Rating: PG-13


Chapter 8

Time is the fire in which we burn. - Delmore Schwartz

Dean bit back a cry as his ribs bumped on the tailgate. He closed his eyes, breathing through his nose, fighting to do as Sinatra said, fighting to stay awake. He felt Sam pull him gently back against his chest and tried to swallow the guttural growl of pain that began low in his throat. Sam pressed the palm of his hand against Dean's shoulder, setting the knife wound on fire, stemming the flow of blood. The sliding window between the cab and the bed of the truck was open.

Forcing his eyes open, Dean blinked at the inky blackness of the night turned darker by the orange glow from the burning house on the other side of the building. Dean heard Brenna climb into the cab as Sinatra started the engine. Music instantly blared from the speakers of the truck.

"I'm your dream, make you real. I'm your eyes when you must steal. I'm your pain when you can't feel…"

Sinatra threw the truck into drive and leaned over to turn down the music with a muttered "Sorry."

"No wait," Brenna said. "It will help."

"That's my girl," Dean whispered without thinking, relieved that she would think to give him that solace, that source of peace. He closed his eyes and let his head tip back against Sam's shoulder. He felt Sam stiffen at the contact, and tried to pull his head up, but found that his muscles wouldn't obey him. The tremors that he'd been trying to suppress shifted to the surface. Dammit…

"Help?" Sinatra was saying. "Do I want to know?"

"Probably not," Brenna said.

"Sinatra?" Sam called through the open window over James Hetfield's growl.

"Virgil," Sinatra replied.

"What?"

"My name. It's Virgil," Dean heard a second or two of silence filled by the shrill guitar chord from the radio. "You can call me Sinatra, though," he continued.

"Thanks for this," Sam said. Dean felt Sam square his shoulders, his hands like two bookends on Dean – one on his shoulder, the other his chest. Holding him still, holding him steady. "Thank you for helping us."

"Thank me after Iggy helps your brother. And you. And her," Sinatra said.

"The doctor's name is Iggy?" Dean rasped.

"Has a thing for Iggy Pop," Sinatra called as he turned down a deserted dirt road.

"Oh, you gotta be kiddin' me," Dean shook his head.

He closed his eyes, letting the rumble of the pick-up and the burr of the guitar and voice from the radio roll over him. His chest ached; he felt a pressure there, like someone was sitting on him. It felt like he was breathing through a straw. He felt Sam's hand press harder and the jolt of pain in his shoulder as a result of that touch was enough to pry his heavy eyes open.

"Guh, sonova-," he breathed.

"Sorry, man," Sam whispered, as though matching his tone to Dean's. "You're bleeding all over the place."

Dean felt the weight of his body – fingers of gravity reaching from the dirt below the bed of the truck, working to pull him back into the earth, to hold him, keep him there. He blinked into the black of the night. He wasn't ready to go. Sam had shown him why. In the cabin. Sam had told him why…

"Sam," he pushed out through stiff lips, his jaw a granite line as he resisted the lure of oblivion.

"Don't try to talk, Dean," Sam said.

"Let him talk," Sinatra said from the cab of the truck. "Keep him awake, man, I mean it."

"What if…" Sam faltered, and Dean felt his brother's fingers tighten their hold on his body. "What if I can't?"

There was a heavy silence.

"You might not be able to wake him up," Sinatra finally said.

Dean shook once, gritting his teeth. No way he was letting that happen.

"Sam," he tried again.

"Yeah, Dean," Sam replied, leaning close.

"Gonna find Ava," Dean wheezed.

"Don't worry about that now," Sam replied. Dean could practically hear him shake his head.

"Promised," Dean gasped.

Sam shifted behind him. "One crisis at a time, man."

Dean tried to nod, but found he wasn't able to move his head. He felt his ribs shift as the truck turned a corner and bit back a groan. He knew he was broken up inside. He'd felt something in his chest give as Jack had slammed him against the wall. He blinked again, conscious on some level that each time he did so his eyes stayed closed a little bit longer.

"Sam," he said again. He had to tell him… needed Sam to know… But God his chest hurt. Dean tried to arch his back slightly, thinking it would relieve the pressure, but couldn't get his body to cooperate.

"Yeah."

Sam lived by a different moral compass, a different set of rules, than Dean. But they were brothers. And by virtue of blood and loyalty, Dean finally knew that Sam would always come back. Sam wouldn't leave him again. It was suddenly important that Sam know he knew that. But it was so damned hard to talk when he was breathing through a straw.

"Trust you," he managed.

Sam was silent for a moment. "I know you do, Dean."

Dean tried to turn his head, tried to shift so that he could look at Sam, but again, his body refused to obey him. He lay with his head back on his brother's shoulder, one arm limp at his side, the other across his now unbandaged ribs, blinking at the stars.

"Dean," Sam started.

"Mm," he managed in reply.

"I should have… should have listened to you," Sam said. Dean felt Sam shift behind him, could tell Sam had tipped his head back against the rear window.

The truck hit a bump in the dirt road and Dean hissed as he felt the bones in his broken chest rub against each other. Sam's hands tightened against him.

"Sorry," Sinatra apologized from the cab.

Dean swallowed the pain-induced bile that rose in his throat, clenching his jaw and curling his hands into fists. He breathed out through his nose, trying to keep from crying out. Get a grip, Dean… it's been worse than this… you've handled more than this… just breathe through it… He shook slightly as he tried to even out his breathing. He heard voices as if from a distance and blinked hard to keep his eyes open. The music on the radio was suddenly louder. He didn't know the song, but he could hear the beat.

"In your eyes you see it done. Colors drained away like water. Distance all but disappears, and nothing can be done…"

As he counted, he felt his fists trembling against him. The bandages that had once held his ribs tight were pooled in a heap of rags around his chest and slouching to his waist. He slowly managed to relax his hands and his jaw. But his chest was so heavy.

"Don't. Don't turn away. Don't let it take you over. You cannot give in. Don't let it take you over now…"

The voices in the distance filtered in. Sam was talking. He had been talking this whole time, Dean realized. He closed his eyes, shifting his attention from the beat of the music to his brother's voice.

"… and I think I took for granted that you would come after me. I just… hearing you say that stuff, knowing Dad knew something about me all this time and didn't tell me… didn't tell us… I couldn't just lay low. I couldn't just hide. I had to do something. I think I kinda… I don't know, channeled you. You're the one that's always moving. You never just stop and think it through. Shoot first, ask questions later…"

As Sam continued Dean found himself counting to the rhythmic cadence of his brother's ramble. He heard the words, but it was the rumble from Sam's chest, the way his voice hit Dean's ears, that impacted him more. Sam talked like John. Dean realized now that he always had. He measured his words, chose them carefully, used them purposefully. Dean kept his eyes closed, listening, counting, and suddenly found that he could lift his head.

"Dean?"

"S'alright," Dean slurred, allowing his head to drop back. It was enough to know that he could lift it again. "Just tell me next time."

"What?"

"Just tell me," Dean said. "We'll go together."

"You didn't want to go, Dean. You wanted to stop. You wanted to-"

"Keep you safe," Dean interrupted.

"You can't… you might not always be able to keep me safe, Dean."

"Can try," Dean whispered.

He heard voices from the cab of the truck and realized that Sinatra and Brenna could hear everything they were saying.

Before he could decide if he cared, Sinatra called back, "Hang on to him – we have to go over a bridge, and it's… well, just hang on to him."

"Son of a bitch," Dean whispered as Sam's hands tightened their grip on his shoulder and chest.

The music was suddenly louder again. Dean instinctively knew Brenna had turned it up. The truck rocked roughly and his body shifted and he closed his eyes and breathed. Pain, complete in its intensity, washed over him and he groaned.

"I walked down to the other end of the day, just to catch those last few waves. I held out my hand and slowly waved goodbye, I turned now my eyes up to the sky…"

This time even the music didn't help. He knew he wasn't going to be able to hold on to awareness much longer. The pull of the darkness was too strong. The desperate need to take a deep breath was still denied to him and it was beginning to panic him.

"Sam," he ground out. The world was spinning a hell of a lot faster than it was supposed to.

"I'm here," Sam said.

"I held out my hands into the light and I watched it die, I know that I was part to play. My god, my time to die. Never want to spend my life alone…"

"Sam," he tried again, hearing the weakness in his voice and hating it. He knew why he had to stay. He knew that now. The darkness couldn't consume him. He wouldn't let it… "Remember," he had to take a breath. Dammit, why was it so hard to breathe? "Remember."

"Remember what, Dean?"

"Remember," Dean said again. Remember that there's always a choice. Remember destiny means nothing. Remember that I'm not going anywhere. Remember that you aren't alone in this.

"Dean? Hey, open your eyes, man."

Can't breathe, Sam. Too many walls…

"Hey, we almost there?"

"Just another mile, Sam. He hanging in there?"

