toward them, but not at them. "He may have saved my life, but he still managed to find a way to take it away from me."

The hopelessness in her tone triggered something in him…something that he associated with Sam… something that meant stop this, make this better, protect this, save this… He pulled away from Sam's support, from his balance. Steadying himself, he leveled his eyes at Brenna, pulling whatever reserves of strength he kept inside to keep him moving forward, to keep him from collapsing, into that look. Willing her to believe him.

"Then we gotta take it back," he said.

Brenna's eyes shot to his, focusing, watching.

"Can we?"

He nodded, but the surge of adrenaline that had carried him from the house to the church was beginning to leave him. He felt it leaking out of his pores as though his body was crying. He could see Sam tense out of the corner of his eyes. He set his jaw, wrapping an arm around his aching ribs. It was beginning to be hard to take a full breath. He was not about to go down again, though. Not in front of Sam. He was supposed to take care of Sam… he shouldn't need Sam to take care of him.

"We will," he said, pitching his voice low to get under the weakness, under the pain. "But, uh, first we gotta find the…"

"It's in the cemetery," Brenna said, shifting her eyes to Sam. "I kinda figured it out."

"Yeah, well," Dean heard the shrug in Sam's voice. "Maybe there's more to you than mind invasion."

Dean shot his eyes over to Sam's profile, surprised. Sam's tone had been indifferent, but his eyes were angry. Dean had seen that look many times before – directed at John. Sam continued to stare at Brenna, and Dean looked back over at her. As though his brother's words had hit her physically, Brenna's head was tipped back, her hands clenched at her sides. Dean saw his gun tremble in her grip.

Before either of them could say anything else, Dean stepped up to her, forcing her to look at him by his mere proximity.

"Give me the gun, Brenna," he said softly.

He felt a small trickle of sweat run down the side of his face. He watched her eyes, watched them meet his, see him, challenge him, then melt. She didn't move, her face didn't flinch, but he knew when he'd won. Her eyes pleaded with him to understand something that he knew she didn't understand herself – why she couldn't release the anger, why she'd almost killed a man, why she'd put Sam at risk, why she was starting to break.

"Dean," she whispered, her eyes flicking down to his mouth, then back up to his eyes. "I wouldn't have let them kill him."

"Give me the gun, Brenna," he repeated, holding his hand out, palm up.

She looked down at his hand. She seemed to have trouble moving.

"I never knew I was there that night," she whispered.

Dean watched her closely. She stood so still she almost seemed made of glass. He could barely see her breathing. A bead of blood on her lip trembled slightly with a breath, then tipped over the edge and he watched it leave a thin crimson trail down her chin. She kept her eyes focused on his hand, lifted, palm up, waiting.

"Da never said," she continued, her voice so low that Dean wondered if Sam could hear. He could sense Sam very near, could almost feel his brother's breath.

"You were pretty little," Dean said. But he knew they were just words. She'd been four. At four, he knew, you remember. If Declan had never told her, Dean realized, it had been his way of protecting her from something she had forced herself to forget.

He remembered everything the night his mother died. Every sound, every smell, every texture. He remembered the sturdy feel of his father's strong arms as he leapt confidently into them. He remembered his father's scream of his mother's name. He remembered the smell, the horrible, hot smell coming from Sammy's room. He remembered the heat. He remembered the weight of the baby in his arms. He remembered the soft feeling of the blanket. He remembered the sound of his own breathing fighting the beating of his heart for dominance in his ears.

"Dean?"

Take your brother outside as fast as you can… now, Dean, GO!

"Hey, man…"

Dean blinked. Sam was standing next to him, a hand carefully resting on Dean's shoulder. He shifted his eyes, feeling like he'd lost time, like he had missed something. He looked at Brenna. She hadn't moved.

"You okay?" Sam's voice sounded young.

Dean nodded, not looking at him. "Give me the gun, Brenna," he asked for a third time, leaving no room for argument in his voice.

This time she seemed to break from her reverie. She lifted the gun as if it weighed 100 pounds, shifting the safety on with her thumb as she did so, and placed it in Dean's open hand. He felt his arm sink slightly with the familiar weight. He turned it swiftly in his grip, carefully reaching behind him to stuff the barrel in the back waistband of his jeans. His ribs protested the movement and he bit back a gasp.

"Thanks," he said tightly. She nodded, then took a step back, turned from him and went out the side door toward the cemetery.

Dean kept his eyes on her, but didn't yet move. He was cold, but could still feel sweat trickling down his face. He knew that wasn't good. Something was off – had been off since this morning when he stood up. He wasn't just post-battle sore – this pain in his chest, in his head… it was constant, present, real. It just wasn't the morning after pain that camped out in the bones and declared that it would be around awhile. For a moment he felt as he had the minute he'd banished the wraith.

He didn't look at Sam, but the weight of his brother's hand on his shoulder was almost painful – as though even his nerve endings were raw, open, frayed. He wanted to shift away from Sam, but as he watched Brenna make her way through the sunken, weather-worn tombstones, he knew that any movement at that moment would betray him to Sam's hawkeyed gaze.

He took a mental tally. He could feel the dull ache of pain from two sutured gashes in his head, the ribs on his right side felt like they were grinding on each other, but other than that, it was only bruising. He'd had worse before. Much worse. In this very town. He'd died here. It didn't make sense to him that he felt so weak, so dizzy, so cold as the result of… bruising.

He turned slightly, feeling Sam loosen his grip to allow him to rotate, but not completely release his shoulder. He looked at the ash-covered area beneath the window gaps along the wall. It had been there. The wraith had almost defeated him right there. It had taken something from him right there. He could feel the echoes of the pain, and his body trembled as he stared. He felt Sam's grip tighten, but he remained silent.

"Let's get out of here, Sam," he muttered, resolutely shifting his eyes from the scene of the wraith's attack and looking out toward Brenna. He watched as she stopped her slow search, bent and retrieved something from a tangle of yellowing weeds growing high around a tombstone. She stood and turned to face him, holding the gold goblet aloft.

"She's got it," Sam said, his voice low, an undercurrent of concern and irritation filtering through it that had always meant let me help, lean on me.

Dean nodded and moved forward, away from Sam's grip, toward the light sifting in through the doorway. There were times he wanted to let Sam help, times he wanted to lean on Sam. But those moments were quickly erased with one real look at Sam.

Dean could see in a glance at his brother's dark eyes that the effects of the past year were never going to leave Sam, never going to give him peace. He saw each vision add weight to the already heavy burden Sam put on his soul. He saw Sam struggle, fear, resolve, and waiver. He saw Sam need and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to be there to fill that need.

He moved forward with purposeful strides, his thoughts scattering and coalescing with a dizzying cadence as he walked toward Brenna, Sam at his heels. He would be fine. He was always fine. He just needed to keep moving, keep checking, keep blocking. He needed to get Brenna out of there, keep the IRA away from her… He needed to help Sam get back to the search for Ava… He needed to sit down.

He instinctively reached out for the brick wall and realized he'd already crossed the threshold of the doorway. His fingers met the solid arm of his brother. He closed his grip on Sam's shirt for a moment, took a breath, then straightened as much as his ribs would allow. The hollow feeling inside of him seemed to grow and he blinked.

"Dean," Sam's voice was close. Dean kept his eyes on Brenna, the Ardagh in her hand, her eyes on him. "Dean, c'mon."

"C'mon what?"

"Let's get to the car," Sam's voice was practically inside of his head. It was echoing.

