Dean didn't have to be psychic to sense Sam's growing frustration. All he had to do was walk behind his brother to see the tension in his shoulders, and listen to his voice to hear the weariness. Five towns, five paranormal encounters, and no sign of their father. Sam was at a crossroads now between despair and...
"Really, really pissed off."
Realizing he'd spoken aloud, Dean took a quick glance into the rear view mirror. Curled into a ball beneath his coat in the back seat, Sam still slept soundly, and for that Dean was thankful. Sam wasn't sleeping well, hadn't been sleeping well since they'd begun this - whatever the hell they were doing - and it had begun to show.
He'd made it a not-joke. "Sammy, you're so tired you're drunk. You want to get pulled over for DUI?"
"Trust me. You don't want to get pulled over in this car."
The car, of course, was legally his, and the registration was up-to-date, but Sam didn't have to know that. Dean listened to a twenty minute tirade about dishonesty and "digging the hole deeper" before Sam ran out of steam. Within minutes of shutting up, Sam's exhaustion knocked him over the head and he was O. U. T.
"Nitey nite little bro."
This last stop, in a small town just outside of Peoria, hadn't been an easy one...
...for either of them.
"Okay, so why are we here again?" Sam drummed his long fingers uneasily on the steering wheel as they pulled up to a duplex. A half dead tree stood in one yard with a tire swing dangling from its branches. In the right hand side driveway was a tricked out Honda Civic. In the left hand driveway was an ancient Volvo station wagon, Swiss-cheesed with rust.
Dean eyed the bright yellow Civic dubiously. "Kate McKeon. She's an old friend of Dad's..."
"Another one cashing in a favor?"
Without looking, Dean punched him in the arm. "Kate's cool She used to run the wheel at local carnivals before Dad figured out she had a psychokinetic gift." He leered at Sam, who looked displeased. "Scammed her way into a very decent nest egg and taught me everything I know about gambling."
It was Sam's turn to look dubious as he regarded the house. "The palace of the queen." He flinched away before Dean could punch him again.
"The role of smart-ass doesn't become you." Dean groused, before shoving open the car door. It opened with a squeal. He'd have to pick up some DW-40.
"Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or somethin? Come on, Oscar."
"I love trash," Sam muttered under his breath. He picked a flake of rust off the roof of the Volvo as they passed. "Either her gifts or her money ran out a while ago."
"Don't let appearances fool you." Dean leaned forward and knocked on the door. Sam lingered on the sidewalk, looking around the weedy yard. "She's just very frugal."
"I can see that."
"Be nice," Dean hissed. He heard the door rattle, and grinned as it swung wide. His arms were wide too. "Kate!"
"Dean Winchester! My boy! Here you are!"
Kate hugged him. She was an elderly woman, small in stature, with a bun and a cane and an infectious smile. But for all her grandmotherly appearance she was a spitfire with a colorful history and a trunkload of stories and tales - some true, some pure make-believe. "Horsepucky" she called them.
Dean drew back. "You look great! Sexy as ever!"
He didn't receive an answer, for Kate had spotted Sam.
"This isn't Sammy is it?" She hobbled past Dean, swatting at him as he made an effort to help her down the step. "What is that college feedin' you, boy?" Kate raised her cane and poked at Sam's midsection. "Miracle Grow?"
Before either Sam or Dean could reply, Kate had turned away and was hobbling back up the step into her home. "Come in," she muttered. "Come in, boys. I've been expecting you."
The brothers followed her. Dean looked around at the tidy living room. Everything was as he remembered it. The worn armchair, floral patterned sofa, the ancient T.V. with it's lopsided rabbit ears...
"Haven't you had cable installed yet, Kate?" Dean chuckled.
A pot banged in the kitchen. Through the pass-through they could see her wave one small, gnarled hand dismissively. "Ah-yeah. Mickey hooked it up last year. All those channels and nothin' on but sexpots and shoot-em-ups."
Sam looked at Dean and mouthed, "Sex pots and shoot-em-ups?"
Dean scowled at him. Sam chuckled softly, and Dean was somewhat relieved to hear it.
"So," he said, plopping down on the sofa and motioning for Sam to join him. "Mickey and his brood still living next door?"
Kate wobbled back into the living room. Sam rose quickly to help her with the tray she had balanced precariously in one hand. He set it down for her on the coffee table as she settled into her armchair like a dowdy mother hen.
"Thank you dear," she said, smiling at Sam and patting his hand as he handed her a mug. "You are a good boy."
Dean snorted. He took another mug. It was cider. Hard cider. He grinned at Sam who cautiously sipped at his own mug. Kate was a pill.
"Mickey still lives next door," Kate continued. "Though Mary Jo went off to College last year. One less mouth to feed. Francis and the twins are still at home though."
"Francis driving that yellow hot-rod you've got parked out there?" Dean winked. "Or is that your new ride, Kate?"
Kate snorted. "Wouldn't be caught dead in that ghastly car. That's Charlie's car, Dean. You remember Charlie don't you?"
Dean froze. He slowly lowered his mug. "Charlie?"
"My Christie's boy. Handsome fellow." She sighed. "Spittin' image of his Grandpa."
"I thought," Dean cleared his throat uncomfortably. "That Charlie was still living in Chicago."
"He is, dear, but he's come to visit his Grandma."
Sam muttered something inaudible. Dean heard the vinyl creak. He peered into the mirror to see Sam looking back at him groggily.
"Rise and shine!" Dean nodded toward the pale pink sliver of sunlight on the Eastern horizon. "It's about time."
"How long was I asleep?"
"We're in Indiana."
"Hmm, sorry." Sam yawned. Dean snuck another look at him. He still looked tired.
"You want to grab breakfast?"
"Sure. I'll take a turn after that."
Dean made some calculations. Their "kitty" was a bit more substantial since their stop in Dellville, a fact that irked him as much as it was a relief. They had enough to splurge on a hotel tonight.
"Figure we'll be in Ohio again by nightfall."
Sam's head and shoulders loomed over the passenger's seat. He procured a map and resumed his seat in the back. He fell silent. Dean couldn't stand it for long.
"Picking up any disturbances in the Force, Yoda?"
"Shut up and drive. There's a truck stop next exit."
"You know, we keep eating truck stop food and we'll be dead of heart attacks before we're thirty."
Sam laughed. "This coming from a man who thinks a Slim Jim and a Coke make up a nutritious breakfast?"
"Don't forget the Twinkies."
Dean excused himself as Kate launched into one of her stories about "Dear Old Ireland." The McKeon patriarch, Kate's father, had been an Irish immigrant, one of many who populated Chicago and the areas surrounding the city. He'd moved the family to Dellville, a small town just North of Peoria, when Kate had been a baby. Kate's brothers both died in World War II. She herself had two children, Mickey and Christie. Christie retired to Florida with her second husband, and her son Charlie had remained in Dellville to complete school. He and Kate were very close.
"I never thought I'd see you here again."