"Dean? Shit. Drive faster, man."

"Hey, what…what are you… are you crazy, girl? Don't climb through that window when I'm doing 80 on a dirt road!"

"I got it, I'm fine. Dean?"

"He's not… he won't open his eyes."

"Hey, Dean. You're scaring your brother. I know you can hear me. I want you to open your eyes. Just for a second, okay?"

"Brenna, careful, don't –"

"It's okay, Sam."

He felt her hand. It was cool and soft and she rested her palm along his cheekbone and her thumb carefully, softly brushed his lips. He felt her touch and he turned his head into the pressure of her hand. It felt good, her touch. It was comforting. It was… it was almost like coming home. Sam's hands tightened their grip on his body and Dean blinked his eyes open. He saw the silhouette of Sam's jaw above him. And then he saw Brenna's bruised face. Her mouth relaxed into a smile when she saw him look at her.

"See? I knew you could hear me."

Dean blinked at her. Waves of heat followed by the tidal pull of cold washed over him and left him shaking.

"I know you're hurting, Dean," she said, her voice soft, steady. "But you have to stay, okay. You have to stay here with us. Until we can get you help. We're almost there."

He wanted to say something – wanted to sit up, tell Sam he didn't have to hold on so tight, tell Brenna he would make the people who hurt her pay. He wanted to make sure Sam was okay, make sure they were taken care of. But he could only blink.

"Hang on," Sinatra called back to them. "One more bump and then we're there."

Dean clenched his jaw and as the truck shifted he felt Sam's grip on his body and Brenna's slim hand slide into his right one. She tightened her fingers as the pain rocked him. Jesus Christ… this was a bad idea… we should never have gotten into this sadistic bastard's truck… holy hell that hurts… He held his breath as the truck smoothed out.

"Everybody okay back there?"

Dean blinked his eyes open, looking up at Sam's jaw, hoping his brother could see his eyes. Sam pulled his head back and looked down at Dean, then replied.

"We are if you tell us we're there."

"We're there."

It's about friggin' time, Dean thought. He was done. He couldn't have fought off a gnat at this point. When the truck came to a stop, he breathed shallowly as Sam eased out from behind him and laid him gently on the truck bed. The music cut off abruptly as Sinatra killed the engine. Dean heard him exit the cab and slam the door, bellowing "Iggy!" as he hurried away from the truck.

Dean lay still, concentrating on breathing, concentrating on keeping his eyes open, his gaze on the stars above him as they blinked back at him. He was aware of Sam's absence and of Brenna's hand still in his. This hunt had not worked out like he planned. Come to think of it… he hadn't actually planned anything. He had reacted. Someone had called John for help, and he had reacted. He put Sam in danger because he hadn't thought it through – just like Sam had said. Shoot first, ask questions later. Turned out this time he needed the answers first.

"'Kay, Dean," Sam was saying from somewhere outside of the truck. Dean continued to look up at the night sky. "They've got this… canvas sling thing they're gonna roll you in. That way you don't have to move much, okay?"

Dean slid his eyes to his right and saw Brenna sitting there. He squeezed her hand, the air still too precious to him to spare any on words. She nodded her head at him and he blinked.

"He's ready," he heard her say.

Dean saw dimly lit figures move around him. Whispered commands slid over his ears. He didn't recognize the voices and all he could think about was the heaviness of his body. There was no way they would be able to lift him. He was anchored to the ground. The earth was pulling at him through the bed of the truck. He felt someone shift him slightly with a soft easy there, kid and then he was being lifted into the air. The sudden weightless feeling was dizzying. He could tell when he was being lowered from the truck and suddenly he saw Sam.

"Sammy," he called, his voice a thin mockery of his normal tone.

He saw Sam's eyes shoot down to him. His brother was a mess. The bandage around his neck was dark from blood. His shoulder had apparently started bleeding again. His face was bruised. But it was his eyes that caught Dean. They glittered. Sam was focused. He had a purpose. He was doing something. Suddenly Dean realized that they weren't really that different. Not anymore.

"You hang in there, Dean," Sam said, reaching down to clasp Dean's shoulder. "You hear me?"

Dean blinked. He had held on as long as he could. He had tried, but the weight of his body was too great.

"W-wake me up… will ya?" He closed his eyes, he felt Sam's hand tighten, heard his brother's breath.

"No, wait, Dean, c'mon."

Sorry, Sammy…

www

On some level he was aware that he was dreaming. It was a confusing mixture of images that his rational mind understood weren't real, but at the same time, he saw, he heard, he felt, he tasted. There was salt in the air. It was both reassuring and disorienting. Salt particles were always left behind on the air after he blasted a spirit, but he felt no weapon in his hands.

He heard the wild cry of a bird. It was the mournful, desperate sounding cry of a seagull. He blinked his non-existent eyelids and realized that he was standing on a pier jutting out over the ocean. He'd never been here before. He'd seen this place on TV, in movies, but he'd never been here before. He was sure of that.

The light of the sun on the water was blinding. It sparkled and reflected off of each little crest and dip of the water. The bird cried again and he turned his head and saw it. Sitting on the top of a pylon supporting the pier, the white and grey bird turned its head in that odd jutting motion he'd always found curious about birds. He took a step toward it and jerked back in shock when it turned its head to face him and he saw the bird's eyes.

They were Brenna's eyes. Large, green-gold, and sad. As he stared, the bird seemed to grow, morph and before his eyes it turned into a hawk. The red, gold, and brown feathers fluffed a bit from the wind coming off of the ocean. The hawk's cry was shrill, and oddly thrilling. It turned Brenna's eyes away from him and looked to the end of the pier.

Sam was standing there. He was in jeans and a white T-shirt, the brilliant sun hitting his back and making him glow. Dean squinted his eyes, holding up a hand to shield his eyes from the glare.

"Sam?"

Sam lifted his chin at Dean.

"Sam, what are you doing? C'mon back from the edge."

Sam didn't move. He just stared at Dean.

"Seriously, man. Quit messing around."

The part of him that knew this was a dream kept his voice calm. The rest of him began to sweat. He felt his heart begin to race. Something was wrong. He stepped forward again, closer to Sam, but cautious in his approach. Sam's heels were balanced over the edge of the pier.

"Sam, get away from there. I mean it."

Sam looked over at the hawk. Dean followed his gaze. The hawk looked at Dean with Brenna's eyes. With one last wild cry that sent a chill down Dean's spine, it spread its wings and lifted itself from the pier. He watched it fly away, over the open expanse of the ocean, and when he couldn't see it anymore, he dropped his eyes to Sam. He couldn't stop the hawk from leaving him; its will was more than even he could control. But he had to get Sam back from that ledge, had to stop him from going over… from going somewhere he might not be able to follow.

Sam tilted his head slightly to the side, and Dean suddenly saw that his brother was crying. Sam's chin trembled and he pressed his lips together.

"Sammy? What is it?"

Sam looked down and a tear glistened once in the brilliance of the sun, then dropped from the edge of his jaw. He lifted his eyes once more and Dean felt his chest tighten painfully at the look in his brother's eyes. It was a look of complete heartbreak. It was loneliness. It was fear. It was anger. It was confusion. It was understanding. It was love. It was a reflection of Dean's soul.

And Dean knew in that moment what was about to happen.

"Sam – no. Don't you do it."

Sam took a step back. Dean reached out, but his fingers closed on nothing. Sam toppled off the edge of the pier into the ocean without a sound. Dean didn't stop to think if he could follow… didn't stop to think if he should. He dove in after him. The shock of the water stole his breath. He opened his eyes, but the salt burned them. He couldn't see, and he couldn't breathe. He spread his arms wide, his hands searching for Sam. He felt nothing but the oddly gritty feel of the ocean.

Desperate for air he kicked hard and shot upward toward the surface.

"Gah!" he opened his eyes and was honestly surprised to see himself in a white room, brightly lit by two large overhead lamps. He blinked furiously, wondering why he wasn't wet, but could still taste salt in his mouth. Fire erupted from his side and he pulled in a sharp breath.

"We got him! We got him, okay, Virge, get me that O2!"

The voice was foreign, the tone urgent. He shot his eyes around, searching. Sam… Dean knew he was there… had to be.

"Hold that tube steady, Virge."

"I got it. Just finish up will you? He's awake."

He felt an oxygen mask on his face and sweet, cool air poured into his nose and mouth. He almost gulped it down.

"Dean?"

There. There he was. Dean knew he had to be there.

"Sam," he replied, but it was more a movement of lips than an actual execution of sound.

"Dean, hang in there," Sam was saying. Dean couldn't see him. But he could hear him. "Hang in there. They're almost done."

"Iggy, his shoulder—"

"I see it, I see it."

"Dean?"

"Okay, I have to get these ribs set, keep that tube steady or we'll suffocate him!"