"Where the hell do you think I'm goin', Sam?" A hum began in the back of his head. A rhythmless tone of music that distracted him.

"Well," Sam's tone was a forced levity. "From the looks of it, you're walking into the cemetery. Car's this way."

Dean blinked, and Brenna suddenly doubled. He blinked again, and she managed to pull herself back together. He turned his head in the direction of Sam's voice.

"Oh. Right."

"You okay, man?"

"Fine."

"You sure? 'Cause you – Dean!"

"What?" Damn his voice was loud.

"You are not okay."

"God, let it go already."

Sam's left hand suddenly gripped his elbow, pulling him forward.

"Easy!"

"Dean, the car is this way."

"That's where I was going."

"Whatever," Sam's voice was heavy with irritation.

"Dude, hands off," Dean pulled his arm out of Sam's grasp. "I got it." The hum grew louder.

"…stubborn bastard… not impressing… don't know how you managed…"

"What?" Dean tipped his head toward Sam. "Sam, if you're gonna talk, then talk. Mumbling is just damn annoying."

"…scaring me… going on with you…"

Dean saw the Impala. It stood out like a beacon of clarity in the strangely blurred background. He picked up his pace, aware that he was putting distance between himself and Sam. As he reached for the passenger door handle, he stumbled. He tried to close his fingers around the handle and felt as though his hand slid right through. He stopped breathing, staring at the door. No…no, not again… I am here… I am here.

"Sam."

"Yeah," Sam said, his voice close.

"Hit me."

"What? No way! Are you nuts? You're barely on your feet."

"Sam," Dean felt the panic that was starting to choke off his air sift through his voice. "Hit me, push me, something." Touch me, let me know I'm really here…

He felt a hand on his arm, a gentle hand, a small hand. He looked down at his arm and saw Brenna's slim fingers. He trailed his eyes up her arm to her shoulder, her neck, her bruised, bleeding mouth, her eyes. Her gold-green eyes stayed steady, holding his.

"Take a breath," she said. He dropped his eyes to her mouth, watching her lips. He felt her fingers tighten on his arm. "Take a breath," she repeated.

He obeyed. The hum in his head began to quiet. He looked up from her mouth to her eyes. The corners turned up in a slight smile. "Try it again."

He reached for the door handle, and was reassured when he was able to close his fingers around the metal. He pulled the door open and glanced up at Brenna.

She shrugged. "You just missed it the first time is all."

Her words felt heavy. He narrowed his eyes, but she moved past him and climbed into the back seat. He slid into the car, holding his right arm tight against his side and reached across to pull the door shut with this left arm. He caught sight of Sam, standing just outside of the door, staring at him.

"What is it, Sam?"

Sam shook his head wordlessly, his eyes shadowed, his face tense. He was looking at Dean with an expression that Dean had seen before – like he was waiting for Dean to say something, to confess. Waiting for him to reveal something that he didn't even know he kept secret.

"Sam?"

"Nothing," Sam said, shaking his head again. He pushed Dean's door shut and Dean watched him walk around the front of the car to the driver's side. Sam slid behind the wheel and slammed his door.

"Hey! Easy with her," Dean protested.

"Sorry!" Sam snapped.

"Sam, what the hell—"

"Just forget it, man."

Dean was tired, his body ached, his head swam, his vision was tilting at regular intervals… he didn't have the energy to argue. "Fine."

He saw Sam shoot a look over to him, his eyes hot, his mouth tensed, ready to launch, but something stopped him. Dean leaned his head back against the seat, grateful for whatever that something was. He closed his eyes.

"We need to be ready," he said. "In case noon comes early for the Irish."

"I know," Brenna said, her voice sounding small and far away in the back seat.

Sam turned the Impala around and headed down the gravel road. Dean let the motion of his car shift him slightly in the seat so that his forehead was resting against the cool glass of the window. He was sweating again, but he could feel a chill inside, a tremble that began around his heart and began to slowly spread through his limbs.

"What's so great about that damn cup," Dean mused through numb lips, his eyes still closed.

"It's… symbolic," Brenna answered. Dean could barely hear her.

"To the IRA?" Sam asked.

"To the Irish," Brenna must have leaned forward, Dean realized, because her voice seemed like it was coming from his shoulder. "It is named after a town… one of the oldest in Ireland. Like, 450 AD old," Brenna continued. "The chalice was one of the communion cups used by St. Patrick."

"Like… green beer St. Patrick?" Dean asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"That's the one," Brenna said, her hands rustling softly along the leather of the seat as she rested against it. "Whoever has the chalice of St. Patrick will be victorious in battle… or something like that… 'course, they could want to sell it on eBay for all I know and use the money…" she sighed. "The point is that they are terrorists. We can't let them have it. People will die."

Dean felt a jab of pain shift through his side and he bit the inside of his lower lip. He heard Sam take a breath, heard his mouth open to speak, heard the skin of his palms twist on the steering wheel… everything was loud, amplified, harsh. He pressed his eyes tighter, concentrating on the black of the back of his eyes.

"…to them it will all be over for you. You can be free of it," Sam was saying.

"Sam, I can't just… terrorism. Do you know what they are capable…"

Dean pulled his eyebrows together, trying to focus on their voices. The hum was back, and with it an almost white-hot pain lancing through his head. He felt his stomach churn and forced himself to breath through his nose. He clenched his left hand and with his right began tapping out the rhythm to Zeppelin's Good Times Bad Times as it played very softly from the cassette.

"Think we lost the chance to take the moral high ground when… Declan… wraith…" Sam was saying, his voice cutting in and out like a bad radio station in Dean's head.

"I know what it means to be alone, I sure do wish I was at home…"

"Sam," Brenna's voice snapped with an almost static charge. "Jack won't just… just walk away if we hand him the Ardagh."

"Why not?"

"Aw, c'mon, Sammy," Dean almost whispered, his jaw shaking a bit from the chill that had been building from his chest. "You've seen enough movies to know. They can't leave witnesses… all that."

"I don't –"

"Why else would he have sent an old fool like Declan to summon the wraith," Dean forced out through clenched teeth. Damn but his head hurt.

"Dean?"

"Come to think of it," Dean said, his fingers trembling as they tapped out the beat of the next song. "How did some IRA dude know how to summon and banish a… God… a fucking… wraith… ahh!"

The pain in his head overwhelmed him and he was unable to hold back the cry. He pressed the heel of his hand to his brow and tried to force back the ache. His body – the last line of defense between his brother and the evil of the world – was betraying him. He felt a searing, nerve-ending pain in his hands, his legs, his belly…

"…hang in there, okay," he could hear Sam's voice as if he were calling to him from the end of a long tunnel. "Stay with me… Dean?"

"What?" Dean snapped. God, couldn't Sam shut up? He was always talking talking talking asking questions always questions why couldn't he ever stop - "Sam?"

"I'm here."

"Okay…" He was still there. Sam was there. Damn wraith… damn Irish mobsters and their fucking cause…

The car turned sharply around the last corner before the Kavanagh bar, and Dean let his body shift on the seat. He slid slowly, eyes still closed, one hand pressed to his left eyebrow, the other wrapped around his ribs. He stopped his slide when he bumped softly against Sam's shoulder. He kept his jaw clenched, breathing through his nose, keeping his stomach where it belonged - inside of him.

"Turning again, man," Sam said. Dean tried to hold himself still, but almost sighed in relief when Sam snaked his wounded right arm out to grip Dean's arm and keep him still. "You okay?"

Hell, no… I'm hollow, Sam… everything is falling inside… "Yeah, fine," he said. "Just need to lie down a minute."