Turning from his contemplation of Kate's disintegrating Volvo, Dean caught the eye of the young man walking across the lawn from the other side of the double. He was Dean's height, but more "scholarly" looking than either Winchester brother. His hair was the same shade of brown as Dean's, but his eyes were a deep, dark chocolate, almost black. Those eyes studied Dean carefully as the two met on Kate's stoop.
"I called," Charlie said quietly. "She merely delivered the message."
Dean looked away. "I thought you didn't believe in any hocus pocus mumbo jumbo - at least that's what you told me - unless this was a trick to get me here. In that case I'll just say good-bye to Kate and be on my way."
He started to open the door. Charlie stopped him. The two stood close. Charlie's hand rested on Dean's wrist.
"It's not a trick."
Pulling his hand away, Dean drew a long breath. "So. This is business."
A flicker of disappointment crossed Charlie's features. He withdrew his hand and nodded. "Business."
"Glad to know where we stand. You want to tell me what's going on?"
Charlie crossed his arms over his chest. He chewed his lip a moment before speaking. "Mickey wants to put Gran in a nursing home. He thinks she's going senile."
Dean absorbed this. "And you don't think so."
"Mickey figures he can rent out her side of the house, make some money. He's got Mary Jo in college now, and Francis wanting a new car. Ann just got laid off from school, not that she brought in a whole lot teaching anyway. Gran's got enough in her savings to get her into a halfway decent home."
"Mickey always was a greedy bastard."
"He thinks it's for the best, Dean. Don't be too hard on him. Honestly, if I hadn't - experienced - the same thing Gran did, I might have been on Mickey's side."
Dean raised an eyebrow. Charlie was one of the few people Dean had confided in about John Winchester's "hunting trips." It had been rather easy, a lot of things came easy around Charlie. Of course Charlie, ever pragmatic, had dismissed the paranormal as the work of over active imaginations and in John Winchester's case - Tequila. It was disconcerting to hear him flip flop on the issue.
"What was it you saw?"
Charlie hesitated. "I'll let Gran tell you."
"Aw, come on, Chuck. Are you that scared of a figment of your own imagination?"
The barb apparently stung. Charlie's dark eyes narrowed. "You haven't changed. Honestly, Winchester. I thought the next time I saw you it would be on a slab in the morgue."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Or behind bars, at the very least."
"Glad to see you hold me in such high regard. What happened to your fancy engineering degree?"
"I'm done, and I've already got some job prospects. A couple of firms are interested." Charlie's voice softened. "You're not stupid. I don't know why you never got the hell away from your old man. Your brother's the only one of you with any sense, running off to college like he did." He looked Dean up and down. "You look like you just rolled out of bed and smell like you haven't had a shower in a week. What are you chasing now?"
Dean lifted his coat lapel and sniffed. Eh, yeah. Maybe a shower was in order. He crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm chasing Dad, Charlie. Why else would I be here?"
"Sorry, I'm out of practice reading your oblique statements."
"I'm a man of my word."
"Ah, I see." Charlie nodded. "Your impassioned 'I never want to see you again' speech."
"I meant it too, every word." Dean felt his temper beginning to fray as he punctuated his words with a stab of his finger. "If Dad were here, I wouldn't be, and I damn sure don't appreciate you using Kate to get me here. Come clean, Charlie, did you really see something, or were you hoping for another chance to get laid?"
Charlie took a step forward. "If I didn't need you, I'd knock your fuckin' head off right now, Dean. You have no right to dump everything that happened on me! If I remember it was you who..."
There was a sound from the door. Dean shot a quick glance over his shoulder before turning back to Charlie with what he hoped was a threatening expression on his face. He certainly felt threatening.
"Keep it straight, Charlie."
"Is that a joke?"
"You know what I mean. Not a word to him, Charlie. Not a fucking word."
"God, the depth of your denial is astounding."
The door swung open.
"Not. A. Word."
Sam stood in the doorway. He gave Dean a puzzled look. "Was it just me, or did I hear you going off on a tirade a minute ago?"
Dean laughed and laid an arm around Charlie's shoulders as the two of them squeezed past Sam into the apartment. "No tirade. Just some joshing around between two old friends."
Charlie's scowl matched Sam's, but Charlie was silent upon pain of death. Sam wasn't.
"Right," he muttered as he closed the door. "And I'm the Easter Bunny."
Dean spent most of a half hour rearranging the food on his plate. Even to his off-beat palate the limp sausages and rubbery eggs swimming around in a pool of grease looked unappetizing. Sam sat across from him with a dog-eared copy of the local paper. His tall frame was hunched over the table as he read. He'd already eaten his food.
The silence grew deafening, and Dean was not surprised when Sam finally put down the paper. His expression was a mixed bag of annoyance and concern. "What is it?"
"You've been way too quiet.What's wrong?"
Sarcasm seemed to be the appropriate defense mechanism. "Should I start at the beginning? This might take a while. It kind of began when I was four..."
Sam's eyes flashed angrily. "Stop."
"You know what I mean."
Dean bobbed his head and put down his fork. "Well, yeah. I was wondering if you'd gone all Freud on me. It's not like you haven't pulled some freaky ability out of your ass before. My brother the Ouija board."
His brother the Ouija board let the crack slide. "Dellville got to you."
"It was a case."
"It's different when it's one of your own, someone close to you..." Sam's voice cracked a little. Dean knew what he was thinking.
"Yeah, Charlie and I are bosom buddies."
"I was was talking about Kate."
Dean looked up into his brother's gaze.
"Unless there's something you want to tell me." Sam added quietly.
Angrily, Dean got up from the table, snatching up the scrap of grease spattered paper beside his plate and throwing down a crumpled dollar. "I'll get the bill. Go warm up the car." He paused not two steps into his departure and glanced over his shoulder. "I've been driving all night while you played sleeping beauty. I'm tired, Sam."
Sam regarded him solemnly for a moment. Ultimately he simply shrugged, realizing that was all the apology he was going to get. Dean hastily made his escape.
Kate's voice was low, and melodic. Dean liked to listen to her stories; they were so rich and full of color. She made people and places come alive. He'd once told her she needed to write her memoirs, a suggestion that had made her laugh.
"Who wants to read about the life of an old con-artist?"
Sam sat next to him on the sofa. Charlie was perched on a kitchen chair beside Kate's recliner. Dean hadn't introduced Sam, enjoying - for the short time it lasted - Charlie trying to puzzle out Sam's identity and relationship to Dean. Sam finally introduced himself. His annoyance with Dean's rude behavior was obvious, but he let it go as Kate began telling them about her encounter.
"It started a week or so ago. I thought it was the girls at first. The walls of this place are thin and I can sometimes hear them in their room at night, talking to their little friends on the phone. One night, very late, I heard crying."
"Crying?" Dean queried. "What kind of crying?"