"Jesus Christ…"

"Dean, hey, can you keep your eyes open?"

He rolled his eyes, trying desperately to force them open, trying to do as Sam asked, but they were so heavy and he couldn't breathe and God he hurt… what the hell were they doing to him? He had to get them away, had to make them stop, had to make the fire stop.

"Aw, Christ, kid… don't move, okay, hold still."

"Dean, hey, hey, I'm here, okay, I'm right here, put your arms down, okay?"

"Virge grab him."

"I'm trying!"

"Let me in there—"

"No way, Sam, you're barely on your feet."

"Let me in there, dammit! Let me… Dean, hey, hey it's me, you feel me, man? You feel that?"

He felt hands on his arm, holding him down. They were familiar, they were known. His body bucked slightly as he fought for air fought to keep his eyes open.

"Dean—"

The fire was moving. It crept from his side and enveloped his chest. Dean arched his neck, trying to pull his head back, trying to pull it away from the fire. But it was too hot, moved too fast, and soon it wrapped around him, licked at his face, his eyes, his hair. He tried to open his mouth, but the fire stole his voice. Cursing silently, he let the fire take him.

www

"What does that mean, healing faster than normal?"

Damn, Sammy, why the hell are you talking so loud? Dean wanted to roll over onto his stomach, and bury his head under his pillow, shutting out Sam's voice and… what the hell was that smell? Patchouli? He started to move and was stopped by an instant shot of pain through his side. He realized then that the pinch he'd been feeling in his arm was an IV, and that there was an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.

"Means, he's all broken up inside. And the bones are starting to heal."

"Well, isn't that what's supposed to happen?"

Dean turned his head toward the voices, the irritation in Sam's voice pulling him from the comfort of darkness.

"Over a period of weeks, man," said a voice Dean thought sounded familiar, but he couldn't place.

He blinked his eyes blearily and saw Sam leaning against a wall, an open door behind him. His right arm was in a sling, the cast that poked from the end of the sling was clean and white – obviously a replacement of the one that had been turned grey from the smoke and fire. A square white bandage covered part of his neck. His eyes were on a man standing next to Dean.

Dean blinked twice when he realized that he had to be looking at Iggy. The doctor wore a grey T-shirt, his sinewy, tanned arms covered with a series of tattoos. His face was long, thin, and drawn, his eyes tired. His hair hung down his back and over his shoulders in brown, stringy strands. He crossed his arms and squared off with Sam. Neither noticed that Dean was awake.

"So, what are you saying, exactly?" Sam asked, his eyes never leaving Iggy's face.

"Look," Iggy's voice dropped an octave and Dean closed his eyes so that he could hear him better. "Virgil said you guys needed my help, said you were good guys."

"We do," Sam said. "We are."

"So, what's the deal with the magical healing brother, then?"

Magic? Dean wasn't sure he heard him right.

"His bones are starting to heal between x-rays. That shit just don't happen," the voice continued.

Suddenly, Dean got it. Brenna's tonic. It had to be. She said that it wouldn't heal him, but that it would help. Apparently, it was helping more than even Brenna knew. The effects had worn off long ago, but somehow, subtly in his body, it was working. He opened his eyes, looking directly at Sam. Sam shifted his eyes to the side, missing Dean's glance. Dean recognized Sam's expression. He was searching for a viable answer.

"He's always been a quick healer," Sam tried. "We have a tough job. Dean, he, um, he gets hurt a lot."

"Saw the scars," Iggy shot back.

"Well, then you know," Sam nodded.

"Know what? That your brother is accident prone?"

Dean swallowed as Iggy dropped his arms, stepping toward Sam. Sam didn't move, stayed leaning against the wall. The only recognition that Iggy had made a move toward him reflected in his eyes. Dean almost grinned at Sam's moxy.

"He's not accident prone," Sam replied coldly. "He got hurt saving someone. Saving me."

Aw, Sammy. Dean looked away from Sam, knowing the words weren't true, knowing that in fact, Sam had saved him. He hadn't been able to keep Jack away. He'd known the moment he'd lost that fight. But Sam… Sam wouldn't let him go. Dean had felt that punch of power from his brother seconds before darkness claimed him. If it hadn't been for Sam, Jack would have won.

Dean shifted his eyes around the room. It was small, one window to the left of his bed, Sam, Iggy, and the door to the right. The walls were wood paneled and even with the light on and the curtains pulled they gave the room a shadowed appearance. It looked almost like they were at someone's house, rather than a hospital. He looked back over at Sam and Iggy.

"Virgil brings you two here – you both have stab wounds, your throat's cut, he's literally beat to hell. I mean, dude, where the hell did all those bruises come from? And not to mention the girl…" Dean watched as Iggy tucked his long hair behind his ears, shaking his head. "No explanation. No nothing."

"Sina—er, Virgil said that you would be cool with that. That you, uh, cover for guys in the clinic all the time."

"Yeah," Iggy nodded. "Guys who are seriously messed up. Guys who have seen combat. Guys who have been to the edge."

Sam straightened up from the wall, stepping forward. "My brother is all of those things. And even if he's healing faster than normal, he still needs your help."

Iggy sighed. "I ain't kicking you out. I just need to know what I'm dealing with."

"Sam," Dean rasped. His voice echoed back to him inside of the mask. He reached up and pulled it away from his mouth.

Sam's eyes shot over to Dean's face and he stepped up to the bed immediately.

"Hey! Hey, Dean," Sam grinned, his dimples showing. "Man, it's good to see you."

"'happened?" Dean managed.

"If you're gonna talk, kid, you need to keep this on," Iggy said, shifting the oxygen mask back over Dean's mouth.

Dean felt a vague sense of claustrophobia with the mask back on, but allowed it. Truthfully, it was easier to breathe with it in place. The heaviness in his chest hadn't eased. He looked at Sam's neck.

"You okay?"

Sam nodded. "Got about fifteen stitches."

"Shoulder?"

"Oh, yeah, they, um, had to fix it. Again," Sam looked down at his arm. "Finally talked me into a sling."

Dean nodded.

"How's the head feel, kid?" Iggy asked, shining a pen light into Dean's right then left eye.

"Like a cracked egg," Dean swallowed.

"No surprise there," Iggy stepped back, crossing his arms. Dean could see the figure of a naked woman with the words Lust 4 Life along the length of her thigh tattooed on his forearm. "You have a pretty severe concussion. I'm gonna ask you to remember some stuff for me. I want you to repeat it back to me whenever you wake up."

"Carrot, diamond, toaster, and shoe," Dean said, lifting heavy eyes to meet Iggy's pale brown ones.

"You've been through this before, I see," Iggy lifted a brow, making his face appear even thinner.

"Once or twice," Dean reached up to pull the oxygen mask away, and Iggy neatly blocked his hand.

"You broke seven ribs on your right side, kid," Iggy said. "One of those bad boys punctured your lung. Your brother's got you beat in the stab wound department, seeing as how his goes all the way through, but you got ten stitches in your shoulder and a couple in your chest where we had to repair your lung. And you're pretty much a Smurf with this bruising."

"Was always more of a Gargamel fan myself," Dean said.

"You would be," Sam said, his eyes never leaving Dean's face.

"I don't know how much of this conversation you heard, but quick healer or not, you're gonna be sticking around for awhile," Iggy said, his arms crossed, eyebrow raised, daring Dean to contradict him.

At the moment, though, Dean didn't have the energy to blink, let alone fight to get out of the bed. He shifted on the bed, trying unsuccessfully to ease the ache in his chest and shoulder. He remembered feeling the fire, feeling it consume him. He winced slightly as a wave of heat rolled over him, leaving him dizzy. He saw Iggy's eyes shift focus, his features soften.

"How's the pain?"

Dean swallowed. He looked at Sam, then back at Iggy. "It's up there," Dean confessed.

"Feel like you're breathing through a straw?"

"Not anymore."

"Chest heavy?"

"Yeah."

"Okay," Iggy nodded. He looked over at Sam, then back at Dean. "I'll be back."

Iggy left the room. Dean looked at Sam.

"How long?"

"A little over eighteen hours now," Sam said.

"Sam," Dean pulled the oxygen mask away from his mouth and nose. "We need to… take care of Declan."

"I know."

"Where's Brenna?"

"Sleeping in the next room."

"She okay?"

At this, Sam's eyes shifted away. Dean narrowed his focus.

"What is it?"

"Physically, she's gonna be fine," Sam said. "Bruised face, split lip. Nothing big."

"Yeah, and?"

"She, um…" Sam pulled his bottom lip in, looking back at Dean. "She reminds me of you, man. After Dad…"

Dean pulled his eyebrows together when Sam's voice trailed off. "What, Sam?"

"Before…" Sam ran his hand through his hair. "Before Oregon, you were so cut off. You barely looked at me. And nothing I said made a difference. Not really."

Dean looked away.