Dean felt the bump as the Impala crossed over into the dirt lot in front of the Kavanagh bar/motel and Brenna's house. He felt the car stop and waited until the familiar vibration ceased before he pulled himself straight. He reached for the door handle, realizing belatedly that there were three of them.

"Wait, Dean, just wait," Sam was saying and his voice faded as he got out of the car.

Dean ignored him, focusing on the middle handle, and grasping it, forcing the door open. The fresh air made him blink and his vision pulled together once more. He saw Sam standing just outside of the door and pushed himself slowly to his feet. Sam stepped forward.

"I got it, Sam," Dean muttered.

"I'll go clear a space," said a female voice. Who the hell?

"Thanks, Brenna," Sam was saying.

Brenna… Dean lifted his eyes and watched her step from the Impala and head to the house. He'd forgotten about her. She cast a furtive glance behind her, met his eyes briefly, then picked up her pace jogging up the stairs and in through the opened doorway of the battered house.

Dean kept his hand on the body of the car as he moved down the length of the car, around the trunk. He heard Sam close the car door behind him. He focused on the house, starting toward the steps. The steps were going to be a bitch.

"Dean, goddammit," Sam said from behind him.

"What, Sam," Dean muttered. Just one step at a time…easy as that…

"You are a friggin' stubborn jerk, that's what," Sam growled, his voice hard.

"Bitch," Dean looked over at Sam as he lifted his leg to take the last step. He missed. He didn't even have time to blink as the world went white and gravity did white gravity was created to do.

The hum in his ears enveloped him, cushioning his fall, so that all he felt was the relief of no longer being upright. He tried to blink but realized that his eyes were closed. The blank canvas of white seemed to slowly fade to grey, then like a slow bleed, black began to take over.

"…get him up on the bed…"

Snatches of voices, muffled by distance, met his ears. He felt hands on his body, pulling, lifting, hurting. He wanted to push them away, to tell them to stop, tell them to just goddamn leave him alone but he couldn't lift his hands, couldn't speak, could barely breathe. His ribs were on fire and each gasp felt like it was punching a hole through his side. As the black began to outweigh the grey, he tried to call out, tried to call for Sam, but his lips were numb.

"Jesus, he's burning up…last time you checked…"

"…seemed fine this morning…"

The voices were familiar, but muted. He tried again to take a breath, but this time it felt like something heavy was sitting on his chest. He couldn't move his arms to push it off. He was hot, so hot. The heat was overpowering, suffocating, heavy.

"…have to get him cooled down…"

"Dammit, he's shaking so much…can't hold him still…"

He started to panic – the black was winning and something told him that when there was no more grey he wouldn't be able to hear the voices… and he wanted the voices… he wanted one voice.

"…hear me? I'm not going anywhere, I promise… open your eyes…"

He tried to do what the voice asked. He tried to open his eyes, but it was as if they weren't there. He was blind, he couldn't move, all he had was that voice… he had to hold on to that voice…

"Hey, man… stay… stay with me…"

The black completed its takeover and he was alone. He was alone in the dark. He tried again to breathe but the weight on his chest was too heavy. He felt small, almost visible tendrils of air sneak in. He couldn't see himself, couldn't feel himself. And he knew he'd been here before.

That thought sent a jolt through him. He'd been here before. He remembered. The chauchemar. New Orleans. It had trapped him inside of himself. But Sam… Sam had been there, then. Sam had been his light. Sam wasn't here. He was alone in the dark. He was numb, he was breathless, and he was alone.

No! He was not going to go down like this, dammit. He made a promise. He had a job to do. He had to save Sam… save him from becoming that freaky-assed demon's bitch. Save him from evil. He shivered. Cold! I feel cold… I feel! He held on to that sensation as it started to flow over him, shutting out the heat. He felt his body shake, felt it wrack harshly back against something soft yet unrelenting. Felt his back arch against a pressure in his side. Felt a hot liquid flow into his mouth, down his throat, choking him, drowning him.

"Easy…easy, Sam, pour it slow…"

"Dean, you have to swallow this, okay… hey, hey, man, don't fight it… let this work, please let this work…"

He tried once more to open his eyes, but the heat came back, this time with a crackling, a scream of sound, a familiar sensation of the air being sucked from his body. He felt his body arch up again as the remembered pain shot through him. He wanted to cry out, to scream, to rail against the invasion, against the helplessness, but he couldn't move and he couldn't breathe and he was silent.

"Hey, I got you…I got you…"

"Just hold him… don't let him move so much, Sam…"

"Dean, hey, take it easy…dammit, he's still so hot…"

A hand. He felt a hand, large, rough, familiar, heavy, brush across his forehead and back through his hair. He felt something cool, wet, trail down his face, across his numb lips.

Then heat was gone. The pain was gone. The sound was gone. He was alone in the dark. He knew he was sinking. The hollow inside of him was widening. He'd felt this before – a quick shock, an almost chilling sensation of transparency. He heard a voice in his head. Kinda hurts a girl's feelings… it's an honorable death… a warrior's death… the fight's over… it is for you…

No. No, dammit. There was something… something he had to do. Someone… someone needed him. Then he could go. Just this one thing… then he could go.

I want you to watch out for Sammy…

Sam! Save Sam… he had to save Sam, then he could go. He could rest. He could let the dark inside of him win. It was stronger than the light. He knew the dark would always win…

He felt his body shake once, hard. Something was covering him. Something cold. He wanted to pull away, but he still couldn't move. He was so cold, so cold. Sam. He had to get back to Sam. Sam was alone out there without him. He couldn't let that happen. But he was cold.

"…cold, Sammy…"

"I know, Dean, but we have to get your fever down," a voice answered him.

Sam…

"Hey, man," it was the voice he would know anywhere. The voice that could lead him back from the dark. "Can you open your eyes for me, Dean?"

He wanted to. He was tired of the dark. He wanted light. He wanted to believe in the possibility of light. He wanted to know that there was light out there for him. But the darkness inside was so strong. And the hollow inside was so large… he felt himself start to fall back in.

"Wait! No, c'mon Dean, don't… hey, stay with me, okay?"

"…trying…"

"I know. I know you are, man. Can you feel that? Can you feel my hand?"

A harsh, to the bone ache started in his side and began to seep through his body. He felt Sam's hand wrapped around his, but he couldn't seem to anchor himself. The ache became a hot pain. It shot from his fingertips to his shoulder and down his side with such ferocity that he clenched his jaw.

"..hurts…"

"God, Dean, I know… I know it hurts, but you just hang on, okay?"

Something was keeping him from Sam. Something kept him from coming back.

"Can't you do something? Give him something else?"

"I don't – I only know one more thing, but… but I've never tried it before."

"Brenna, please."

Something was keeping him from doing what he had always done: overcome. He knew this about himself. He knew it as sure as he knew rock salt repelled spirits and holy water burned demons. He overcame. He persevered. He survived. He did it for one reason. For Sam. But something was keeping him back. Something was missing.

He felt the liquid in his mouth again. It pooled there, seeped down his throat, caused him to cough, caused the searing pain in his side to flash white-hot, caused him to cry out and almost give in. To the dark, to the quiet. He felt himself sliding over an edge and he knew the only thing on the other side was no more pain. No more light. No more Sam. No more.

But Dean Winchester was not a man who gave up. He fought. He clenched his muscles, gritted his teeth, pulled himself up and away from the edge.

"Dean, squeeze my hand, okay?"

