Dean did not know what to make of what Sam had told him. Dreams of Jess, dreams of him, dreams that came true – this was the kind of stuff they hunted down…it wasn't supposed to happen in their own family. But, whatever weirdness was going on, Sam was in bad shape, and they couldn't stay here in the woods any longer.
"C'mon, Sam." Dean ordered. "We gotta go." Sam only nodded in response and he allowed Dean to help haul him to his feet.
Dean was a little fuzzy on how exactly they got back to Jonathan's. Sam must have guided them because Dean didn't know the way at all; but by the time they were close enough to the house for Dean to make out where they were going, Sam had basically collapsed. Jonathan had met them at the edge of the forest and helped Dean maneuver Sam back into the house. Together they'd stripped Sam of his charred and smoke filled clothing; he was as pliant as a rag doll, and though his eyes were opened, he didn't respond to Dean at all. His eyes closed as soon as they laid him back on the pillows; his breathing was deep and even. He was truly, deeply asleep.
For a while after Sam was settled Dean stood watch, hovering by the foot of the bed like a guardian spirit. Sam looked peaceful; far more relaxed than he'd been at any time since they'd started hunting together again. But in spite of his calm countenance, all Dean could see was the flames. Sam had jumped into the fire to save him, and it had roasted him alive. Dean saw it. It was the one thing he could remember clear as day from the whole encounter. As soon as Sam jumped in to free him, the flames drew together – they actually pulled away from Dean, he was sure of it – and Sam was engulfed.
Jonathan interrupted his reverie, insisting that since Sam was settled Dean needed to take care of himself too. Before leaving the room, Dean reached over and took hold of Sam's foot; he gave it a little squeeze. Jonathan couldn't tell if he was reassuring himself that Sam was really there or reassuring Sam that he'd be right back.
A quick shower and a change of clothes didn't completely remove the smell of smoke clinging to Dean, but it helped. He and Jonathan settled in the kitchen. The small kitchen table was in a position where Dean could see into the guest room where Sam was sleeping. Jonathan had mixed some concoction of herbs and other things Dean couldn't identify into a paste to soothe the rope burns and bruising on Dean's throat. Dean honestly didn't know how much pain he was in until Jonathan started to apply the salve; then he shoved the pain aside – his minor bumps and bruises were nothing compared to what Sammy had gone through.
Jonathan didn't insist on talking and Dean was grateful. There was nothing wrong with silence, and there was too much he was trying to sort out in his head. He didn't want Jonathan to go all Oprah on him; he just wasn't ready for that. It wasn't until Dean stood up, ready to return to his vigil that he realized Jonathan had pulled a fast one on him – his limbs were heavy and unresponsive; he could barely keep his balance. Dean looked down at the mug of coffee he'd been drinking from, and then shot Jonathan a murderous look. Apparently, the salve on his neck wasn't the only thing Jonathan had concocted. Jonathan gave him a totally unapologetic look and guided Dean into the guest bedroom where Sam was sleeping. Dean fought him every step of the way.
"I can't sleep now, Jonathan. What if Sammy needs me?" Dean was unable to resist when Jonathan pushed him into a seated position on the twin bed next to Sam's.
"You cannot help him sleep, Dean. You both need time to heal."
"Someone needs to be on guard!" Dean insisted.
"I will take the watch." Jonathan calmly replied as he gave Dean a gentle shove sending him back onto the pillows. Dean couldn't prevent the tiny sigh of relief that escaped him when his body began to relax. His eye actually fluttered closed for a moment. Then tension crept in and he forced himself back into a seated position.
"The last time I fell asleep, something walked right in this house and attacked me." Jonathan was certain that the naked panic on Dean's face was something his younger brother had never seen.
With great understanding Jonathan replied, "I will guard you both, Dean Winchester. Be at ease. You are safe."
It took a moment for Dean to let the words sink in. In his head, he knew the risks of both him and Sam being totally out of it, especially in light of what had just happened; but in his heart he believed what Jonathan was saying was true. The old man had power, and Dean trusted that it was enough to keep them safe.
Dean allowed himself to fall back onto the pillows. He curled onto his side so he was facing Sam. The instant his eyes closed he was asleep. Jonathan gently covered him with the blanket he had retrieved from the closet. Then he turned off the lamp on the small table between the two beds. Standing in the stillness, Jonathan extended his hands over each of the sleeping men and softly whispered, "Wakan Tankan Nici Un" before turning to leave the room and reinforce the protections that had been weakened by the evil creature that had invaded his home.