"But, you're my brother," Sam continued. "I knew I'd eventually find a way. Brenna, though…"

"She not talking?"

Sam shook his head.

"Give her time," Dean said as Iggy walked back into the room.

"Dude, seriously," Iggy shook his head, putting the oxygen mask back on Dean's face. "Am I gonna have to duct tape this thing to your face?"

Suppressing the urge to grin, Dean shook his head.

"What part of punctured lung don't you get?"

"I'll keep it on," Dean muttered.

"You'd better," Iggy held up a syringe, squirted out a small bit of the liquid, then inserted it into Dean's IV. "Or no more happy juice."

Dean felt the drug burn slightly as it entered his system through the IV in his arm.

"You're gonna feel better here shortly," Iggy promised. "I'll come back to check on you."

Dean could feel the effects of the drug take hold, slide through his body like mercury, calming the ache in his head, easing the hot pain in his shoulder, relieving the pressure in his chest. He felt his eyes grow heavy and looked over at Sam.

"Sam," he murmured, his breath clouding the oxygen mask. "Take care of it."

Sam tilted his head to the side. "What do you mean?"

"Declan," Dean said, closing his eyes. "Take care of it."

He never heard Sam's reply.

www

"…wanted you to know it was done… I'll have to tell you this again when you're awake, but… I just needed to talk to you, man… couldn't wait until you woke up…"

Dean didn't open his eyes. Didn't move. His hearing always seemed to be the first sense that returned him to light from the safety of oblivion. The hunter in him was glad of that – it had saved him on more than one occasion. The brother in him ached for the pain he heard in Sam's voice.

"I'd almost forgotten, y'know? Can you believe that? Forgotten what it had been like to take Dad from the hospital. To… build that pyre. To look at his face when we wrapped him up and then… when you lit the wood… you were so… you looked as dead as Dad, man. You barely blinked. I felt like screaming. I felt like I was screaming. And you were… God, you were empty. I knew that it was what Dad wanted. I know we did the right thing. But I can't help but think about the way that fire ate him up… how it wrapped around his body… and even though he was already gone… it… man, it felt like the fire took him from us. Not the demon."

Dean swallowed. He realized that he no longer had the oxygen mask on his face. He wanted to make Sam stop. It hurt to hear these memories. It pulled images into his mind that he never wanted to think about again. But Sam… Sam needed to talk. It had been his brother's way of dealing with problems since he was little. So, Dean stayed silent, stayed still.

"It wasn't the same with Declan. I mean, it was and it wasn't. Brenna, man, she… she pretty much did it all. I couldn't move my arm, and she… she surprised me. She didn't cry. Not once. Not one tear. And that made me think of you, too. What you said when I asked you if he said anything to you… how you sounded. Dean, I, uh, I know you lied to me then. But, I know why you did, too…"

Dean heard Sam take a shaky breath, and he held his own breath in reaction, waiting for Sam's next words.

"Dean, I told you… I asked you to let me take some of your burden. To let me help you carry it. But… I don't know, man. I don't know if I can handle this. I don't know what to do with this… knowing that Dad made you promise to kill me if you couldn't…"

Dean tightened his jaw, wanting to open his eyes then, but finding it nearly impossible to do so. He knew he was slipping back, slipping away from Sam, and he wanted Sam to stop talking. He didn't want to hear anymore. But he couldn't stop listening.

"I need you to save me, Dean," Sam's voice was barely a whisper. "All my life, I've watched you do what Dad told you. I've looked to you for… God, for everything. But I think that if you can't save me, I mean, if it's really bad… I think this might be one order you won't obey. And, man, I need you to. I have to know that you'll do this…"

Dean wanted to cover his ears. He couldn't hear this. He didn't want to know. He wasn't going to fail. He couldn't fail. He would save Sam. Or die trying. Because he meant what he'd said in the cabin. He didn't want to come back just to lose his brother. He didn't want to do this without Sam.

"Man, I'm tired," he heard Sam sigh. "But it's done. The job. All of it. So, wake up, okay? Iggy said you're healing faster than normal. Doesn't surprise me, really. You never do things normal. So, go on and wake up and let's get Brenna and just… just go."

Sam's words echoed Dean's soul. Dean never wanted to stay in one place too long. It was too easy to develop attachments, and attachments made it hard to go when leaving was the only option. But that was him, not Sam. Sam had always wanted a base, an anchor. Before. Dean swallowed and thought about opening his eyes. Thought of looking at Sam, just to make sure Sam was still there.

He felt the bed shift slightly near his right hand and instinctively knew that Sam had rested his head on the bed. At least he still had that. Even if John's death had affected both of them in ways he was just starting to see, at least Sam was still close. Keeping his eyes closed, he slowly released the breath he'd been holding while listening to his brother. The darkness was waiting for him, waiting to hold onto him just a little longer. Oddly comforted by the closeness of his brother, he let him self fall back to it.

www

"Four things?"

"Where's Sam?"

"Four things."

"Sam."

"He's sleeping in the next room."

"Carrot, diamond, toaster, and shoe," Dean muttered as Iggy shined the pen light into his eyes again. He was propped up on the bed, several pillows bracing his back and keeping his ribs steady. He could smell patchouli again as Iggy moved, checking his vitals.

"Good," Iggy nodded. "You keep this up, I'll let that brother of yours take you out of here tomorrow."

Dean lifted a brow. "Seriously?"

"Well, you're not going to be running any marathons anytime soon. In fact, you're probably not going to be doing much of anything but sitting and breathing," Iggy said, his brow raised again. He let out a sigh. "Truth is, kid, you've been here four days, and you're mending. Mending faster than I've ever seen before. This is a clinic, not a hospital, and I just can't keep you here."

Dean lifted his left hand in a gesture of surrender. "No complaints here, man."

Iggy nodded, checked Dean's IV, humming. He nodded again and turned to go. At the doorway he paused and looked back at Dean.

"So what is it?"

"What is what?" Dean asked, his brows pulled together in confusion.

"What is it that you do?"

Dean rolled his neck. "You really want to know, man?"

"I asked Sam, he went all existential on me. Asked Virgil and he just said you were the good guys and left it at that. Like that means anything these days."

Dean leveled his eyes on the slim man's cadaverous face. "We hunt evil."

Iggy stared at him. "Come again?"

"We hunt evil. Ghosts, demons… wraiths, you name it."

Iggy's eyebrows slowly rose. Dean nodded.

"We hunt it, take it out, and try to save as many people as we can."

Iggy shook his head, turning away. "If you didn't want to tell me, all you had to do was say so, dude," he said.

He stepped back slightly to allow Brenna space to enter the room, then left the room, singing to himself as he did so.

"There's a real mean world outside where many lives are lost, but struggle builds character, and we are growing soft…"

Dean watched Brenna walk across the room toward the window. She set a plastic bag down on the floor, and looked out of the window.

"I don't think he believed me," he said.

"Well," she answered, not looking back at him, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. "Would you if you were him?"

Dean huffed out a breath. "Good question."

He watched her out of the corner of his eyes. She wore the same jeans and boots he'd seen on her in the bar, but she had on one of his grey Henley's, the sleeves rolled several times to her wrists, the bottom tied in a knot at her waist. It took him a minute to register that she had lost everything when the house burned. She rubbed the back of her head, ruffling her short hair. He turned his head to see her more fully. His shirt made her look tiny.

"I went back to the house today," she said, still looking out of the window. "There's nothing left."

He looked down. "I'm sorry, Brenna." He kept his chin down, lifting his eyes to rest on her, noting by the set of her shoulders that she was holding herself very carefully… as if she might break. "I am."

"Yeah, me, too," she said. "The car is gone," she said. Then looked over her shoulder at him quickly. "Mine, not yours."

Dean let out a quick breath of relief.

"When we… had Declan's, um, funeral," she said, turning back to the window. "It was dark. I hadn't been able to see anything."

Dean stayed silent. Sam had said Brenna hadn't been talking. He knew from experience that if you decide today's the day it all comes out, and one person stops you, then you never get back to that point. And it stays inside of you forever. He would wait for her.

"Sinatra took me today. Sam didn't want to leave you," she continued. "Guess he fell asleep, though. Iggy and Sinatra moved him to the other room."

Dean frowned. He knew he had been there for four days; he wondered how many of them Sam had stayed awake, watching, waiting.

"I think the fire was worse because of my… because of the, um, potions."

I wondered about that…

"They aren't designed to burn, really. Even the ones that heal. They're, well… a bit explosive in nature."

She shoved her hands into her hair, tucking short tufts behind her ears, then turning to look at him. The sun from the window lit her hair and cast her face in shadow. Dean could see the bruising still on her cheek and around her mouth from where Danny's fist had struck her. Anger flashed, quick and bright, inside of him.

"I did find one thing," she said, stepping up to him. "It kinda figures that it was the only thing the fire didn't take."