And he felt it. He felt Sam's long fingers wrapped tightly around his hand. He felt his brother's grip. He focused his whole being on that hand, that connection. And he tightened his fingers.

"Good! Good, that's it, Dean."

He was exhausted. He wanted to slip, to fall back into the hollow, to succumb to oblivion. But he knew if he did, he'd be lost.

"Shouldn't that last stuff you gave him be working?" he heard Sam say. "I thought you said it was powerful."

"I also said I hadn't used it before," said a soft female voice. "I think it is working… Sam, look. He's stopped shaking. Feel him."

He felt a large hand on face, across his brow, over his eyes.

"He's cooler… But he won't wake up," Sam's voice sounded young and scared. Sammy, it's okay. I'm here. I'm here.

"I think he was… shutting down, Sam," said the woman. "I can… I could call him."

"What do you mean?"

"If you let me touch him… I could call him back."

Brenna… He knew that voice. It was Brenna. He remembered her now.

"What if you hurt him worse?"

He felt Sam's hand tighten on his.

"I – I won't."

"That sounds real convincing."

"I promise, Sam."

I'm here, Sam. I'm right here.

"Okay… but if you hurt him again… I swear to God, I'll let Jack take you."

"If I hurt him again… I'll go with him myself."

Dean tensed, listening, unsure of the significance of the words, knowing only that he could hear them, that he could feel Sam's hand around his, that even though he was wrapped in darkness, he wasn't alone.

He felt the soft caress of a slim hand in his empty one. He felt the surprisingly strong grip, and then there was light, blinding, vibrant, blue-white light all around him. If he could have flinched he would have. He wanted to blink, to shield eyes that weren't really there. He instinctively resisted the pull the light offered.

"Dean."

The voice was in his head, it shook his body, it echoed in him.

"Dean."

He tried to pull away, but couldn't move. This wasn't his light.

"You can open your eyes now."

And he blinked.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was softer, closer yet further away than the voice from the light.

He blinked again, and the blurry figure to his right started to form into something resembling his brother. "Sam?" His voice sounded strange. Rough. As if he'd been screaming.

"Yeah," Sam's voice trembled. Dean heard tears.

"You cryin'?"

"Yeah, maybe," Sam said. Dean blinked again and saw Sam's face clearer this time. Dimples showed up in his brother's cheeks.

"What'er you grinnin' at?"

"My stubborn-ass brother, that's what."

Dean blinked again. He never wanted to stop blinking. He licked his lips.

"Why is my mouth fuzzy?"

Sam laughed. Dean felt the corner of his mouth pull up in an automatic response to Sam's laugh.

"Brenna gave you something."

"Did it have fur?"

"No," Sam chuckled. "Not this time."

Sam let go of his hand and Dean flexed his fingers, lifting his hand slowly to rub at his eyes. They felt odd, puffy, too big for his face. He rolled his eyes back to Sam. His brother looked like he'd been through the wringer. His face was pale and drawn, his hair pushed back in random tufts as though he'd been twisting it in his fingers all night. Dean remembered he used to do that when he was little.

"You're gonna pull it all out and be bald, you keep that up."

"What?"

Dean blinked. "Your hair," he said, his voice still not sounding like his own. "You been twisting it."

"Hell, Dean," Sam sighed, weaving his fingers together and leaning his head forward on his thumbs. "I was ready to pull it out."

"What… what happened?"

"We've been trying to get your fever down almost all night, man," Sam sighed, not lifting his head. "You never made it up the steps."

"Fever?"

Dean watched Sam nod into his hands. "I was gonna take you back to the hospital."

"Sam—"

"I didn't, okay?" Sam lifted his head, his tired eyes meeting Dean's. "I know what would have happened. But, Dean, nothing was working. You would have done the same thing."

Dean started to shake his head, but Sam's eyes stopped him.

"You would," Sam stated emphatically. "Even if it had meant risking prison, you'd have done it to save me."

"But…we're here," Dean said, swallowing, focusing on Sam, trying to remember.

Sam sighed, a sound that spoke of weariness and worry. "We're here because of Brenna."

"Hey, Dean," Brenna said from where she knelt at the foot of the bed.

He slowly shifted his eyes to look at her. He shivered when he saw her eyes, her druid eyes seeing so much… It was then that he realized he was lying nearly naked, clad in only a cool, wet sheet. He looked back at Sam, demanding with his eyes for his brother to understand.

"Hey, Brenna," Sam spoke up. "Can you give us a minute?"

Dean saw her nod out of the corner of his eye and she pushed herself to her feet, walking out of the room. He heard the sound of glass and porcelain being shoved aside, and something heavy clattering to the floor. In seconds, he heard the static, then the sound of music from Brenna's kitchen radio. Dean's eyes were burning. He rolled them closed, forcing his lids open and focused again on Sam.

"Sam," he said, his voice husky. "Tell me." His memory was a confused weave of situations real and imagined.

"You fell going up the steps, you remember?"

"I remember the steps," he said. And the dark. He remembered the dark.

"Brenna thinks you were still reacting to the… the wraith."

"Huh."

"Unless there's something you're not telling me," Sam said, dropping his chin and looking at Dean with calculating eyes. "Dean?"

"What?"

"Is there something you're not telling me?"

Like what, Sam? There's a vacuum inside of me and it's going to pull me in and burn me up? Is that what you want to hear?

"No, man, nothing," Dean shook his head. "Sam… can you get…" he gestured to the sheet draped across him.

"Oh, yeah, sure," Sam pushing himself to his feet. He grabbed a blanket from the other bed, held it under one arm, and pulled the sheet from Dean, dropping it in a pile on the floor. He set the blanket down next to Dean.

"I'll help you sit up and then you can get some clothes on. Ready?"

Dean nodded, reaching up and gripping Sam's wrist as Sam's long fingers wrapped around his. As Sam eased him up, his weaker, right hand behind Dean's shoulder leveraging him, Dean looked down and realized his ribs had been re-wrapped. He felt an odd warm sensation against his skin, under the wrap.

"She used that purple goo on my ribs, didn't she?"

Sam handed Dean some boxers. "She used everything she could think of, man."

Dean dropped the boxers on the floor and put his feet in the leg holes. He gingerly reached down and pulled them to his knees. Closing his eyes and forcing back his pride in an almost physical resistance he sighed. "Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"I, uh…"

Sam looked down at him. "Oh."

He felt Sam's strong hand under his shoulder and gripped the waistband of the boxers. As Sam eased him to his feet, he pulled up the clothing. When they were settled on his hips, Sam helped him sit back on the bed, propped slightly against the headboard. He picked up the blanket and wrapped it around Dean's shoulders. Dean was trembling from that little exertion.

"Man, this sucks out loud," he muttered.

"Well, just take it easy," Sam said, sitting down on the side of the bed and running a weary hand through his long hair. "The last bit Brenna gave you had some kind of… something in it. You're gonna be feeling pretty damn good in a bit."

"Will it last?"

"Hell if I know," Sam muttered. "She was… I think you scared her, man." Sam glanced at Dean. "You sure as hell scared me."

"Scared her?" Dean said, letting Sam's last statement go for the moment. "I almost bled out in this room, and a little fever scared her?"

Sam shook his head. "It wasn't just a little fever, Dean. You were burning up. You were fading in front of us. And it… it was so fast. It wasn't normal… it was like… like something was taking you."

Dean pressed a hand to his sternum, remembering the feeling of the hollow inside, the feeling of the dark seeping over the grey. He shivered.