"Sobbing, but sometimes it sounded like a wailing sound. Someone very unhappy." Kate frowned. "I was worried. I thought I should go next door and tell Ann and Mickey about it, so I put on my old robe and slippers and came out here."
As she spoke, the old woman stroked the curved handle of her cane like a talisman. It was already worn smooth from the work of her hand against the wood. She'd used it for many years. Dean hoped she would use it for many more.
"I saw her," Kate said, pointing back toward the kitchen. "There, by the sink, as if she were washing dishes. I heard water splash, but I couldn't see what she was doing."
"That's how I saw her," Charlie added. "I'd camped out here on the sofa. I almost didn't belive it. I almost called the cops. But then I noticed..."
Sam exchanged sideways glances with his brother. "Noticed what?" he prompted.
"I could see through her. I mean, she was solid enough for me to see her, but I could also see beyond her, and her wailing was..."
"Unearthly," Kate finished. She hesitated before she continued. Her melodious voice fell to a whisper. Her eyes, dark like Charlie's, were somber. She looked tired. "It's the Bean Sidhe, Dean. Isn't it?"
Dean shifted uneasily beneath the scrutiny of Kate, Charlie and Sam. He didn't want to be here, he didn't want to bear the burden of answering. He was the sidekick, not the leader. Leader had always been his father's role, and suddenly his father's absence loomed before Dean like a huge void. Fear threatened to double him up in knots. Doubts regarding John Winchester's safety crept in despite Sam's constant reassurances that he was alive somewhere.
"There are a lot of manifestations that resemble the Banshee, Kate. Just recently Sam and I met up with a Lady in White and..."
"I've seen her before," the old woman said softly, her eyes grew distant, and her hand stilled upon the top of her cane. "Before Michael died I saw her. We lived in an old farm house then. My bedroom window faced the pond out back and there she was one night, plain as the nose on my face. She sat in the dirt beside the water, wailing like you've never heard a body wail. It sounded like the screech of a cat, the wind in the branches of an old dead tree, and the squeal of tires on the road all wound up into one horrible sound. She was washing something, over and over again." The grey head shook wearily back and forth. "The next day the Army man came to tell us my brother was killed by the Nazis."
"Gran," Charlie reached a hand out to his grandmother, placing it gently on her arm. "It's okay."
"I'm old, Charlie." Kate patted his hand and smiled. "She's come for me."
Dean bit his lip. Charlie's expression was pained. He was close to his Grandmother. She had practically raised him after his mother left for Florida. His goal had been to prevent her from going to a nursing home, and now, Dean realized, Charlie expected them to prevent Kate's death.
Sam cleared his throat. He rose slowly, and grasped Dean by the arm. "Do you have a computer handy? I think we may have to do some research. It could be a Banshee, or something else." He gave Kate a smile. "Personally, I think you've got plenty of life left in you Mrs. McKeon."
"I have a laptop." Charlie stood. "I'll get it."
"We're on a wild goose chase," Sam muttered. "We're backtracking."
"We go where we're needed, where Dad sends us."
"He's sending us in circles!"
Dean was beginning to wonder if that weren't true. He tried to retrace their route since they'd left Colorado, but his weary mind refused to cooperate, and he slumped further down in his seat. Yeah, he thought, a hotel room was definitely on the agenda for tonight. Hot shower, clean sheets...
"And cable," he muttered.
Can't keep my eyes open.
"Don't wreck my car."
He never heard Sam's reply.
They sat on the back porch, the three of them crowded around a small table in front of Charlie's laptop. Charlie leaned over Sam's shoulder as he searched website after website for information on the Bean Sidhe. Dean leafed through their father's Journal, looking at their father's notes on the subject. The information didn't take long to find.
"Sam," Dean nudged his brother's arm, and slipped the Journal onto the keyboard. "Dad knew about this one. Kate told him years ago."
Sam skimmed John's cramped, handwritten notes, nodding slowly. "This fits. What is said about the Bean Sidhe is that they're linked to families. They're the spirit of an ancestor, sent to foretell the death of a family member. Kate's seen her before the death of each of her brothers, not just Michael, but Christian as well."
"How do we stop her?" Charlie demanded. "There has to be a way to stop her from taking Gran!"
"She's not come to take her, Charlie," Sam replied. "She's just an omen, a messenger, and a guide for the newly departed. The death she foretells is inevitable. I'm sorry."
Charlie's jaw clenched. His face hardened into a determined expression familiar to Dean. Here was a man who was used to getting his way, and there were only a few things that eluded him once he'd set his mind toward getting them. If Mickey really did want to put Kate in a nursing home, he was in for a fight.
"I refuse to accept that," Charlie said coldly. He turned to Dean. "There has to be something we can do."
Dean nodded. "I'm sure there is," he stood up, clapping Charlie and Sam on the shoulders and pointedly ignoring the "look" Sam was giving him. "Meanwhile I smell something good coming from Kate's kitchen and we haven't had a home cooked meal in centuries. The Banshee doesn't show up until after midnight. We've got time to kill and stomachs to fill."
Turning on his heel, he strode off into the house feigning a confidence he did not feel. Dean was on the same page as Charlie. He didn't want to believe that they were helpless to save Kate from death. It was an unacceptable scenario. Even if the odds were that their efforts would ultimately fail, they had to do something.
A hand clamped down on his arm. He turned to see Sam glowering at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Going to get food."
Sam looked exasperated. "You can't tell them that we're going to prevent Kate's death, Dean! You read Dad's notes..."
"Dad's notes, and some so called 'facts' on a webpage about fairies. We deal in the paranormal, Sam. Since when does this shit follow the rules?"
That argument was accepted, reluctantly, but Sam wasn't finished. "We're letting ourselves get sidetracked." He emphasized his points by pounding one fist into an outstretched palm. "Challenging the Bean Sidhe is a waste of time, Dean and you know it.We need to find Dad, and get the son-of-a-bitch thing that killed Jess."
Dean turned around. "Why is everything about you?" he spat angrily.
He could have gone on, dredged up all the bitterness, all the jealousy and spite. It was there, and because of the recent run in with the changeling, Sam knew it too. Dean's life revolved around Hunting, with his father as his guide. Their quest to get Dean's life back had somehow mutated into Sam getting his tidy little life back, or some semblance of it. When Sam wanted to get sidetracked by a case, when Sam wanted to help out a friend, there was no problem now was there? And yeah, maybe Dean was more than a little miffed that Sam got the handy dandy psychic gift - Sam, who wanted nothing to do with what they had been training for all their lives. He'd turned his back on the family before and when they found their father, when he got his vengeance, he'd turn his back on them again.
The emotions churned beneath the surface. They stayed beneath the surface.
"Shut it. We'll do what we can here, and move on." He turned away abruptly before Sam could say anything else. "Right now, I'm. Hungry."
Disembodied voices woke him.
Alarmed, Dean sat up, clutching for the gun he usually kept handy. It was not there and for a brief instant he panicked.
Car. Car. I'm in the car. There are people walking by. No ghostly voices. Real voices.