"What?"

She bent and picked up the plastic bag. Reaching in, she drew out the Ardagh.

"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered in wonder.

"Yep." Brenna turned the gold chalice around in her hand, her large eyes scanning it. "I think I'm gonna give it to the local Catholic church. It belongs somewhere safe."

"A church is safe?"

She looked up at him. "It is when it's not abandoned and guarded by a wraith."

Dean pressed his lips together, saying nothing.

"They would have… would have used it to kill more people," she said softly, her eyes on the glittering emerald in the stem of the cup. "I think enough people have died, don't you?"

Dean nodded. He felt an ache in his heart. It was familiar, and hollow, but this time, it wasn't for him. He felt it for Brenna. For what she'd lost. For where she would have to go, what she would have to do now that everything was gone – her home, her possessions, her family. She had lost everything, and Brenna didn't have Sam. Who are you when I'm not here, Dean?

"You were right, you know."

He tilted his head. "About what?"

"It doesn't go away." Her voice was soft and he watched her drop the cup into the plastic bag, then drop the bag onto the floor again. She stepped toward his bed, not touching it, not touching him, but close enough that if he were to reach out…

"It doesn't go away," she repeated, her eyes down. "It sneaks up on you. It takes you when you least expect it."

"I know," he whispered. Brenna once said that she heard too much when it was quiet. He knew exactly what she meant: he heard his Dad. He heard words spoken so softly that they screamed in his head.

"How do you… how do you keep going?" She lifted her eyes to meet his and he clenched his jaw in reaction to the raw pain in her dry eyes.

He pressed his lips together and shook his head once. "I don't know, Brenna," he said. "You just do. You decide what is worth it to you, and you hold on to that."

"What is worth it to you, Dean?"

Dean's eyes shifted to the wall across from the foot of his bed, thinking automatically about Sam. Brenna followed his gaze and her lips thinned. She nodded and looked down.

"Little things," he said. Her head shot up and she looked at him.

"What?"

"Little things are worth it to me," he said, surprising himself. He didn't know where the words were coming from, but he knew they were true. "Sam, he's… he's the reason I do what I do, but… it's things like driving the Impala, or drinking a beer on a cool night, or, God, I don't know… getting a hot chick's phone number."

"Nice," she shook her head.

"I'm just saying… life. Life is worth it to me."

"You have all those things because you have Sam," she said, her eyes on his face. He didn't reply. "What if there was no Sam?"

Dean couldn't help it. He went cold. It was such an automatic reaction that he didn't have time to quell it, to focus on her and what she was trying to ask him.

"Whoa, hey," she started to reach out a hand to him, but stopped herself just shy of touching him. "I didn't mean—"

"No, it's okay," Dean gave her a shaky version of his cocky grin. "Must be the patchouli getting to me."

She nodded, and started to drop her hand. Dean reached out without thinking and grabbed her slim fingers. Her hand was cool, her skin soft. He instantly remembered the feel of her hand on his face in the truck. He remembered thinking it felt like coming home.

"Brenna, listen," Dean tightened his fingers around hers. "You're the one with the magic, here. Not me. I don't have any answers for you. I wish to God I did."

Brenna nodded, her jaw working back and forth. She didn't meet his eyes and she didn't remove her hand.

"You just have to get up every day and you have to decide what you're gonna fight for," he said.

"Is that what you do?"

"What do you mean?"

"When you wake up and think that you can't do this anymore… do you decide what you're gonna fight for?"

Her question was soft, but it hit him with the force of a sledgehammer. "You – you saw that?"

She nodded.

"What else did you see?" He asked, his voice hard. He tightened his grip on her hand, drawing her eyes.

"I saw her tell you about John," she said, her voice thick. "I saw her tell you she could give him back to you."

Dean swallowed. It had been so tempting. It had almost felt right.

"Dean?"

"What?" he snapped.

"Why didn't you?"

"Because I don't make deals with demons," he said, staring at the white blanket across his lap.

"Your Dad did," she said.

"I'm not my Dad," he said softly. Then he looked over at her. "And that's why he did what he did. That's why he… why he told me what he did. Why he made me promise…"

"What do you mean?"

It was a realization that seemed murky at first, but as he worked through it, it blinded him with its clarity. "He knew more than he told me… he… he had to have known for awhile what could happen to Sam." He didn't realize he was still holding Brenna's hand. That he was clenching it tighter as his eyes darted in thought, as he began to understand. "He knew he wouldn't be able to do it. If it came down to it, I think Dad knew he couldn't save Sam."

"Are you saying that he would have told you that about Sam, made you promise what he did, no matter what? Even if he hadn't, um… died?"

Dean nodded slowly. "Maybe."

They were silent for a moment. Dean realized that he was gripping her hand and released it. She didn't pull away. Just let her hand lay in his, a comfortable closeness.

"He had a lot of faith in you, Dean," she whispered.

Dean jerked his head up. "What?"

"He believed in you," she said, meeting his eyes. "Not just for this either. He believed in you. Period."

Dean blinked at her. He wanted to believe that. He wanted that to be true. But… there were so many times… so many memories where he didn't think he lived up to his dad's expectations. You can't lie to her…Brenna sees the truth…

"You're not messing with me," he said. It wasn't a question.

"Not about this," she said. "Never about this."

John had believed in him. What do I do with that now?

"Um, kid," called Iggy from the doorway.

Dean turned to face him, aware that Brenna straightened at the sound of his voice. He hadn't realized how close she'd been to him.

"Yeah?"

"There are some cops here," Iggy said.

Shit. Dean bit his lip, his eyes darting to the wall that separated the two rooms.

"How'd they find us?"

"They aren't here for you," Iggy said. He lifted his eyes to Brenna. "They want to talk to you."

Dean looked up at Brenna, his eyebrows raised.

"About what?" she asked, plainly surprised.

"Said they found the guys that burned your house and beat you up."

Brenna looked at Dean. He shrugged. "You told Sinatra to check Jack's ID…"

"Damn, that's right," she said. "I did." She looked at him, surprised. "You were half-dead; how'd you remember that?"

"Sweetheart, you haven't scratched the surface of my skills," he pulled the corner of his mouth into a grin.

Brenna's lips quirked. She looked back at Iggy, who was shaking his head at them. "I'll meet them out front."

www

"Cops move pretty quick in this town," Sam commented, his feet propped up on Dean's bed, his arm cradled against him. He had been slouched in the chair next to Dean's bed for better part of the day. He'd threatened to tie Dean to the bed if he tried to get up before Iggy cleared him, and Dean knew he'd make good on that threat by the look on his face.

"Guess it's a good thing we did, too, huh?" Dean asked. "They track her down here through Sinatra?"

His IV and catheter had been removed first thing that morning. He was sitting up, resting against the pillows, his left leg bent and tucked under his right. Iggy had switched him from IV meds to pills the night before and he was itching to leave. He could feel the pull of the stitches in his shoulder, and if he blinked wrong his ribs reminded him that they weren't whole, but Sam had been right. They'd been in one place too long. He needed to… to move.

"Yeah," Sam shook his head. "Brenna had to get pretty creative, though. I think we've corrupted her."

Dean shook his head with a grin. "We didn't start anything that wasn't there to begin with."

Sam smiled. "Hook, line, and sinker, man."

Dean slid his eyes over to his brother. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You are sunk, Dean. She's got you."

"Whatever," Dean shook his head. "Nobody's got me."

"If you say so," Sam didn't bother to hide his grin. His dimples annoyed Dean.

"I say so, all right?"

At that, Sam actually laughed.

"Shut up," Dean shook his head, looking away. "How did she explain being at this clinic and not like… a hospital or something?"

"Ah, that's the funny part – she didn't have to."

Dean tilted his head. "What do you mean?"

"Iggy said she was his niece."

"Are you kiddin' me?"

"Nope. Said she was his niece, she was staying with him, and if they had any more questions for her, they could contact him," Sam's lips pressed together in a satisfied smile.

"Why did he do that?"

"What, people can't just be nice? Can't just do the right thing?"

Dean shook his head. "Not generally."

Sam ignored him, continuing. "She told the cops how Eamon's crew had been threatening her, claimed not to know what they were talking about, went into really vivid detail about how they killed her grandfather and how she suspected they stole his body from the morgue…"

"Good thinking," Dean nodded.

"Yeah, and she told them about the fight at the bar – conveniently leaving out that anyone else was there. Told them how Jack turned on Eamon's boys, and they turned on Jack and ended with an I don't know how I got out of there alive. It was pretty impressive."

"She use tears?"

"Bucket's of 'em."

"Good girl," Dean grinned. "They gonna come back?"

"Said they would when they found Declan's body," Sam said, a mock sympathetic frown on his face. "Poor bastards."

Dean smiled at his brother, shaking his head.

"Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"Eamon's still out there."

"Yeah, I know."