"You… wouldn't leave, though," Sam said softly, standing again to retrieve a blanket from the trunk at the foot of the other bed. "I saw it. I watched you fight."

"Hell, no, I wouldn't leave." Dean licked his bottom lip, pulling it in as he tried to adjust his position to ease the pressure on his ribs.

"For me, right?" Sam kept his eyes away, almost as if he was purposely avoiding Dean's gaze. He started to flip open the blanket.

"Well, yeah," Dean answered.

Sam held the blanket, then looked over at Dean. "Why not for you?"

"What?"

"Why wouldn't you stay… y'know, for you?"

"Aw, geeze, Sammy," Dean sighed, holding his side.

Sam flipped the blanket open and started to retort when Dean saw his eyes catch on a silver flask that flipped over and rolled out onto the bed between his legs. At first Dean thought it was his… he could see in Sam's quick glance back at him that he thought the same thing. Sam curled the blanket up under his arm and bent to retrieve the flask.

"Huh."

"What is it?" Dean asked, pulling the corners of the blanket on his shoulders closer around him.

"I think it's Declan's," Sam said, still looking at the flask in his hand.

"Why?"

"It says Ack..sru—"

"Ach sruthóidh fuil na n-olc mar abhainn."

They both looked up to see Brenna standing in the doorway, looking at Sam.

"I was gonna say that," Sam dead-panned. Dean looked at him, a half-grin on his face. Sam was looking back at Brenna.

"It means the blood of the wicked will flow like a river," she lifted a shoulder. "It's apparently something my father would say."

"Interesting…slogan," Sam looked back at the flask, then turned and stretched out his arm to hand it to Brenna.

She took it from him, rolling it over in her hands, looking at the tarnished silver. "You know the wicked in my father's eyes would pretty much be… well, us."

Sam looked at Dean. Dean met his eyes, then looked back at Brenna, fisting his hands in the blanket.

"What do you mean, us?" Sam asked.

"Anyone who defied the cause, Sinn Fein, freedom for our Irish brothers and all that," Brenna kept her eyes down, her thumb rubbing slowly over the silver. "He really believed he was doing something right… something good. He believed he was making the world a better place. He killed, and he funded death, and he frightened, and he did it all in the name of… of freedom."

Dean remained silent, watching her. He cared very little about her father's cause or why Declan had kept the flask. He cared even less about the IRA and the reasons behind their actions. But he found himself caring very much about erasing the heartbroken line from between Brenna's eyes. He shifted his eyes up to Sam. His brother was staring at her with a look of horror and sorrow spaced in even steps across his expressive face.

Sam had always been the empathetic one of their family, such as it was. He felt everything, and his feelings marched across his face with startling clarity. Sam had always been left alone to deal with his feelings – John never entertained the idea of feelings, and Dean had accepted that mantle as his own early in life. The first time he'd seen his father cry had been the day he'd died. The day he'd crushed Dean with words, and destroyed any hope he had for the possibility of having a family again.

"Declan always told me my father had been a hero in the eyes of many, but an enemy in the eyes of more," Brenna said, sniffing. She lifted her head and looked directly at Dean. "I wonder which he would have been to me."

"A hero," Dean said without thinking. He saw Sam pivot to face him.

"Yeah?" Brenna asked, searching for something, some piece of history, some vestige of family in his words.

Dean nodded. He kept his eyes on Brenna, but he addressed Sam. "You wouldn't have cared how bad he screwed up, or how many times, or how often you were alone… when he was with you, life would be okay, and that's all that would have mattered to you."

Brenna nodded. "What am I gonna do about Declan?" she suddenly asked.

Dean lifted his eyes to Sam. His brother looked back with a look of sorrow, of regret, and of heartbreak. I'm not all right… not even close…

"Any ideas?" Dean asked.

Sam cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, one." He looked at Dean, memories in his eyes.

"Think we can pull it off?" Dean asked.

"We've done it before… but, uh, you aren't going," Sam's eyes snapped at him.

"I feel good, Sam," Dean said, not attempting to sit up, afraid a change in elevation would ruin the sudden euphoric feeling he was experiencing.

"That's the tonic," Brenna said. "It's supposed to dull the pain. It will fade in an hour or so, but if you're feeling like that, then it's healing you."

"Well, let's get it done in an hour, then," Dean said.

"Get what done?" Brenna asked.

"No way in hell, Dean."

"Sam, seriously, it's not a one-man job."

"It can be."

"Your shoulder's still hurt, Sam."

"What the hell are you two talking about?" Brenna's voice was irritated.

"Dean, you have no idea… you were on the edge, man. I saw it. I saw it."

"I'm not there now, Sammy."

"Dean, please," Sam stepped forward, blocking Brenna from Dean's view, filling his line of sight. "Please, just trust me on this."

Dean looked at his brother's face, watched his eyes. There was strength there. Determination.

"You sure you can do this?"

"Seriously, tell me what is going on," Brenna's voice was hard.

"I'm sure."

"If we're gonna do this… if you're gonna do it, it has to be now."

"I know."

Dean sighed. "Those guys could be back anytime… "

"I know, Dean."

"They could get him first, use him…"

"I know, Dean."

"You can't get caught, Sam."

"I'm not in the system," Sam argued.

"And we have to keep it that way," Dean said, rolling carefully to his side and leveraging himself up to a sitting position with his arm. He kept the blanket wrapped around him more out of awareness of Brenna than of cold. He felt strong, as if he'd never fought the wraith, never been trapped in the fire, never ran head first into a swinging bottle of whiskey.

"HEY!"

Dean's head snapped up and Sam pivoted to look. Brenna stood, her hands on her hips, her eyes hot.

"If you don't tell me what's going on right the hell now I swear to God I'm gonna—"

"I'm going to get Declan," Sam said quickly.

Brenna froze. Her eyes shifted from Sam to Dean, then back. Her arms dropped from her side and the flask slipped from her fingers to land with a dull thump beside Dean on the bed.

"I'm going with you."

"No." The finality in Sam's voice surprised even Dean. He beat Brenna's incredulous stare by a half-second.

He watched as Sam stepped forward and grasped Brenna's shoulders. She lifted her hands and grasped Sam's wrists in an automatic gesture of ground, of balance. Something in Dean's heart stirred at that. He felt a phantom memory of her hands on his arms, her nails digging in, her legs around him, her lips…

"I need you to take care of him," Sam was saying.

"He's okay for a bit," Brenna argued, shaking her head, the short, wild ends of her red-gold hair bouncing slightly with the movement.

"I can't risk that," Sam said. Dean saw Sam's fingers tightening on her shoulders. "You saw it, Brenna… you know how close it was… I need you to stay."

"Hey," Dean protested. "I'm okay. I'm fine."

They ignored him. Brenna stared at Sam, her throat working. "You'll bring him back?"

"I'll bring him back," Sam nodded. "But you have to take care of Dean… don't…" Sam dropped his head, then lifted his eyes. Dean watched his profile. "Don't let… whatever it is take over. Okay?"

"Sam," Dean said, his voice low. "What the hell, man?"

Sam continued to ignore him. "Brenna?"

"I won't," she promised. "But, I might have to –"

"Do what you have to do," Sam said. He let go of her shoulders. Dean heard music from the kitchen filter through the silence that suddenly filled the room in the wake of Sam's words.

"And all the answers that I started with turned out questions in the end…"

"Uh, Sam?"

Sam looked over his shoulder at Dean. Dean felt the look his brother gave him practically open him up. It was a look full of questions and promises at the same time.