The sun was fading in and out from behind grey clouds. Dean blinked into the watery sunlight as he tried to regain his senses. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep.
He didn't expect a reply. The car was stopped. No one was in the driver's seat. Outside the window was a nondescript brown building, and across a patch of weedy grass where a fat man walked a small dog, was another parking lot full of semi trucks. They were at a rest stop. There was no sign of Sam.
Dean leaned back in the seat, pinching the bridge of his nose as he gathered his senses. He was still tired, dog tired, but after a moment he pushed the passenger's seat forward and sprang open the door. Fresh air rolled in, banishing the stuffy, stale air inside the car. Dean got out and stretched.
The door to the building opened. A tall, lanky figure paused to hold the door for a woman and a small child. He took a long pull from the soda can in his hand before continuing on his way.
When he reached the car, Dean procured the soda. "Why'd we stop?"
"Piss," Sam said, and leaned against the front fender. He retrieved his soda after Dean had drunk his fill. "Your turn?"
Dean left Sam with the car. The rest stop was like every other rest stop on every other freeway across the country. He'd seen so many of them in his travels, they were beginning to feel like home.
The water was cold, and smelled faintly of rust. Dean washed his hands when he finished relieving himself, and then washed his face. He avoided looking into the mirror as long as he could. When he did catch sight of his reflection, he winced. He left the bathroom quickly, practically loping back to the car. Sam regarded his scowl questioningly. Dean elaborated.
"Why didn't you tell me I looked like Hell?"
His brother cocked his head. "Dean."
"You look like Hell."
"Give me that." Dean snatched the cold soda away from Sam and held it to his cheek where a bruise had formed, dark and ugly. He wrenched open the car door and sat down in the passenger's seat.
Sam got behind the wheel, chuckling.
Dinner was a family affair. Kate took her pot roast over to the other side of the duplex. Mickey's wife, Ann, greeted her happily. Ann had made fresh bread and a salad to compliment the meal, and all the McKeons and their guests crowded into the tiny dining room. Mickey had grown fatter, and swarthier since Dean had last seen him four years earlier. Eighteen year old Francis was taller and skinner, with a raging case of acne. The twin girls, Agnes and Ellen, showed off in front of Dean and Sam, who they thought were cute. Sam was amused. Dean, sitting next to them, tormented them as a big brother would by tugging at their braids and hiding their silverware.
It was good, he thought, to be part of a normal family for a change.
They asked about Sam. How did he like college? Was he seeing anyone special? Sam was polite and diplomatic. He revealed very few details, but he told them about Jess. Kate squeezed his hand. Ann fussed sympathetically. Dean found himself content with their pampering. Sam probably needed it. Dean's support began and ended with his commitment to helping Sam find Jess' killer. Neither he nor John had ever babied Sam. They protected him, taught him what he needed to survive. When he fell down they picked him up and set him on his feet again. They had made him strong.
Maybe too strong, for after all, he'd rebelled at the age of eighteen and left home. Dean smiled faintly as he watched Sam endear himself to the McKeon clan. Pride and affection drowned out the lesser feelings of jealousy and annoyance. Sam was good. Dean would die for him, and recently had come pretty damn close to doing just that.
Sam helped Kate and Ann with the dishes. The twins disappeared into their rooms. Francis and Mickey retired to the living room to watch basketball. Charlie and Dean joined them for a while before Dean excused himself. Charlie followed him out onto the deck that graced Mickey's half of the backyard. The two yards were separated by a privacy fence. A dog, long gone from the family, had dug a hole between the two at some point.
"Do you really think you can prevent Gran's death?"
Dean leaned on the deck railing, chewing on the end of a toothpick. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, and the sky was streaked pink , orange and indigo. For the first time in a long time, he felt content, but Charlie's question brought that contentment to heel. He was here to do a job.
"Like I told Sam, this shit doesn't always follow the rules, especially if the rules are written by us mortals." He glanced over at Charlie, who had joined him at the railing.
Charlie laced his fingers together and hung his head. His eyes met Dean's. "You've never lied to me before. Don't start now, Dean."
With a soft snort, Dean shifted the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "I like Kate, Charlie. I wouldn't feel right leaving here without doing whatever I can to prevent her death, no matter how futile it might be."
There was a long sigh of resignation from Charlie. Dean stood up and edged closer to him. Charlie straightened. He gave Dean a carefully guarded look.
"I wish you wouldn't do this."
"Do what?" Dean asked.
"This whatever it is that you do. It really doesn't suit you."
"And how do you know what suits me, McKeon?"
"Because," Charlie said softly. "I know you better than anyone else does."
Dean chuckled. "Because one night of drunken confessions?"
"We were good friends long before that night, and you hadn't been drinking."
"Rationalization. I'm in denial remember?" Raising his arm, Dean tapped a finger at his temple. "In my mind, I was drunk and you seduced me. You can't win this argument."
"Who's arguing?" Charlie's faint smile faded. "You do know I called you here for Gran, not myself."
"Yeah, I know."
Charlie edged closer until Dean could feel the warmth of his body. He was well within Dean's personal space, just shy of touching. In the grey light of dusk Charlie's eyes were nearly black, reminding Dean of the Le Brea Tar Pits. Get too close, and you got caught.
"But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleased to see you again," Charlie added. A long draw of breath and he continued. "Dean..."
Dean blocked him with a hand.
They stood there for a slow count to five with Charlie's eyes continuing to ask the unspoken question and Dean's fingertips forming an impassable barrier between them. At the end of the count Dean's hand flattened. He ran his palm down Charlie's chest, and slowly, ever so slowly, pulled it away. Looking at his hand, he half expected it to have been burned by the contact.
"No," he repeated. Even he caught the note of reluctance in his voice.
When the sliding glass door opened, Charlie automatically took two steps back. So did Dean. He turned quickly to meet Sam at the door, voicing what his brother was on the verge of saying before the first word left his mouth.
"Shouldn't we be doing some more research? Unless you know how to catch a fairy? Honestly Sam, you're such a slacker."
Dean rushed past him into the house, ignoring the rolling eyed look. If it were coincidence, intuition, or a manifestation of his psychic abilities, Dean didn't care. He was just grateful for Sam's timing.
Sam was hunched over the Journal, studying it as if he would be having a pop quiz sometime in the near future. Occasionally he would look up from his reading to look out the window at the flat, beige scenery flashing by the window. Dean had the radio blaring, but wasn't singing along as he normally would. Instead he kept his eyes on the road, and his mind focused on driving. The only indication that he heard the music at all was the tapping of his fingertips against the steering wheel.
The vocal acrobatics of Robert Plant abruptly went down in volume. Sam sat up, put the Journal into the backpack at his feet, and settling back in his seat once the book was safely tucked away, he looked at Dean.
Dean glanced back at him. "What?"
"Tell me about Charlie McKeon."