"You think they'll find him? The cops I mean?"

Dean chewed on his bottom lip in thought. "I think he's too good for that, Sam. He's been doing this for a long time. I don't think he makes too many mistakes."

"Sure made one with Jack."

"Yeah, well…" Dean lifted a shoulder, looking at Sam. "That ended up working out okay for us."

"Not for Brenna," Sam said looking down.

"Where is she now?"

"Sinatra took her into town," Sam said, glancing over his shoulder as Iggy stepped into the room. "She was gonna get some clothes and stuff I think."

"I think she looks pretty cute in those oversized shirts, myself," Iggy said.

"Dude, she's your niece," Dean retorted. "That's just sick."

"You want out of here, hotshot?"

"More than you'll ever know," Dean replied.

"No driving, take your meds, and lay off this job of yours for at least two weeks," Iggy pointed a thin, brown finger at Dean.

Dean frowned. "No driving?"

"Kid, you may be the fastest healer I've ever seen, but seven broken ribs and a punctured lung is nothing to mess around with," Iggy lifted an eyebrow. "Not to mention your shoulder and a concussion. Believe me, you're not gonna feel like driving. And if you so much as get rear-ended, the impact could –"

"We get the idea," Sam interrupted.

Dean looked at him. Sam was slightly pale above the white bandage on his neck. Dean frowned in sympathy. Sam had been the only one to wake up in the Impala after the semi hit them. He couldn't imagine what it had looked like to Sam, seeing his father and brother covered in blood and unconscious.

"Got you," Dean said, still looking at Sam. "No driving."

Iggy nodded, tossed two bottles of pills to Sam, who caught them impressively with his left hand, and with a two fingered salute, walked out of the room.

"I brought you some clothes," Sam said.

"Thanks."

"You need help this time?" Sam asked.

"No," Dean snapped. "But don't go far."

Sam nodded with a sly smile. "You know, maybe after this we give ourselves a break," Sam said.

"How do you mean?"

"I don't know… you wanted to go to the Grand Canyon… maybe we go to the ocean or something it's—"

"No." Dean shook his head once. "No ocean."

"I was just saying that it's close," Sam said, his eyebrows up in surprise.

"No ocean, Sam. Besides, what about Ava?"

Sam nodded, looking perplexed, but didn't push further.

"How are we getting out of here," Dean panted a bit as he buttoned his jeans and reached for his T-shirt.

"Sinatra said he'd come back for us," Sam answered. "He'll take us to Brenna's. She said to stay in their motel. She'd be back after she took care of some stuff in town."

Dean nodded, carefully pulling on his shirt, then his leather jacket, and then immediately wanted to climb back into bed and lie down. Instead, he lifted his hand, flicking his fingers toward the door.

"Let's do this thing," he said.

www

Dean breathed slowly, deeply, the whole way to the motel attached to the Kavanagh bar. It's such a simple thing, breathing. So common it happens without thought. Until it was taken away from him. Sam had been quiet for most of the drive; his occasional glances and questions to check on Dean were to be expected. Sinatra was silent. As they turned into the dirt lot, Sam let out a low whistle.

"I didn't see this in the daylight," he said as they surveyed the ruined house.

"There really isn't anything left," Dean said, his eyes dropping to the burned-out hull of Brenna's Grande National. "Where's—"

"It's around back, behind the bar," Sam said. "She hid it in a clump of trees."

"You two gonna be okay?" Sinatra said. "I want to get back to Brenna."

Dean eased out of the truck, leaning slightly on the door. "Oh, really?"

He saw Sam look over at him.

Sinatra frowned. "She's been through a lot," he said. "She might need some help."

Dean felt a muscle in his jaw jump as he clenched his teeth. He took a moment to breathe, then nodded. "You're right, man."

He closed the door of the truck and turned to face the motel, not missing Sam's look as Sinatra pulled out of the lot and gunned the engine back toward town.

"What?" he snapped at Sam.

"Nothing," Sam shook his head, but his face revealed his lie.

"I told you, Sam," Dean said. "I'm not staying. It's not right to act like I even could."

"I think you might want to ask her if that matters," Sam said. Dean shot him a look and Sam raised his hands in mock surrender. "That's all I'm saying," he said, waving his fingers slightly.

Dean started to walk toward the motel, seeing the plywood piece blocking the opened doorway to the bar, police tape across it. For a reason that he couldn't quite put his finger on, he abruptly changed his direction and headed to the door. He pulled the police tape down and stared at the door for a moment. Sighing, he took a step back and braced himself.

"What the hell?" Sam was at his side instantly.

Dean looked at him blankly.

"You were seriously gonna kick this door in?"

"You see any other way into the bar?"

"We're not going into the bar, Dean, we're going to the motel so you can rest."

"I'm rested. I need to see the bar."

"Why?"

Dean sighed again, feeling his shoulders drop, then straightened and looked at Sam. "Because I need to see where he died."

"Who, Jack?"

Dean nodded.

"Is there more to that story than what you told me in the cabin, Dean?"

"Not really," Dean shook his head, looking away. He felt Sam's eyes on him, but focused his attention on the door.

"Fine," he heard Sam say one moment before Sam's foot plowed through the plywood, practically blasting it from the nails that held it in place.

"Damn, Sammy!" Dean exclaimed, instinctively lifting his arms to block his face.

"What?"

Dean looked at his brother, then grinned. "You been holding out on me, man."

Sam grinned back and lifted a shoulder. "I learned from the best."

They stepped into the bar. Sam held back as Dean moved further into the bar, looking at the bloodstains on the floor, looking at the place where Jack had died. He stood still a moment, thinking, remembering. He wondered what his Dad would have said about Jack's death. He wondered what his Dad would have said about this whole case. John never had been much for politics. But all Dean could see as he looked at the bloodstains was the cost of freedom.

"You think Declan knew?"

Dean didn't lift his head. "Knew what?"

"About Jack. About Dad."

Dean shook his head. "Nah. He didn't know. He was just following orders. They all were."

"He said you would have made a good soldier," Sam said softly, his voice close to Dean.

"Who did?"

"Eamon," Sam replied.

"He's right," Dean said. "If there's one thing I know how to do," Dean lifted his eyes and looked directly at Sam. "It's to follow orders."

Sam paled slightly and swallowed. He looked away, his jaw working. Dean watched his brother a moment longer.

"Hey Sam?"

Sam looked back at him.

"You think that this… all this," Dean gestured to the floor, and then back behind him to the shattered bottles and broken bar mirror. "You think it was… I don't know… meant to happen?"

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, what are the odds that the same person who ruined Brenna's life was connected to us?" Dean slid his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. "I mean, what if we hadn't come. Do you think she would have been in as much… danger?" If there's a choice with destiny, is there a choice with fate? Where is the line drawn… when does it become inevitable… at what point am I not responsible for someone's pain?

"Well," Sam said, his words slow, measured. "I think it was out of our hands the minute you heard that message."

Dean lifted his head.

"I think you heard that a friend needed help, and it wouldn't have mattered if Dad had been here, we still would have come. Because you had to."

Dean shifted his eyes away, resting them on nothing, thinking. Shoot first, ask questions later… always moving, never still… compelled to do something… is it always the best thing? Is it the right thing? How do I know? Who's gonna tell me that I did the right thing? Who's gonna tell me that there was nothing else I could do… Dad's gone. He's gone… and Sam…

Dean narrowed his eyes at Sam. "What about you, Sam?"

Sam grinned sadly at him. "I go where you go, Dean. Gotta be around to be a pain in your ass, right?"

Dean breathed out a laugh. "Yeah, I guess so." Damn right, you need to be around. I don't want to do this without you… I can. I know that now. I can do this without you. But I don't want to. It's only worth it because of you.

"And I think," Sam continued, turning from the blood stained floor and heading back to the rear of the bar. "That there is such a thing as coincidence, but…" His voice faded away.

Dean watched him go to the back room, waited a beat, then called, "Sam?"

Sam reemerged with two six-packs of beer. Dean lifted his eyebrows in twin inverted Vs.

"This one was a helluva coincidence," Sam said. nodding to the spot on the floor covered by Jack's blood.

"Think Iggy would approve?" Dean asked.

Sam continued past him toward the door and Dean followed, glad to be free of his dark thoughts, released from the memories that spawned more questions than answers. Why's a crooked letter that no one's been able to straighten out.

"I think Iggy had a different idea of mellowing out," Sam said over his shoulder.

Dean chuckled. "Dude, did you smell that patchouli?"

www

Dean –

I had this with me, but didn't think Iggy could handle more magical healing… mix it with water, stir counter clockwise – just do it, don't ask questions – and drink the whole thing. It won't fix you completely, but it will help.

Brenna

"I don't think anything can fix you completely," Sam said as he read the note.

Dean held his breath, gulped the bitter-tasting tonic, then shuddered. "Nasty," he said.