"Just, uh… take care of yourself out there, okay?"

"Yeah, Dean. You know I will."

Dean swallowed as Sam turned away and started toward the door. "Sam."

Sam paused in the doorway and looked back at him, waiting.

"Just… make sure you come back." This time…

"I will. I promise," Sam said, then ducked out of the room.

The room once again fell silent. It felt emptier to Dean, without Sam. He held his breath, listening. He heard the Impala roar to life, then rev as Sam pulled out of the dirt lot toward the hospital. His brother was smart. And Sam had done stuff this dangerous before – just not this big. Not alone anyway. He lay back on his left side, his head dropping back against the pillow.

"This was a mistake."

Brenna dropped heavily down on the bed next to him.

"He'll… stop if it gets too dangerous… right?" She asked.

"He should," Dean said. "But he won't."

He thought through what Sam would have to do – get into the morgue, easy enough. Fake name, fake ID, fake smile. Get the right body. Again, fairly simple. Get the body out of the morgue – somewhat trickier, but it was easy enough to bluff with the right costume. White lab coat and Sam's innocent eyes ought to do it. Get to the right exit, get the body in the trunk… with one good arm.

"I'm gonna go after him," Dean started to push himself up, and Brenna put a hand on his arm.

"No you're not," she said. "You're staying here like he asked you to."

"Brenna, he could get caught," Dean protested, trying to figure out how to hold his ribs, sit up, and push her hand away all at once.

"Sam's a big boy, Dean. He knows what he's doing," she released her hand from his shoulder and cupped his elbow as the blanket fell back. "You taught him what he needs to know to do this." She eased him into a sitting position beside her.

"Supposed to be me out there, y'know," he muttered, letting the blanket fall off the other shoulder and pool on the bed at his waist. He rubbed his face. "He's the one who stays back and researches, makes sure of the right thing to do. I'm the one who barrels in with both guns blazing."

"You're here because you barreled in with both guns blazing," Brenna said, staring at her hands. Her shoulder touched his.

"Huh?"

"What was it like?"

"What was what like?"

"The wraith," Brenna said. She looked at him askance. "What did it feel like?"

Like I was coming apart… like it was gutting me… like every pain I had ever had in my life came back and slammed me to the floor…

"It, uh, hurt," Dean said, pulling his bottom lip in. He heard a commercial on the radio talk about a car sale on Sunday. He realized he didn't even know what day of the week it was. How had things gotten out of his control so fast? "What did Sam mean?"

"When he said…" Brenna prompted, shifting back and propping herself up on an arm to look over at him.

"When he said for you to do what you have to."

Brenna sighed and Dean shifted to look at her. He was aware that the movement caused very little pain. If he couldn't still see them, he would swear that the bruises had faded.

"Something happens when I touch you," she started. "When you're unconscious, as you seem to be a scary amount of time around me, and I touch you… we… connect."

"Oh yeah?"

"You can't… you don't remember?"

"I remember… light," Dean said, looking at the floor between his feet. "And your voice."

"I see things, and it… it hurts you," Brenna said. He felt her eyes on him.

"What kind of… things?" he asked, looking over at her.

Brenna glanced away, remembering. "I saw a woman with dark hair… I saw you against a wall and your chest was bleeding… I saw your Dad, only it wasn't your Dad…"

"So you see my memories?"

Brenna nodded. "But, I also saw something… something I don't understand."

Dean pulled his eyebrows together and tilted his head at her. "What do you mean?"

"It was like… a tangle of images and words and then… nothing."

"Okay, you may as well be speaking Gaelic because-"

"I saw you and Sam," she interrupted. "And John… and Sam and John were yelling about… leaving and wanting a future and you stepped in and pushed them apart. And then… I saw you and Sam in a hotel room and he was telling you that he was going back to school when it was over and you… you just looked empty."

Dean flinched, and looked down, twisting the silver ring on his right hand with the thumb and index finger of his left.

"I saw you two on the side of some road and Sam had a bag on his shoulder and he was walking away… I saw you in a hotel room sitting up in bed, calling to him… and that empty… look seemed to grow… and it was like… like you were…"

"Hollow," he supplied softly.

"Yeah," she said. "But at first all of those things were fractured, like… pieces of a jigsaw puzzle… and I have this feeling that I could see it all, I could see the real picture if I could find this one piece of the puzzle."

"Nice metaphor."

"It's an analogy."

"Whatever, Professor."

"It took that piece, didn't it, Dean? The wraith."

The music started up again, and Dean stayed silent. Brenna stared at him. He felt her gaze, but didn't look back at her.

"Cause I don't think you ever understood that what I'm looking for are the answers to why these questions never go away…"

"I know it did," she said when he remained silent.

"Well, why do you bother asking then, if you've got all the answers."

He knew he sounded bitter, but he didn't care. She was trying to see, trying to understand something that he kept hidden for a reason. He was comfortable behind his wall, where the only person that could ever scale or find a chink was Sam. He could deal with Sam. He'd been with Sam through almost everything his brother had experienced, with the exception of those years at Stanford. Sam knew him. Knew how to get to him, and knew how to let him be… Sometimes.

Brenna, though… She just saw. She had no filter. She had no history. She just… saw what he couldn't keep back, what he couldn't protect.

"Dean—" she started to reach for him, and he instinctively flinched away. "You don't have to be afraid of me," she said.

He shot a look at her. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Then why won't you let me touch you?"

He lifted an eyebrow. "Maybe I don't want you to get all tangled up in stuff you don't understand."

She sat back, dropping her hand in her lap. Her jaw tensed. "You were fine getting tangled up in me earlier."

"That was different."

"Yeah? How?"

"That was…" He was lost for how to continue. That night had been desperate. It had been need. It had been something for him that he hadn't let himself want in a long time. Sensation, satisfaction. It had been… right, at the time.

"It was good. And it was awful. And it confused me. And it made me see things very clearly," she said.

Dean sat back, rotating his neck. "Well, at least we got that cleared up."

"Dean," she started again. "You burn me up when you're near me, and you hurt me when you're gone and I never want to see you again, but I can't let you go."

"Damn, Brenna," he shook his head, closing his eyes. He was too tired and too much had happened. "You think what you see inside of me is tangled up…"

"I know! I know," she took a breath. "I'm worried for you."

Dean reached for the blanket to cover himself, and started to push himself to his feet. "Well, don't be."

"Wait –" she grabbed his shoulder and halted him. He looked over at her. An unfamiliar chord of acoustic guitar sounded from outside the room.

"I wanna be there when you call… I wanna catch you when you fall… I wanna be the one you need… I wanna be the one you breathe…"

He looked at her, at her eyes, at her rosebud mouth, still bruised from Eamon's hand, at her cheekbones, her jaw line, then back to her eyes.

"What?" he whispered. He didn't want this… didn't want to want her. He was floating a bit, his limbs slightly weightless, his head spinning slightly. He felt buzzed, content. He felt… powerful. "What, Brenna? Tell me."

"I want to see…" she said and leaned forward.

He felt her pull, felt himself sway toward her. "Goddammit," he whispered, and reached for her head, cupping her jaw with his palms and shoving his fingers into her short red-gold hair.

His mouth closed over hers and he breathed in as she did. He tasted her, felt the fullness of her bottom lip in between his, and shoved his tongue into her mouth, pulling a moan from the back of her throat. He leaned in, trying to get closer, trying to pull her closer, and suddenly his world exploded.