It was hard not to let contentment lure him into complacency, make him forget why he was lounging on a comfortable sofa, watching T.V. and enjoying a cold beverage. Unlike Sam, Dean wasn't used to the comforts of home, any home. He had spent the last four years on the road with his father, crashing in hotel rooms or the back of the car. During that time Sam had a nice little apartment and a girlfriend. He had friend friends too. They went out together, had fun together, and Sam went home when it was all over.
In the past four years Dean had visited the McKeon family several times with John. The last time had been a year earlier. While John visited Kate, Dean had driven up to Chicago to see Charlie. Charlie had just lost a room-mate. He had asked Dean to stay.
The temptation overwhelmed him, and for a while Dean seriously contemplated giving up the nomadic lifestyle for another, more static way of life. It would mean making several sacrifices and admitting to both himself and his father that he...
He squeezed his eyes shut.
Was a fraud.
The television droned on in the background. It was a repeat of Law and Order. Dean liked Law and Order when his mind wasn't wandering and his eyes weren't heavy with weariness. Now the chatter of the television was getting on his nerves.
Abruptly he reached for the remote and switched it off.
"Hey! I was watching that!"
"You're supposed to be watching out for the ghost," Dean got up off the sofa and turned off the last remaining lamp, suddenly plunging the house into darkness. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the faint light coming in through the bay window from the street lamp outside.
Sam grunted from the shadowy corner where Kate's chair sat. A glimmer of light from his watch illuminated his face, casting eerie shadows up from below as he checked the time. "You're right, it's after midnight."
"I'm right? Did I just hear you correctly? Man, where's Dad's journal, I'm going to write this down for posterity. Dean was right."
"Don't let it go to your head."
Dean sat back down on the sofa. On the cushion beside him lay a short sword, unsheathed, with a leather wrapped handle and runes etched into the sharpened steel blade. According to Sam's research there were two ways to catch a Banshee. One was with a sword. The other was to sneak up on her and put one of her drooping breasts in your mouth.
"You're on jug duty," had been Dean's reaction to this revelation. Sam merely looked disgusted.
It really all depended on if she manifested as a hag, or as a young woman. Quizzing Charlie and Kate before they headed off to a hotel for the evening, revealed that she had not been a hag in any previous encounter. Dean happened to have a sword in the trunk of the Impala. All was good.
As he sat there in the dark, in the silence, he ran his fingers gingerly down the sword blade. He remembered the fight between his father and brother when Sam announced he would be leaving for college. He remembered the pain, and fear, in his father's face when Sam stormed out the door never to return and John's drunken tirade about love and betrayal later that night.
"You'll never leave me, will you Dean?"
Charlie had tempted him, a siren in jeans and a football jersey. The first and last time they'd spent the night together frightened Dean more than any paranormal encounter he'd ever had in his life - save one.
How easy it would be to blame Sam for everything he'd lost.
He closed his eyes. Maybe, when this current crisis was over, their father found and Sam back in school, he could come here once more. Charlie had made it very clear that he would be welcome despite Dean's freak-out of a year ago. He could call it a vacation. He needed a vacation, and if he slept with Charlie again who would know? John was too busy chasing phantoms to be suspicious, and after the way Dean had flirted with Jess, Sam certainly didn't have any doubts about his brother's preferences.
"Smooth," Dean murmured. He liked things to go smoothly, no bumps in the road. Bumps in the road got blasted with a shotgun. Coming out would create a big bump. It wasn't going to happen no matter how much Charlie coerced.
"It's no way to live your life, Dean. You're on the lam all the time. Chasing ghosts, running from the law, hiding from who you really are..."
"You don't get it, do you, Charlie? My father trained me to be a soldier. I started learning martial arts when I was seven. By nine I could handle a gun. I was made by my father..."
"All the more reason to break free of him. This is his war, not yours!"
"You're wrong. It's my war too, and Sam's. He turned his back on it. I can't. I can't let some other kid go through what happened to us. I'm not doing this for me, Charlie. I'm not doing it for my father. I'm doing it for that other kid, because that thing is still out there and it will kill again."
It had killed Jessica. Sam couldn't escape the family curse apparently. What would have happened if Dean had stayed with Charlie a year ago? Would he have come home to find Charlie pinned to the ceiling? What would it be like to stare into those dark, seductive eyes and see nothing alive in them?
Fire burned before him, blotting out the vision of Charlie's face. He heard Charlie calling his name. He heard the terror in Charlie's voice.
"Dean! Help me."
He jerked upright. A hand clamped down on his mouth and had he not looked up to see Sam hovering over him, he would have broken his brother's wrist with his next move. Instead he silenced himself and Sam released his hold.
Dean promptly slugged him hard enough to make him grunt. "Asshole."
"I didn't fall asleep on the job!" Sam hissed back.
"I wasn't asleep. I was - meditating."
"Bullshit, you were snoring!"
"It was my mantra."
Sam's eyes widened and his mouth pursed in annoyance. "Will you just shut up." He jerked his head toward the kitchen. "She's here!"
Dean scrambled to his feet, grabbing the sword in his hand. "What? Why didn't you say so?"
They stood side by side, staring at the ghostly figure hovering over the kitchen sink. Her long silver hair trailed out from beneath a shawl thrown over her head and shoulders. The shawl was green. The dress she wore was a soft, dove-colored grey, and all around her was a pale watery light. Like fluttering butterflies, wisps of mist flowed around within the light. She was a vision caught out of time and space - relocated from ancient Ireland to modern Illinois.
Dean heard water splashing, and the gentle sound of a woman crying.
His hand tightened around the hilt of the sword.
"Why?" Dean asked. His hands curled tighter around the steering wheel. "What's with the interest in Charlie?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't talk to him much. He seemed a little cold."
"He doesn't know you, and he's worried about Kate. I wouldn't take it personally." With a laugh he hoped didn't sound forced, Dean added. "I'm surprised you two didn't hit it off right away, sit around talking about Pythagoras. Isn't that what you college educated guys do? Oh, when you're not drinking yourself unconscious at toga parties that is."
"You know, I have a hard time talking to you and it has nothing to do with having a college education."
"Good," Dean thought. "Then maybe you'll shut up and get off this topic."
"He doesn't strike me as being your type," Sam said a second later.
The car wobbled a little as Dean flinched. He gave his brother a startled look. "I beg your pardon?"
"He said you were friends, but he didn't strike me as being someone you'd be friends with."
"We share an interest in cars."
At this, Sam laughed. "He drives a Honda, bro. You wouldn't be caught dead in anything that didn't come out of a GM plant!"
Dean stared out the windshield. His jaw clenched. "Look, you know what? I don't have friends, Sam. Charlie is at best an acquaintance." He glanced quickly at his brother again as he spoke. "You can't make friends when you're always on the road. You don't have relationships of any kind. If you need an example, look at Dad."
He felt, rather than saw, Sam's eyes on him. He avoided looking because he didn't want to see the pity in them.
"That's no kind of life, Dean."