"Think it helps?"

"I do now," Dean said. "After Iggy."

"Man, I'm beat," Sam sighed, sitting heavily on the bed furthest from the door. He held his second bottle of beer loosely in his fingers and dropped his head heavily between his shoulders.

"How's your neck?" Dean asked, eyeing Sam's weary form.

"Sore, but I'll live," Sam replied.

Dean stepped over to him, took the beer from his loose fingers and set it on the nightstand. He gently pushed at Sam's shoulder until his brother started to tip back on the bed.

"Hey, wait," Sam protested. "You're the one just out of the hospital here."

"Wasn't a hospital," Dean said, pushing harder until Sam lay back on the pillows. "It was a clinic. And I'm fine."

"Not fine," Sam mumbled, trying to push himself up again.

"Sam," Dean said, his tone leaving no room for argument. "I promised to take it easy, didn't I?"

"Yeah," Sam said, narrowing his eyes cautiously.

"So trust me, okay? Get some rest," Dean reached down and pulled Sam's right boot off.

Sam pushed him away and removed the other one. "What time is it?"

Dean looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. "Almost eight."

"I'll just rest for an hour, okay?" Sam lay down on the bed, rolling over onto his left side and pulling the pillow down so that he could burrow his face into it. He was asleep in seconds.

"Sure thing, Sammy," Dean said softly. He sat on the bed opposite Sam, watching his brother sleep. For so long, it had been where he found his peace. Until Sam's visions, until the nightmares. When Sam slept, the world was safe for a moment, and Dean could breathe easy.

He started to lie back against the bed, but the tonic was working through his system and he suddenly found that he couldn't stay still. He looked at Sam once more, then grabbed two bottles of beer and slipped quietly out of the room, locking it behind him. He moved carefully, judging the pull of his stitches, the ache of his ribs, the sting of the stitches in his side. All were practically non-existent at the moment. He rounded the corner and saw the clump of trees Sam had been talking about.

The sun had set and a gray-blue hue was cast over the earth. Dean looked up as he walked and saw that the moon was nearly full. It was still a soft orange color as it rose – reflecting off of the dying light of the sun. Soon it would illuminate everything he saw… including his car.

"Hey, baby," Dean said in a low voice, running his free hand over the sleek black trunk, and keeping his fingers in contact with the body of the car as he made his way up to the driver's door. The metal of the car retained the heat from the day; he felt the warmth pull through his fingers and travel up his arm.

He opened the driver's side door, thankful that it was unlocked, and slid carefully behind the wheel. Sighing deeply, he leaned back, resting the bottle on the steering wheel. He looked at the radio. A small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. When Sam had left for Stanford, Dean spent many evenings sitting in his car, listening to music, feeling the familiarity of home wrap around him. He looked in the ignition, then kicked the floor mat loose, then pulled down the visor. The keys fell neatly into his lap.

"Atta girl," Dean said, thinking of Brenna.

He turned the keys until the battery engaged, then started spinning the dial on the radio station. He paused at the end of Kansas' Dust in the Wind and twisted off the cap of one bottle. Taking a long pull on the beer, he started spinning the dial again. He wanted something familiar. He wanted something that held him. He leaned forward and grabbed a cassette from the box on the floor.

Popping it in, he leaned back and took another drink of beer.

"Spent my days with a woman unkind, smoked my stuff and drank all my wine. Made up my mind to make a new start, going to California with an aching in my heart…"

"That's the stuff," he sighed. Turning up the radio, he grabbed the unopened bottle of beer and stepped out of the car, leaving the driver's door open. He went to the back of the car, and stepped up, hooking the heels of his boots on the bumper and settling himself on the trunk. He sat for a moment watching the moon rise and listening to Zeppelin, his mind blissfully blank for a change.

He felt her before he saw her. He felt her eyes. He looked down from the moon and saw Brenna walking toward him across the empty lot, her legs and feet bare, wearing one of his long-sleeved shirts, the throat open to the third button, the hem hitting her just above the knee. His mouth went dry.

"Hey," she said, stepping up to him.

"Hey yourself," he answered, trying to keep his eyes steady, trying to resist devouring her in a glance.

"You got a spare?" she tilted her head to the beer in his hand. He handed her the unopened bottle. She wrapped the end of the shirt around the top and twisted it off.

"Sinatra get you all straightened out?" Dean asked.

Brenna took a drink and nodded. "He met back up with me in town. Nice guy."

"I'll bet," Dean shook his head and tipped his head back to take another swig from his bottle.

"I sold the place."

Dean's eyebrows went up. "What?"

"Sold it – land, bar, motel, even that wreck of a house," she said. "Used the money for clothes and transportation."

"Huh," Dean tipped his head back. That probably hadn't sat well with Sinatra. He suppressed a grin. "You know where you're going?"

She shook her head. "Not a clue. But… I didn't know where I was going before, either. I was just… going."

Dean nodded. "Yeah, I can get that."

"Throw me a line if I reach it in time, I'll meet you up there where the path runs straight and high…"

"Sam okay?" she asked.

"He's sleeping."

"Shouldn't you be doing the same thing?" she took another drink and Dean watched as she pulled her bottom lip into her mouth.

"I'm okay," Dean pressed his lips together, unable to take his eyes from her mouth.

"You took the tonic, right?"

"Yeah," he nodded.

She smiled. "Good. It will help."

Dean stared at her. She deserved better. She deserved more. He didn't even know if he'd come out of this fight alive…

"Are we as screwed up as I think we are?" he asked her softly.

"Yeah," she nodded. "I'm afraid so."

"You know what we have to do, Sam and me," Dean said.

"Dean," she said, lifting her eyes to his. The moon was high and reflected in her eyes. "You don't even know what you have to do. Not really. You said it yourself. You just get up every day and find something that's worth it for you."

"That can't be you," he whispered. "Not now."

"I never said I wanted it to be," she replied, stepping closer. "I know what Sam means to you, Dean. I know he's your balance. I know he's your innocence." She put her hand on his thigh, her legs against the bumper of the Impala. "I care about you too much to change that."

Dean heard the deep, bluesy rhythm coming from the radio. The drums beat in time with his heart, and the guitars sent chills down his arms. He dropped his now empty beer bottle to the ground, his eyes on Brenna. He felt his blood heat up, felt the familiar, pleasant pull in his belly.

"If it keeps on rainin', levees goin' to break, if it keeps on rainin', levees goin' to break. When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay…"

"Brenna," he started, his hands closing over her upper arms. "I don't know if—"

"Shut up," she interrupted. "Just shut up and for God's sake kiss me already."

He gripped her arms and she stepped up on the bumper with one leg, swinging the other across his lap. He held her tight and she gripped his thighs with hers, her mouth aiming directly for his. The touch of her lips set his skin on fire. He moved his hands from her arms to the sides of her face, burying his fingers in her hair and pulling her lips close.

She pulled his lower lip into her mouth, and he groaned low in his throat at the thrill of that sensation. He felt her fingers gripping at his jacket and, keeping his mouth on hers, he let go of her face and helped her pull the jacket from his shoulders. He wanted to feel her skin – he wanted to feel her softness, her curves. He wanted to feel them against him.

She was pulling at his T-shirt and he lifted his arms, letting her pull it over his head. The kiss broke as she did so and Dean reached for her face again, pulling her to him, biting her lip gently and breathing in her gasp of pleasure.

"All last night sat on the levee and moaned, All last night sat on the levee and moaned, thinkin bout my baby and my happy home…"

She moved away from his mouth and trailed her lips down his neck, then up to his earlobe, drawing it into her mouth and running her teeth lightly along it. His head fell back slightly and he closed his eyes with a groan. Her fingers dug into the muscles of his back, just below his shoulders. Even in the haze of pleasure, he noted that she remained aware of his injuries. He let go of her face and moved his hands to the buttons on her shirt. She grabbed his hand.

"Wait," she gasped, tossing a quick look over her shoulder. He pulled his lips in, panting, and followed her gaze. Sitting on the trunk of the Impala, they were within easy eyesight of the bar and motel.

"C'm here," he said, scooting off of the trunk and lowering her to the ground at the same time. Grabbing her hand he pulled her around to the back seat of the car. He opened the door and climbed in, pulling her with him.

"You okay to do this?" she asked, crawling carefully over him as he leaned back on the seat.

"Try to stop me," he said, tugging gently on the back of her hair and pulling her down toward him.

She kept her hands braced at first, keeping herself away from his body as best she could, but as he deepened the kiss, tickling the back of her teeth with this tongue, he felt her melt against him. He didn't stop to think about how this would feel in the morning, or if even her slight weight was doing damage to his healing ribs. He just let himself feel her, this, now.