He saw himself standing on a ledge with literally nothing below him. No air, no light, no sound, no life… nothing. He tried to take a step back and he felt the same static-electricity shock that had come from the wraith at his back. He looked behind him and saw light. He saw Sam. He saw his dad. He saw home. He wanted to turn, but the static held a hand to his back and it took every ounce of his will to keep from tipping over the edge into the nothing.

He felt Brenna's hands pushing against his shoulders. He came back to himself and let her go. He was gasping for air, shaking. He looked at Brenna as she lifted a shaking hand to her lips.

"Did you see that?" he asked, his voice a weak version of his normal bravado.

"I'm sorry…" she gasped. "I'm sorry, Dean."

"So you did see."

"You're afraid it's going to swallow you up," she said in a weak voice.

"It is," he said, pushing away from her, wrapping the blanket back around himself. He wanted her to go away. He wanted to be alone. And yet, at the same time, he was afraid she'd leave.

"No, it doesn't have to," she said. "You just have to find that piece… you just have to…"

"Stop, Brenna," he said harshly. "I know why I'm here. I know why Dad… why he did what he did."

"What do you mean?"

"Sam. I'm here to save Sam."

"No, Dean, it's more… he did it for you…"

Dean lifted an eyebrow and looked over at her. "Oh? What happened to he dumped that on me and left? What happened to him signing my death warrant?" He looked at her, daring her with his eyes to deny the words she'd thrown at him.

She swallowed, but said nothing. Her eyes never left his face.

"Sam should be back soon," Dean said, dismissing her. "You got any idea where my clothes are?"

"Dean—" she tried again.

He silenced her with a look, his eyes cold, his jaw set.

"You should have more of the tonic… the effects will wear off soon," she said, standing.

"Whatever you say. You're the druid."

Dean took the clothes she handed him and let the blanket drop. He looked out the window. Still dark. He'd lost all sense of time, but he knew Sam was bound to be more successful under cover of darkness. He carefully pulled on the jeans, standing on somewhat shaky legs to adjust them over his boxers. He sat back down and pulled the shirt Brenna handed him over his head and started the slow task of putting his arms in the sleeves. She was right. The tonic was starting to wear off. He was beginning to feel the twinges of pain in his side and in his head that had been blessedly absent for the last hour.

"Here," Brenna said, coming back into the room with a mug of liquid.

Dean slowly pulled the black T-shirt over the bandages wrapping his ribs. He looked up at her and saw that her eyes were trained on the mug.

"Take it, Dean," she insisted. "You're gonna need it soon enough."

"What's in it?"

"Some herbs and stuff."

"Do you even know?"

"I know that out of all the things we tried to keep you with us, this was the only thing that worked."

She looked at him and he saw her pupils widen almost unconsciously.

"No," he said. He pushed himself to his feet. She took a step back. A young, desperate wail came from the music in the other room.

"What if I wanted to fight, beg for the rest of my life, what would you do?"

"No what?"

He took the mug from her and stepped forward. She took a step back. He set the mug on the top of the trunk at the foot of the bed.

"Close your eyes," he said softly. He wanted to know… he needed to know if the feelings she triggered were from her, for her… or if they were in response to her power.

"Why?"

"I just want to know," he said, low in his throat, stepping forward again. "I need to know if it's you."

She leaned in to him and he paused a moment before pressing his lips to hers. As he brushed her mouth with his, she breathed in, her eyes closed. He felt the tension as she held herself back, held the druid in, kept herself present. He held still, not touching her anywhere else, letting her capture his bottom lip in her teeth and pull him forward to her.

She felt familiar. He remembered the fascination of her touch, how unreal it had felt to have someone touch him… just touch him. He leaned into the softness of her mouth, knowing the stubble of his two-day growth of beard was scratching her smooth face. She reached up when she felt him start to pull away and captured the back of his neck, pressing his mouth harder on hers. He stumbled slightly forward, his hands grabbing for her waist, holding on.

He wanted more. He wanted to feel her, to hold her, to lose himself inside of her… but couldn't. He couldn't let go like that… not with Sam out there. Not with the job unfinished. Not while she was in danger.

He pulled away, taking a deliberate step back. Her lips were red and slightly swollen and her eyes were still closed. He stared at her as she stood still, pulling her lips into her mouth as if to hold his taste. He heard the Impala roar into the empty lot and felt his shoulders relax.

"He's back," he whispered. "Sam's back."

She opened her eyes and looked at him. "Guess you can breathe again," she said.

His eyebrows went up, surprised at her tone.

"The thing is, Dean…" she swallowed, reaching for the mug. "Sam's not the one that was missing from the place inside of you…"

She handed him the mug. He took it from her, keeping his eyes on her face.

"You were," she finished. She looked at him. "You have to figure out how to get that piece back, Dean. Or no amount of tonic is going to keep that hole from swallowing you up."

He stared at her. She blinked, then turned from him. He watched her walk from the room, through the chaotic kitchen and out the open front door. Not taking his eyes from her retreating form, he lifted the mug to his lips and took a drink. He immediately pulled his head back and away from the offending liquid.

"Gah," he grimaced. "Druids don't know about sugar?"

Sighing, he drained the mug, set it down on the trunk and cast about looking for his jacket. Not seeing it in the room, he figured Sam had taken it to the Impala. With Brenna's druid tonic humming through his system, he knew he'd be good to help with what they would have to do for Declan. Burning the body was the only way to erase the evidence enough that the authorities wouldn't come after Brenna once they were gone. Sam would need help getting the wood.

Pressing one hand to his right side, he rubbed the other gingerly through his hair, feeling the wound sutured at the back of his head, then running his hands around to the side to feel the stitches there. He closed his eyes. All Sam had wanted to do after Gordon was arrested was look for Ava. It was the only thing he'd asked of Dean, his only focus. Dean couldn't help but wonder if they'd stuck to that, if they'd listened to Declan's plea to not send the boys if they would be in one piece still. He grimaced thinking of the wound in Sam's shoulder and how getting the body from the morgue had to have caused him some pain.

He opened his eyes and looked around the small room. It smelled like sage and some unknown scent that he associated with relief. It smelled like Brenna. He pulled his bottom lip in and caught it between his teeth. She was getting to him. And he couldn't let that happen. Not now.

He left the small room and walked through the debris to the front door. Stepping out of the house, he realized that it had to be just before dawn. The night was oppressively dark, the starts silent. It was as if the world were holding its collective breath, waiting for the first beams of sun to crest the horizon. They had almost made it through another night. Almost.

He had just reached the bottom step of the porch when he noticed the car. A black Buick, large enough for several people. Approaching the bar, he cast his memory back quickly; he couldn't recall hearing another car before or after hearing the Impala return. When had it gotten there and how had he not noticed? He did a quick scan of the lot. Brenna's totaled Grande National and the Impala were the only other vehicles. He heard a crash of glass from inside the bar. His hand immediately went to his back waistband before he remembered that he didn't have a gun or his knife. He started to turn back when he heard a voice cry out in pain. Sam's voice.

His gut turned to ice and he hurried forward. He turned the handle of the front door of the bar, fully expecting it to open. He was surprised when he bounced painfully off of the locked door. He heard Sam's muffled curse, and his jaw flexed tight. Taking a step back, he raised his foot and with one well-placed kick, the door flew in, splinters scattering from around the lock.

He stepped through the door, eyes darting, searching for Sam. It didn't take him long to find him.

Eamon and his sons stood inside, each evenly spaced across the front of the bar, each dressed in black, each holding a gun. Sam was on his knees, blood running from his nose and mouth, his eyes at half-mast, obviously barely conscious. Dean saw red. He moved forward, not thinking about anything but beating senseless the man holding Sam's head back by a fistful of hair.