"Yeah, well, it's my life. I chose it. I'll deal with it." He pulled the map up out of the console between them and shoved it in Sam's direction. "Where the hell are we?"
Sam took the map and patiently unfolded it.
The subject of Charlie was dropped.
It may have been a soothing sight if it hadn't been for the weeping. The Bean Sidhe rocked gently back and forth as she splashed quietly in the sink. Her pale hands fluttered, raising and lowering an article of clothing - it looked like a shirt - in and out of the water. Intermingling with her cries were the strains of a melody, a lament for the dead. The song was sad, her appearance, eerie. He didn't know about Sam, but Dean felt goose pimples rise up his arms as he forced himself to approach her.
He went silently, or as silently as he could in the boots he wore. Sam hovered nearby and between them the sword glinted in the otherworldly light filling the kitchen. As they grew closer the air became colder. The tip of the sword now hovered just inches from the Bean Sidhe's slender body. Dean had no idea would he would do or say once he had her pinned before the sword, but he had to think fast.
"Stick 'em up," seemed extremely inappropriate.
She was supposed to reveal the name of the one who would die, perhaps grant a wish or two. Dean had more than wishes and questions. He had demands. Leave this house. Leave Kate and her family alone.
Time was running out.
The sword point was a fraction of an inch away from her when the crying stopped. Dean opened his mouth to speak but he choked on the words. He couldn't speak. It was as if a hand had locked itself around his throat. Sam stood wide-eyed beside him, caught by the same spell of silence. The spirit froze, her washing ceased, and for an instant there was complete stillness in the room.
It lasted only a split second. The Bean Sidhe struck with lightning speed, whirling around to face them with her red, glowing eyes narrowed to slits and her hands curved like claws. She hissed like a cat. Her mouth twisted into a snarl of outrage as she looked first at one brother, then the other. But it was Dean she saw as the threat. The sword was in his hand and he held it leveled at her breast.
She lashed out at him with a thin, pale hand, wrapping her long, almost skeletal fingers around his wrist. Frigid cold rushed up his arm as if he'd dipped it into freezing water. The cold paralyzed him. Needles of ice stabbed his flesh and the pain was incredible. This, he thought, was what it felt like to die.
It was all he could do to gasp out Sam's name as the sword fell from his hand and clattered to the floor.
She held him a moment more before raising her other hand. The strength of her blow across his face broke his paralysis. His struggles loosened her grip. Quickly he wrenched himself free, but stumbled and could not avoid her second strike. She hit him hard, harder than any mortal woman could have done. His body slammed into the side of the fridge. The air rushed from his lungs.
Dean struggled to his knees, curling himself around his injured arm. The cold was fading, but not so the pain. His arm ached.Where she had struck him his face throbbed. Sam realized his was hurt and started to come to him. His movement drew the Banshee's attention. Dean cried out a warning.
"Sam, look out!"
It may have been his own senses warning him of the danger that caused Sam to duck and run just as the Banshee attacked, for Dean's shout came a fraction too late. With a grace that belied his gawky frame, Sam spun away from his attacker. He ducked into a crouch as another blow arced over his head and when he rose again the sword was in his hand. He beckoned the enraged spirit nearer, mocking her.
"Come on, is that all you've got?"
For a split second she hesitated. Dean saw her grow still. He did not see her begin to move again, but she did, flitting toward Sam with her arms outstretched and her mouth open in a silent scream.
The Bean Sidhe and Sam came together in the center of Kate McKeon's kitchen. He grabbed the front of her shawl with one hand, pulling it from her head and tight around her body, holding her fast in its folds. The sword flashed between them. In the next instant Sam thrust the blade deep into her ethereal flesh, pinning her. She was caught, but so was Sam. She'd grasped his face in her hands, and her eyes had met his, locking him within her gaze.
Dean staggered to his feet. The color had drained from his brother's face. Sam's skin was deathly pale. His lips were slowly turning blue, peeled back from teeth clenched in pain. Given what Dean had felt when the Bean Sidhe touched him, he sympathized. Sam was in pain. They had to make this quick.
The spirit's light flickered and flashed like a strobe. She had stopped moving, but her hair and her clothing stirred in an unnatural breeze. Her bright silver hair rose to whirl around her head in slow motion, as if she were under the water instead of standing upon dry land. Dean saw her fingers clench more tightly around Sam's face. The light and mist surrounding her expanded to engulf them both.
Sam shuddered. His face went slack.
The Bean Sidhe opened her mouth and from within came the most unearthly sound ever heard in the realm of the living. It was more than a wail, more than a howl or a screech - nothing could come close to describing it. Piercing every level of sound from lowest to highest, it rose in volume until Dean had to clamp his hands over his ears. It was physically agonizing to hear it, but more than that, it filled him with such a dark despair tears sprang to his eyes. She bore centuries of grief. It had built up over time, gathered from each death in the family she called her own, and now it poured out of her in a deadly shriek.
Sam's grip faltered. The sword fell from the Bean Sidhe's body and Sam's limp fingers. Her shawl slid to the floor, pooling around her feet like the green water of a forest lake. She was free, but she kept her hands upon Sam's face, holding him on his feet, keeping him close to her. All Dean could see of Sam's eyes were the whites. His mouth had fallen open. He did not appear to be breathing.
The horrible wail of the Banshee continued, drowning out Dean's panicked cries. He crawled forward, creeping toward the sword at Sam's feet. On hands and knees he crawled, teeth clenched in determination. He fell heavily only inches from the Bean Sidhe's skirts. He thrust out a hand.
His fingers brushed the soft fabric of her shawl, and missed the leather wrapped hilt of the sword by a fraction. He could go no further.
He heard, then, Sam's voice. It joined the Banshee's wail, starting out as a moan - a deep counterpoint to the higher pitched woman's voice - before rising to a ghastly scream. Sam's grief and pain wound itself into that of the spirit, binding them with a more common thread. Together they sang the lament of the dead.
It was the last thing Dean would remember as he curled himself into a ball and sobbed as if his soul had been ripped to pieces.
Dean stood in the shower, turning his face up into the spray as if in benediction, letting the water run over his face and down his body. He could wash away dirt and grime, and soothe his physical hurts, but some wounds ran deeper, and memories could not be removed with soap and water. Both he and Sam had been left bruised and battered by their encounter with the Bean Sidhe. Not all their scars could be seen on the surface. She had torn from them emotions they were not used to expressing, and pain they had thought long forgotten.
They'd regained consciousness lying on Kate's kitchen floor. By then it had been morning.
He'd tried, Sam said, to convince the spirit to go, that her services were no longer needed in this new world, this new century, and he thought he'd succeeded. The death foretold, however, was indeed inevitable. The Bean Sidhe had no power over destiny. She really was not a malevolent spirit.
"She could feel only sadness, and love," he said. "She loves this family."