She sat up and started to unbutton the shirt, sliding it off of her shoulders and revealing her body. He swallowed as the silver light of the moon cast a surreal glow across her chest and belly. He put his hands on her hip bones, slowly traveling his hands up her belly. He watched as she tipped her head back, letting her eyes close, letting herself feel, letting him hear what his touch did to her.

It was different this time, he knew. The first time he'd been with her had been a gift, an act of light against the dark in a hot New Orleans hotel room. The second time had been desperate, angry, a way to forget the hurt they were feeling if only for the moment. This… this was slow, soft, and more real than anything he'd allowed himself to feel beyond Sam, beyond his Dad. This wasn't a one-night encounter. This wasn't sex simply for the sake of pleasure. He felt himself lean into her, arch up to meet her.

He could see her – all of her. He felt the heat of her skin, the softness of her curves. Saw the way the pleasure of their connection washed over her face as she moved above him. Felt her hands caress his shoulders, his back, his chest as he sat up to hold her against him. Heard the harsh gasps for air – his and hers – mingle and meet, the rhythm matching the motion of their bodies. He tasted the sweetness of her kiss as she captured his mouth just as he tipped over the edge, falling, falling, landing in the protection of her arms.

He lay against the cool leather of the seat, Brenna wedged between his body and the back, her leg draped over his. The song had changed, he realized.

"Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear, but not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear…"

"I always loved this song," Brenna said against his ear. The feel of her breath made him want to shiver. "It's sexy."

"Is that a hint," he said, his voice a low rumble against the seat.

Brenna's laugh was throaty. "Take it easy," she said, tracing the outline of his lips with the tips of her fingers. "I don't want to break you. Your brother would kill me."

Dean closed his eyes contentedly and offered her a lazy grin.

"Wonder what this would be like when you're not damaged goods?" she said lightly.

"Aw, Brenna," Dean mumbled. "I'll always be damaged goods." He opened his eyes and turned his head to face her.

"You're gonna be hurting when you're an old man, you keep living this way," she said, pulling her eyebrows together.

He smiled sadly at her. "Who says I'm ever gonna be an old man?"

She didn't say anything to that, but leaned forward so that she could kiss him once more. He closed his eyes, allowing himself the pleasure of feeling her lips, feeling her press herself against him so that she could get close enough.

She lifted her face and he took in the swollen lips and the curve of her jaw. He met her eyes. Brenna's eyes, not her druid sight. She smiled at him and it curved up the corners of her eyes.

"Go to sleep, Dean," she whispered.

He didn't want to stop looking at her, but weariness began to pull at him.

"You're gonna leave, aren't you," he said, his eyes blinking closed.

She didn't say anything. She laid her head against his left shoulder, reaching around to rest her palm on the healing wound in his right shoulder. He felt himself relax by increments until he slept with Brenna as a blanket.

When he opened his eyes, she was gone.

www

"We can wait another day, Dean," Sam said, shoving the weapons bag into the back of the Impala. "She might come back."

"She's not coming back, Sam," Dean said, his jaw set. He knew why she'd left the way she did. Dammit, he was the one who said he wasn't going to stay. He had made that perfectly clear. He didn't blame her for leaving first. The person who leaves takes a piece of the person left behind with them. He didn't begrudge her that. He just wasn't sure how many pieces he had left.

"You just got out of the hosp—clinic yesterday," Sam continued as Dean looked back over at the bar. "We can rest another day."

"I don't want to rest another day," Dean said, not looking back at him. "If you're good to drive with one arm, I'm good to go."

"I can drive," Sam said, sounding slightly petulant.

"I'm sorry she didn't say goodbye to you, Sam," Dean said, meeting his brother's eyes over the top of the car.

"What?"

"Well, she's your friend, too," Dean said, lifting a shoulder. "I know you probably wanted to say goodbye."

Sam shook his head. "Do you even listen to yourself sometimes?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Brenna isn't just your friend, Dean," Sam said, leaning on the roof of the car.

Dean shook his head, cutting off anything else Sam could have said. "It doesn't matter, Sammy. It really doesn't. There are more important things to worry about right now." He looked out to the road outside of the dirt lot. "She'll be okay."

Sam sighed and climbed into the car muttering something that sounded like yeah, but will you to Dean. He chose to ignore it, and slid into the passenger seat, wincing at the pull in his side. The tonic was effective at first, but it didn't last long enough. He pressed his hand to his right side. Sam noticed.

"You okay? Sleep funny last night or something?" Sam asked, concern in his eyes.

Dean bit the inside of his cheek. "Yeah, something like that."

Sam turned on the car, immediately ejecting the tape and turning down the radio. This time, Dean didn't complain. He kept his eyes on the side-view mirror, watching Kavanagh's bar recede slowly in the background.

"Think we should head back to Peoria? Start there again? It's been a little over a week," Sam said. "Some of the leads might have shaken loose some clues."

"Yeah, that sounds good, Sam," Dean said.

He wanted a hunt. He wanted to find it, to research it, to track it down, and he wanted to kill it. Whatever it was. Right now, it didn't much matter. He knew Sam wanted to keep looking for Ava. He knew he'd begged Sam to lay low. He knew all those things, but he wanted a hunt. A hunt was normal, a hunt was familiar, a hunt he knew. And he'd been on shaky ground for too long. He needed to get steady if he was going to be able to face what was coming. If he was going to be able to save Sam from whatever threatened to take his brother from him.

He saw what he could have sworn was an old Indian Motorcycle in the mirror. Grey and red, looked to be a 1960's model, pulling around the corner and heading to Kavanagh's bar. Sam was sitting at a stop sign, evidently trying to decide which way to go. The Indian paused at the entrance to the dirt lot, then pulled forward toward the Impala, picking up speed. Sam started to turn right, pressing on the accelerator.

"Sam, stop the car," Dean said, sitting up straighter, his eyes on the side-view mirror.

"What?"

"Stop the car," he said again, this time with more force. Sam hit the breaks and Dean's hand was on his door handle before he felt Sam shift the Impala into park.

He stepped out of the car and turned around. She'd stopped the motorcycle about ten feet from the rear of the Impala, climbed off the bike and pulled off the grey helmet. He started toward her. He didn't know what he was expecting. He just had to see…

She stopped just short of him. He stared at her, swallowing hard.

"I couldn't…" she started. "I wanted to, but… I couldn't."

He didn't say anything, just watched her.

"You saved me, you know," she said. "Declan warned you, and you came anyway, and you saved me. And I don't just mean from Eamon and Jack," she said shaking her head. "I mean from me."

Dean tilted his head.

"I almost let myself disappear earlier. But you… you are out there, Dean. You are out there and you face it every day. How can I do any less?"

She stepped up to him, barely an inch away, but kept her hands to her sides.

"I want you to know that I can sleep at night because you're keeping the monsters away. I want you to do what you do. I want you to finish this. And then I want you to come back to me."

"Brenna," Dean shook his head. "This might never ever be over."

She nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, it will. Someday."

"You're gonna wait for someday?"

Taking a breath, she reached up to his face, pulling him close and kissing him hard. He grabbed her shoulders, holding tight, pressing his mouth to hers, cutting off their air, not caring. They let go at the same time and she smiled.

"Is that a yes or a no?" Dean asked.

"Come find me when you've finished this. I expect to see you again someday," she said, turning from him and walking back to the Indian. She grabbed the helmet, then looked up at him, her druid eyes flashing at him once. "And I don't like to be disappointed."

She glanced past him briefly, flashed a smile, then pulled on her helmet. Swinging her leg over the bike, she turned it on, gunning the engine and turning around to head back the way she came.

Dean watched her go, then turned to see Sam standing a few feet behind him, leaning against the trunk of the Impala. He met his brother's eyes, not sure what Sam thought of what he just saw.

"So," Sam said, tilting his head. "A motorcycle, huh?"

The corner of Dean's mouth pulled up into a grin. "At least it's a classic," he replied.

"Dean," Sam's voice was serious, his eyes focused on Dean's. "Are you gonna wait for someday?"

Dean looked back at his brother, knowing what he meant, unable to answer. "Get in the car," he said, shaking his head.

He slid into the passenger seat, pulling the door shut. Sam turned on the car and reached for the radio.

"Burn out the day. Burn out the night. I'm not the one to tell you what's wrong and what's right. I've seen suns that were freezing and lives that were through. But I'm burnin', I'm burnin', I'm burnin' for you…"

"You ready?" Sam asked.

"You know what we need, Sammy?" Dean said, looking over at his brother out of the corners of his eyes.

"I'm afraid to ask."

"We need a nice, old, haunted house. Salt and burn the bones, get us back into the swing of things."

"You need help, man," Sam grinned.

"Eh," Dean shook his head. "I got you." He looked over at Sam. "My trusty geek-boy sidekick."

"Nice," Sam shook his head, but his grin didn't waver.

"Let's go, Sam," Dean clapped a hand carefully on Sam's right shoulder. "We've got work to do."