"And here you are, finally," said Eamon, stopping Dean's advance. "We didn't realize we'd have so long to work over your… brother, here."

Eamon nodded at the one – Dean saw now that it was James – holding Sam and he stepped back, releasing Sam's hair. Sam immediately fell forward, crumpling to a heap on the floor at James' feet.

"Sammy," Dean breathed.

"You could have made this so easy," Eamon tisked, shaking his head. "You chose… poorly."

He nodded again, and Dean saw Liam and Danny haul a struggling Brenna out between them. She was gagged, but Dean could see that she'd been hit, and roughly. Her right eye was raising a bruise and there was a cut on her head that was bleeding. His eyes raked quickly over her clothes, and while they seemed disheveled, they didn't seem as out of place as they would be if…

"You weren't even supposed to be here," Eamon sighed. "Declan was simply supposed to summon the wraith, retrieve the Ardagh, and banish it. Easy as that."

"When's the last time you banished a wraith, old man?" Dean bit off his words.

His eyes darted from Sam to Eamon. He felt anger war with panic and struggle against dread inside of him. He had nothing but his fists and his will to get them out of this situation, and he knew the rush of strength he was feeling now wouldn't last long.

"Well, from the looks of you," Eamon lifted a thin eyebrow and ran his eyes over Dean's hands, arms, and face. "It's not as easy as we thought. Perhaps Declan wasn't up to the challenge. More's the pity."

Brenna struggled and screamed muffled curses at him through her gag. Dean cut his eyes to her and tried to quiet her with a look. She wasn't interested. She kicked out, connecting with Liam, who dropped her arm. She pushed against Danny, working to pull her other arm free.

"Enough, Danny," Eamon said in a low voice. Dean's heart stopped.

Danny backhanded Brenna and she went limp in his grasp. Dean breathed again. Danny dropped Brenna to the floor and Dean saw she landed close to Sam. He looked over at Eamon.

"Way to go, Pops," he shook his head. "She's the only one who knows where your little goblet of fire is."

"I highly doubt that," Eamon said, taking a step toward Sam's prone form.

In that moment, Dean heard a quick series of pops followed by a low, muffled explosion. Eamon froze. Dean looked over his shoulder, and out of the nearest window. Orange flames danced across the darkness from Brenna's house. Shit

He heard the slam of a car trunk, and the ominous tread of a heavy step on the dirt lot outside. He waited. The figure of a man filled the open doorway. Dean lifted an eyebrow, rotating and taking a step back to get a look at him.

"Jack," Eamon breathed, something close to horror in his voice.

"Ah, so this is the bad-ass," Dean muttered.

Jack stepped into the room and Dean finally saw him. "Holy shit," he breathed. "You."

"Well, if it isn't Johnny's kid," Jack said, a sneer on his scarred face.

He was tall. Taller than Dean remembered. And he'd been thirteen, then. Jack's right eye was a vibrant blue, but his left was chalky white with cataracts and scarring. A thin red line ran from his hairline, through his eyebrow and eye, down his left cheek.

"Didn't think I'd been seeing you again, kid," Jack commented. "Told Declan to bring John."

"He couldn't make it," Dean snapped at him.

"Just as well," Jack stepped closer to Dean. "You're the one I've wanted to…talk to for the last fifteen years."

"Here I am."

Abbreviated flashes of memory shot across Dean's mind. John telling him to wait in the car, acting strange, acting scared. Sam asleep in the back seat. Sneaking out of the car to follow his Dad when it had been too long. Seeing a man hold his Dad to a wall by the throat. Grabbing the first weapon he could find – a bowie knife – and rushing the man, stabbing him in the arm. Hitting the floor when the man's arm crashed across his face. Slicing the man's face in a desperate move to escape.

"Jack," Eamon spoke up. "The Ardagh."

"Enough," Jack snapped. "You are a fool who sent a bigger fool after the one thing I said we had to have… the one thing, Eamon."

"Hey, we got the spells, didn't we?" Mick spoke up from behind Eamon. "You couldn't have done that without us."

"Not only that," Jack continued as if Mick hadn't spoken, turning from Dean to face Eamon. "You let yourselves get beat by two demon hunters from Kansas."

Jack pulled out a 9mm, slowly twisting a silencer on the end. Dean stepped back so that he stood next to Sam, his leg against Sam's side. He felt Sam stir slightly and resisted the urge to bend down and check on him. He kept his eyes on Jack, his head spinning as his past twisted with his present.

"These are failures that can't keep happening," Jack said, sighing as if in disappointment. Dean's eyes darted from Jack to Eamon. He tensed, bent slightly in a fighter's stance, waiting, watching.

Jack very calmly lifted his gun and fired. Dean's eyes shot to Eamon and he jumped slightly when he saw Mick collapse. He blinked, looking at Eamon. The blood had drained from the older man's face, but he didn't move.

"Now, Johnny's kid," Jack said, turning to face Dean. "Let's just get this business over with and we can catch up." He raised the gun and pointed it at Dean's forehead. "Where's the Ardagh?"

"You got me," Dean said, focusing on Jack's ruined face and not the barrel of the gun between his eyes.

Another muffled explosion came from the burning house. Dean closed his eyes briefly, trying to remember if their duffel of weapons was still inside, and wondering what Brenna's potions would do when burned. He opened his eyes, staring again at Jack.

"Where is it?" Jack repeated, pressing the barrel of the gun tight against Dean's forehead.

"I already told you," Dean said, keeping his voice calm. "I don't know."

Jack took a step back, folded his arms, and tilted his head to the side. "See, I believe you do."

"Believe what you want," Dean said, narrowing his eyes at Jack. "Doesn't mean it's true."

Sam shifted against Dean's leg again. Jack saw the movement. He stepped forward and Dean immediately sidestepped and blocked his path. Jack grinned.

"Kid, everyone in this room can see you're practically dead on your feet. You aren't going to stop me from getting to him."

"Maybe not," Dean said. "But I'll damn well try."

Jack lifted the gun again, but this time as a club. Dean instinctively lifted his arm and the blow missed his head, glancing off his bruised forearm. He winced, but used the opening Jack provided with his swing to jab a quick right into Jack's nose. The big man staggered back, holding his now bleeding nose, and lowered the gun once more toward Sam. Dean stepped into the path of the gun.

"I can do this all day," he challenged the bleeding man.

"Well," Jack said. "I bore easily."

He moved fast for a big man. Dean barely registered that he'd released the hammer on the gun before Jack had him by the front of his shirt and was rushing him back, away from Sam, and slammed him against a support column to the left of the bar. Dean's teeth shook, his world rattled, his ribs screamed, and the air left his lungs.

"You ready for more, kid?" Jack said, releasing Dean's shirt and wiping the back of his hand across his bleeding nose.

Dean couldn't keep his legs under him. He slid to the ground, landing with a thud at the base of the column.

"Or are you ready to try something new?" Jack took two long strides and was next to Sam.

Dean blinked, furiously working to stay conscious. Jack grabbed the back of Sam's shirt and with a heave, hauled Sam up and to his knees. Sam's eyes opened wide and he looked directly at Dean. Jack reached into his back pocket and pulled out a knife with a long, slender, deadly blade. Shifting his grip from Sam's shirt to his hair, he roughly pulled Sam's head back and began to draw the blade slowly across Sam's throat.

"No!" Dean cried out.

But a crimson line had begun to appear.