This pleased Kate. Charlie said very little after that, resigning himself to losing his grandmother. Dean tried to draw him out, talk to him privately, but the opportunity did not arise until they were about to leave. It was then that Charlie had pressed several folded bills into his hand.
"It's not charity, Dean. How many times have you told me this is your job? Consider it payment for services rendered."
"We didn't accomplish much..."
"You accomplished enough, and it was more than enough just to see you again."
"Gee, Chuck, make me feel like a ho' why don't you."
"You're a pretty crappy prostitute, Winchester."
"Are you saying I'm a bad lay?"
"I'd never say that."
Dean opened his eyes and the vision faded along with the echo of Charlie's gentle laugh. The water had grown cold. Two short showers were all the small hotel boiler could handle. Dean now regretted his gracious offer to let Sam go first.
With a sigh, he switched off the shower and got out.
He dried slowly, carefully, and was grateful for the heat lamp this bathroom provided. His clothes were clean and fresh. It was a relief to get into them. The Bean Sidhe had left behind a chill in him that he was having a hard time shaking. A sweatshirt joined the t-shirt he already wore. He padded barefoot out of the bathroom, joining Sam who sat on one double bed.
Sam's solemn expression pulled him up short. "What is it?"
After a deep breath, Sam replied. "Kate called," he said. His brows dipped low as he appeared to struggle for the right words to say. "Dean, the Bean Sidhe..."
Sam shook his head. "No. I...I didn't tell you everything she said. I didn't want to upset anyone any more than they already were."
Dean felt a sickening feeling of dread tighten his chest. "What did she tell you, Sam?" he demanded. "What the hell did she say?"
He knew instinctively what was coming but did not want to hear it. The confession came slowly, and each word drove into Dean like nails in a coffin. His fists clenched.
"It wasn't Kate who she named, Dean." Sam sighed unhappily. "It was Charlie."
It took Dean a long time to find his voice, and when he did, despite his best efforts, it was low and rough. "Get your gear. We're going back." He turned away abruptly, retracing his steps to the bathroom. There he gathered his things and returned to dump them into his bag with shaking hands. The zipper to his shaving kit hung, he angrily wrested it free and jerked back around...
...to find that Sam hadn't moved from the bed.
"I said, we're going!" Dean picked up Sam's jacket from the dresser, threw it at him. "Come on!"
Sam caught it. "Dean."
"What? What are you waiting for?"
"It's too late."
Dean froze. He stared at Sam in disbelief. "What are you saying?"
"I told you. Kate called while you were in the shower."
Fear gripped him. He shook his head in denial. Sam continued in a low monotone.
"Charlie was on his way back to Chicago. Halfway there the Honda got a flat and he pulled over to change it." He paused. "The cops said the guy that hit him was drunk..."
Stomach churning, Dean staggered to the other bed and sat down. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, gouging away the burning in them. "Fuck."
He jerked his head up. "Why didn' you tell me?"
"It wouldn't have done any good." Sam's expression mirrored his anger. "I tried, Dean. I'm psychic, not God. Don't come down on my ass just because I..."
"Because you what?"
Sam's anger faded. "Wanted to spare you a little pain," he said softly.
Dean rose. Grabbing his boots, he shoved his feet into them. On the way to the door he snatched up his jacket and pulled it on over his sweatshirt. The cold now filled every part of him. He felt numb, and dead inside and out. "Thanks for nothing." He stabbed a finger at Sam. "Don't think you know me, Sam. I don't need you making my decisions. You should have told me. We could have stayed..."
"And done what?" Sam demanded. "Nothing would have prevented it!"
"You don't know that!"
"Yes I do."
The two of them stared at each other in angry silence. Dean's jaw clenched. "You," his voice cracked. He tried again. "You should have told me anyway."
"You said that." Dean wrenched open the door. Charlie would have said he was running away from his emotions yet again and Dean would have told him he was right. He didn't care. Sam could not know...
"Where are you going?"
He slammed the door shut behind him.
And as he stomped off toward the hotel bar, Dean wondered who he was more angry with, Sam, or himself.
Charlie, I'm so sorry.
He called Kate on his cell. Mickey answered. The old woman was lying down, grief stricken over the loss of her grandson. Mickey didn't sound well himself as he filled Dean in on the details. Charlie had been killed instantly, struck by a passing car as he attempted to change his tire. The driver of the other car had never seen the flares, nor Charlie crouched beside the immobilized vehicle. He'd been drunk, and was arrested when he finally drove off the road again miles from where he'd killed Charlie.
Dean expressed his condolences quickly, and hung up before returning to the bar. With the sixth sense a lot of bartenders seemed to have, this one poured Dean another shot without being asked. Dean downed it and made it his last. The alcohol wasn't helping anyway, and the last thing he wanted to do was hear a lecture from Sam. He'd already lost the remainder of the money Charlie had given him in a series of ill fated pool games. Dean didn't care. He couldn't bear having it on him any more. He had another bogus credit card on standby. They'd get along with that.
At the room he fumbled for his key, hoping he'd remembered to take it with him when he'd stormed out. Luck was with him. The plastic card was in his jacket pocket, and with a quick swipe he was admitted.
The room was cold in comparison to the bar. Dean stopped by the heater to turn it up, not caring if the noise he made woke Sam or if Sam wanted to have the heat cranked as high as it could go. He glanced smugly toward the far bed where he expected to see Sam either asleep or propped up watching television. A frown crossed his face when he didn't see anyone at all.
The voice came from behind him. It was soft, and uninflected, yet strangely familiar.
Dean whirled, reaching for the pistol he knew wasn't there. He hadn't taken it with him to the bar. He was losing his touch. But it wasn't necessary. The man standing behind him was his brother.
"Jesus, Sam. Don't do that!"
There was no answer. That, coupled with something about the way Sam was looking at him, set off warning bells. Dean reached over to the table lamp and switched it on, illuminating the room in a pale amber glow. As he watched, Sam blinked slowly. It was, Dean realized, Sam's body, but not Sam at all.
"What have you done with my brother?" Dean whispered. Fear surged through him. He edged away, putting the table between the two of them, his mind racing through what he knew about possession. Yet it could be another shapeshifter. That theory could not be discounted either. He repeated his query, and this time got an answer.
"He's here, asleep." Sam's head cocked as if listening. "He's dreaming of a woman."
"Get out of his head," Dean demanded, realizing his first assumption had been correct. "Who are you? What do you want?"
The thing that was Sam gave him a long stare. "I came to say good-bye," it breathed.
Dean hit his forehead several times with the heel of his hand. He was drunk. He was dreaming. Yet when he raised his eyes again Sam still stood there, and in the poor light of the hotel lamp, his hazel eyes looked nearly black. Dean felt a chill run up his spine.
"It's not your fault, Dean. Nor Sam's. We all assumed it would be Kate, and maybe it will be soon." Charlie took a deep breath. "But not today."
It was a struggle to find something to say. Dean latched onto a cliche he'd heard, and used, a thousand times before. "You can't stay here, Charlie. You have to pass over..."