Sam awoke in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar bed. That in itself wasn't unusual; he and Dean traveled so much that being in an unfamiliar room wasn't disturbing in and of itself. What was unusual, what had caught Sam's attention was how he woke up – there was no scream dying in his throat; there was no pounding heart in his chest; there were no aching limbs filled with adrenaline. He was totally relaxed. And it was so unusual to wake in that condition that it got his attention.
Sam blinked at the ceiling above his bed. He didn't like looking at ceilings, not after what happened to Jess and his mom, but this ceiling was different. Stuck in seemingly random patterns were glow-in-the-dark stars. The room was dark enough for the stars to be illuminated. The more he looked at them the more he realized that there was a pattern. The stars stretched not just above his bed, but across the whole ceiling; and looking more closely he could start to pick out certain constellations. Sam couldn't prevent himself from grinning – that was cool.
Where the hell am I?
Sam didn't move his body, he was too relaxed. Instead he let his gaze wander around the moonlight room. Didn't Dean say Jonathan had grandchildren? I bet this is their room. The posters of cars and horses on the walls seemed to confirm Sam's suspicions. How did I get back here? Where's Dean?
No longer relaxed, Sam sat straight up in bed. But a quick glance to his left located Dean instantly. The sight of Dean made Sam's heart leap and break simultaneously. He was filled with joy that he'd been able to defeat the thing that had tried to take Dean from him, but it wasn't without a price. Sam could see the black and purple bruises encircling Dean's throat, and the rope burns on top of that. Dean was normally a stomach sleeper, but he was sleeping on his back to avoid putting any added pressure on his wounds.
Sam threw off the covers and slid across to sit on Dean's bed. He was concerned – no one ever got that close to a sleeping Dean. Feeling slightly silly, but needing to reassure himself, Sam laid his hand on Dean's chest to feel it rise and fall. He sat for a moment with his eyes closed just listening to Dean breathe. A change in the light from the doorway got Sam's attention. Jonathan beckoned him silently, and Sam got up and padded softly out to the kitchen. Jonathan sat at the table with his back to the bedroom; Sam sat across from him so he could see Dean. On the table between them was the knife Sam had used to kill the creature stalking him.
"It's done then." Sam said as he fingered the knife hilt.
"This part of the journey is complete, Sam Winchester." Sam heaved a deep sigh and looked at Jonathan. Then he smiled – it completely transformed his face. Gone was the haggard, tortured man, for a brief moment he was replaced by the vibrant, loving boy Sam rarely had a chance to be.
"What now?" Sam asked.
"The wheel turns. A new journey begins."
"And the nightmares?" Sam's brown was creased with concern.
"The dreams have only the power you give them. I believe you will no longer give up so much." Sam nodded as he listened. "New dreams will come, but now you see how the outcome may change." Jonathan turned and looked over his shoulder toward the room where Dean lay sleeping. "Your nightmares never ended this way. You have the power to change things."
"It was Dean." Sam whispered softly.
Jonathan turned back to face Sam, listening. "I was immobilized…just like I was in every nightmare. The fire…everything happened so fast…" Sam swallowed hard as he was speaking. "Dean cried out and I saw his face. He knew…he knew I would come for him. That's what made me move…not what I believed but what he believed."
"Are they not the same, Sam Winchester?"
Sam looked up from playing with the knife and looked Jonathan in they eye. "I guess they are." He half-smiled and dropped his gaze. "You know," he continued softly, "it's so strange. Dean's usually the one jumping in to save my ass from whatever it is that we're fighting. Stuff always comes after me. I'm not usually the protector." He looked up at Jonathan again. "It's kinda nice for a change."
"I believe Dean would disagree." Sam snorted as he tried to choke back a laugh.
Sam and Jonathan sat for a while until Sam's bladder demanded to be taken care of. When he was finished, Sam returned to bed and not to the kitchen. He curled himself under the blankets facing the bed where Dean lay. The last thing that crossed his mind before he fell asleep again was I wonder if I could have a dream to help us find Dad…
Sam had been unconscious for nearly a day and a half; Dean was starting to worry. It wasn't just that he was sleeping – it was that he hardly moved. Jonathan reassured him many times that Sam was simply sleeping; that he had been up and talking when Dean was asleep, but Dean wasn't so ready to take his word for it. It was kind of ridiculous really, that now that the nightmares had passed Dean was concerned that Sam was getting too much sleep, but that's where he was.