A faint smile tugged at the corner of Sam's mouth. "I'm passing through. I don't intend to stay past tonight." He turned, walking slowly away from the table toward the closest bed, and Dean, watching him, caught his breath. As he had passed the mirror, the relection was not of Sam, but of Charlie.
At the bed the ghost turned. "You have to protect Sam, Dean. His gifts are strong, but he doesn't know how to use them."
"Out ability to use the art of denial is something we have in common." Dean said quietly. "He's not that interested in using them."
"Still, for me to be here is a bad sign. He needs to protect himself better."
"I'm glad he didn't."
The comment surprised him. It seemed to catch Charlie by surprise too. He turned around and returned to where Dean stood. Long fingers reached out to caress his face, and before Dean could utter a word, or move a muscle, Charlie had kissed him.
Dean stumbled away, rubbing the back of his hand across his mouth. "Ugh, Charlie, no. Couldn't you have snagged another medium for that?"
Charlie caught him around the wrist and pulled him back. "There wasn't one handy."
The mirror showed their reflections. Charlie stood there holding Dean's arms in his hands, wearing the sweats and t-shirt Sam had worn to bed. The voice was Sam's, Dean felt Sam's hands on his arms, but in the mirror it was Charlie who held him and smiled so sweetly. Dean used that image as a guide. His own hands slid down Charlie's chest to his waist.
"Close your eyes," Charlie whispered. Dean obeyed, and felt breath close to his ear. A warm body pressed itself close to his. He craved that warmth, and the tactile pleasure of holding and being held, but the shape beneath his hands was all wrong.
"Close your eyes, don't look."
"I can't," Dean murmured. He started to lever himself away. "I can't do this, Charlie. Sam..."
"Will never know."
"But I will." Dean's eyes opened. "He's my brother, Charlie."
Charlie moved away. He turned off the table lamp. The room went dark. In the dark he became generic, man-shaped, not recognizable as anyone at all. But Dean's mind registered the height difference. Sam was taller, and harder. His body was all lean muscle - no comparison to what Charlie's had been. An incongruous thought entered Dean's head - "Sammy's kept up his training."
"You'd rather," Charlie whispered, returning to cup Dean's face in his hands. "It be a stranger?"
"I'd rather it not be related to me!" Dean protested.
"At least there won't be any incestuous mutant babies in your future."
Another kiss cut off Dean's reply. Charlie knew how to manipulate him. He did not resist a third kiss, nor the fourth. Gradually he began to respond, kissing back, adding tongue. The thrill of breaking an ancient taboo sent a chill down his spine, yet that was not what ultimately drove him. Charlie had been the last person he'd slept with, a year ago. There had been no one else since then. Even opportunities to go it alone were few and far between given he spent most of his time on the road in a car, or sharing a room with his father or brother.
The body wasn't Charlie's, but Charlie controlled it. Charlie's experience guided Sam's hands to all the right places, to do the right things and Dean melted beneath them. He laid aside the shell he'd so carefully crafted, and gave over to feelings he normally kept rigidly suppressed. His hands began their own quest, asking for and receiving physical pleasure, while his mind blocked out the nagging feelings of wrongness. Regardless of whose body he wore, it was Charlie beneath it and Dean wanted him - badly.
For the first time in two days Dean felt warm. He luxuriated in the feeling, burrowing deeper into the bed in which he lay, snuggling closer to the heat of the body lying beside him. A strong, broad shoulder lay beneath his cheek. Contentment oozed through him, draining the strength from his limbs. He had no desire to move - ever.
The bed shifted. He made a small mewl of protest, but his companion had merely turned his head. Dean felt a soft exhale of breath riffle his hair as his lover then sighed.
Jess? Jessica. What...?
Dean's eyes popped open in horror. He was awake now, wide awake, and the desire to stay in bed ran screaming out the door. He sat up with a jolt.
Sam lay sprawled next to him, naked and tangled in the sheets of Dean's bed while the one he'd chosen for himself, the one closer to the bathroom, was tidily made. Dean blinked stupidly, momentarily stunned. He found himself unable to react until Sam rolled over with a moan. It was only then that he realized things could take a nasty turn if he didn't do something. Now.
Moving quickly and quietly, he extricated himself from the bed, grabbing his clothes and tugging the covers into disarray on the other bed on his way to the bathroom. There he shut the door behind him and sat down heavily on the edge of the tub. Memories flooded his senses. His stomach churned queasily as he recalled the way he'd finally fallen to sleep; sexually sated and just a little drunk, spooned in the arc of Sam's long, lean body.
His clothes fell from numb hands to the floor.
The shower muffled the choking sobs he could no longer hold back. The stress of the past few days boiled over, and he could not help feel a deep moral guilt for what he'd allowed to happen. He would never tell Sam. He could never tell Sam. Such a betrayal would never be forgiven, and Dean loved his brother too selfishly to lose him like that. Nor could he place any blame on Charlie. Dean had called the shots. Dean had made the mistake. The responsibility and repercussions were his alone, and he would deal with them.
He let the water grow cold, letting discomfort set his mind to rights. By the time he exited the bathroom he had rebuilt walls that had crumbled during the night and was craving coffee in the worst way.
Sam was sitting up in bed on his elbows, looking perplexed. He looked at Dean for explanation. Dean grunted at him.
"Next time you streak in your sleep, I'm leaving the door open so you can go get into Ethel's bed instead of mine."
"I sleepwalk?" Sam asked muzzily. He yawned, scratched his head, and fell back into the pillow. "Walk? I feel like I ran up the side of a mountain."
"Woke me up at two-thirty in the morning, dude." Dean smacked the bottom of one bare foot. "You're lucky I didn't shoot you. Get up. I need coffee."
"Come on, we don't have all day." Sam's t-shirt was a handy weapon. Dean chucked it at his brother's head. "Rise and shine. Ghosts to bust, demons to exercise. Chop chop."
Slowly, Sam pulled the t-shirt off his head. He stared at Dean solemnly and for one, brief instant Dean panicked.
Sam's words, however, quickly dispelled his worries.
"Are you okay? You were gone a long time. I fell asleep waiting."
Dean looked back, unsure of his reply. His mouth opened, closed, opened again. Finally he nodded. "I'm fine, Sammy. Ol' Jack got me through last night. Now I just want to get back to work. Okay?"
"Okay," Sam replied quietly. "I understand."
"Good, and if you're finished channeling Dr. Phil - did you not hear me say I NEED coffee? Get your skanky ass up out of bed."
Sam collapsed beneath his t-shirt again. "God, I hate you in the morning."
Dean grinned, and went to fetch two cups of coffee from the restaurant himself. His mood sobered as he stood there waiting for his order to be filled. He'd send flowers to the family, but he would not attend. He couldn't attend. It would kill him.
He sighed deeply, and shoved his thoughts back to the task at hand.
Yes, Charlie, I'm running away again.
Dad, man, where are you?