The day had dawned clear and sunny. Dean had spent much of his time hovering in the bedroom until Jonathan had convinced him to go outside. The porch was about as far as Dean would go, but since there was a window into the guest bedroom where he could see Sam, it was fine with him. Dean had spent much of the morning rehashing the events from the previous day with Jonathan. He seemed particularly obsessed with the idea that the creature had been stalking Sam for some time, and that their father knew about it.
In a far more limited way than he'd shared with Sam, Jonathan tried to explain the philosophy of the medicine wheel with Dean. As open as Sam had been to the idea, Dean was completely closed. He would go no further in his thinking than "find the bad things, kill the bad things." He resolutely refused to engage in any self-examination that might lead to enlightenment or change. His stubborn resolve was fascinating to Jonathan. He wondered what would move the young man to cling so fanatically to only those things that could be grasped or seen, when so much of his life was spent chasing the ephemeral. Maybe that was why – there was so much uncertainty in the world Dean lived in, he could not accept uncertainty within himself.
So Jonathan was surprised when Dean asked him about Sam. "All this mumbo jumbo spirit stuff you're talking about. Sam gets it, doesn't he?"
Jonathan nodded but did not answer Dean directly. "He understands that his path has changed. Are you willing to change yours to walk with him?"
Dean squinted into the late afternoon sunlight. "My path hasn't changed…Sam just came back to it after jumping ship for a while."
"I do not mean the path you choose to take, but how you choose to travel on it." Dean looked at Jonathan in utter confusion.
"Okay, now you've gone all Mr. Miagi on me…wax on…wax off…"
"You have traveled so long as the one in front, the protector, the leader. But now that your brother has rejoined his path to yours, will you be willing to follow? Allow him to be the one to protect you?"
Jonathan could see by the expression on Dean's face that his initial reaction was to make a flip response. Dean surprised Jonathan again by remaining silent and thinking about what was asked. Before Dean could reply soft footfalls on the porch heralded the arrival of Sam.
"Hey." The Winchesters made eye contact and something passed between them. Though Jonathan sensed how they longed to connect physically, long standing ingrained habits prevented them from approaching each other. It saddened him to realize that they only really opened up to one another when the other one was injured or sleeping.
"Hey Sammy. Think you got enough sleep?"
"Yeah. Think so." Sam leaned his lanky frame against the porch railing. And that was it.
Early the next morning, after one more night spent at Jonathan's house, the Winchesters were ready to hit the road. Jonathan walked them out to the car.
Sam made himself busy packing the trunk as Dean said good-bye. Dean allowed his normal disaffected façade to slip as he extended his hand to Jonathan. "Thanks for all your help, Jonathan. I don't know…"
Jonathan pulled him into a quick embrace. "It was my duty to help, Dean Winchester…it was also my honor. You are welcome." Dean nodded in acknowledgement and walked around to the driver's side of the car to get in. Sam stepped forward from the rear and also extended his hand.
"Jonathan, I can't thank you enough…for everything." Jonathan also embraced Sam.
"Continue to believe Sam. The journey has just begun." Sam flashed a rare smile at Jonathan and clambered into the passenger side of the car. Before Dean could start the engine, Jonathan laid his hands on the roof of the car and began speaking. His rich, deep voice was filled with power; Sam and Dean sat in silence as they listened.
"May the Warm
Winds of Heaven
Blow softly upon your house.
May the Great Spirit
Bless all who enter there.
May your Moccasins
Make happy tracks
in many snows,
and may the Rainbow
Always touch your shoulder."
Jonathan leaned down and peered through Sam's open window. "Be well on your journey, Winchesters. Don't be strangers."
Sam raised a hand in farewell as Dean turned on the engine. It took Sam a moment to realize that Dean had turned off the radio before he'd started the car. They drove away from the small house in comfortable silence.
In the midst of the ancient woods near the shores of Lake Tenkiller a smoldering house lay in ruins. The rubble of the decimated structure had fallen into the basement; the intense heat from the fire had left nothing but ash. In the far corner of the ruined basement a movement caused the ash to stir. More movement sent up a puff of ash. Finally a figure emerged from beneath the ash where it had been buried. The naked figure pulled itself up from the pit of the basement, clawing its way to the forest floor. It wiped the ash from its face and glared with unremitting hatred toward a road unseen. The boy had gotten away. Escaped with his power.
The figure took a step toward the forest. The boy was foolish to think he would be killed that easily. Now he did not seek the power for power's sake…now it was revenge.
Translation of blessing over the boys:
Wakan Tankan Nici Un - "May the Great Spirit walk with you."
The blessing over the car is a traditional Cherokee blessing