Dean wasn't sure how long he slept, but the sky outside the window in Luke's room was starting to lighten when he jerked awake. It took him a minute to get his bearings.
He blinked blearily at Luke. "Mornin'," he said to the unconscious man.
Dean wiped a hand over his mouth, and then rubbed ineffectually at the wet spot on the sheets where he'd drooled.
"Sorry, man," he muttered. He moved Luke's arm over so it wouldn't touch the dampness.
He hesitated for a minute.
"I'm gonna go check on Sam," he said. He patted Luke awkwardly on the arm. "See you later."
Jo left the house before sunrise, trundling Jake—rumple-headed, but determined—into the car. She'd woken Michael briefly to let him know where they were going, and he'd mumbled some sort of acknowledgement before rolling back over, throwing a careless arm over Tommy who had joined his older brother some time during the night.
They'd stopped for breakfast tacos on the way to the hospital, buying a couple dozen, intending to feed not only Dean, but whatever nurses or doctors were on duty at that early hour.
After checking on Luke, Jo left Jake with his uncle before she ventured down to Sam's room, knowing she'd find Dean with his younger brother.
Dean was slouched in the chair next to Sam, boots kicked off and feet propped up on his brother's bed. He was scooted way down in the chair, head resting awkwardly on the low back. One hand rested on Sam's, the other loosely held a remote that was pointed vaguely in the direction of the television mounted on the wall. The set was muted, talking morning heads animated, news crawl making its slow way across the bottom of the screen. Dean turned his head toward the door as she walked in and sat up stiffly.
"How's he doing?" She put the depleted bag of tacos on the rolling tray at the end of the bed and walked to the far side, leaning down to kiss Sam on the cheek. She brushed a gentle hand over his head. "Hey, baby," she whispered.
"OK, I guess," Dean said, voice rough with disuse. "The nurse said he's stable and that's good."
"Have they said when he should wake up?"
Dean shook his head. "She said something about keeping him unconscious for awhile." He looked uncertainly at the plastic bags attached to the lines that were, in turn, attached to Sam. "They're sedating him."
Jo nodded her understanding and put a light hand on Sam's arm. Her eyes followed her hand, and she gave a slight gasp, catching sight of the enflamed flesh around his wrists, deep bruises, jagged tears of skin—cleaned, but not bandaged. Jo felt her heart start to hammer erratically in her chest, remembering matching marks around Tommy's slender wrists. And while Tommy's bruises had been bad enough, the damage to Sam's hands shocked her, along with the realization that the violence evidenced here was in direct proportion to Sam's struggle to free himself, to save Tommy.
She took a shuddering breath, forcing her eyes over to Dean.
Dean's face was down, eyes on the arm next to him, seeing wounds that mirrored the ones Jo saw, and when his eyes raised to hers, she saw her own horror reflected there briefly before he dropped his gaze.
He reached out an unsteady finger to whisper over the mangled skin at Sam's wrist, and Jo watched Dean's pale face still as he wrestled for control over the emotions she knew boiled just under the surface.
She took the moment to study him, noting the dark circles standing out under his eyes, light smudges of blood from the gash on his head still plain under his hair and on his cheeks. Jo thought he might have tried to get the worst of it off, but he hadn't done a particularly good job of it—there was a darker trace of red at one temple and a shadow of one on his neck. He didn't look very steady.
"There are tacos in the bag, if you're hungry, sweetie," she said.
Dean seemed to shake himself and took careful steps toward the table at the end of Sam's bed. He rooted through the crumpled bag, pulling out a couple of tacos. She didn't notice him sway, but she saw one hand come out to steady himself on the bed as he made his way back to his chair, dropping into it.
Unwrapping the tin foil around the first of the tacos, Dean tore into the still-warm food.
"Thanks," he said around a mouthful.
She gave him a tired smile.
"Did you get any sleep last night?" she asked.
Dean swallowed a large bite and nodded.
"They wouldn't let me stay with Sammy, so I sat with Luke for awhile. I fell asleep." He sent her a crooked smile. "I think I may have drooled on him."
In spite of herself, Jo laughed.
"Have you seen him this morning?" Dean asked.
Jo nodded. "I was just up there. Jake's sitting with him now," she said softly, pouring Dean some water out of the pitcher at Sam's bedside. "Still no change."
Dean took the proffered cup, gulping it down quickly, suddenly parched. His deep belch startled both of them and he smiled sheepishly at her, holding the cup out to her. Jo refilled it and put it back in his hand. With a smile of thanks, he drank deeply again.
"What does that mean?" he asked when he was finished, balancing the cup on the arm of his chair.
She took the cup and moved it to a steadier place on the rolling table. She lifted a shoulder, wearily, not meeting his eyes. "That he isn't getting worse?"
"That's good, isn't it?" he said hesitantly. Hopeful.
Her eyes went to Sam. "I really don't know." She was so tired and this all felt so hard.
Silence filled the room, and Jo watched as Dean shifted uncomfortably in the chair. She could see the pain clearly on his drawn face and in his restless posture.
"Have you gotten your prescriptions filled?"
Dean sighed. "No."
"Here. Give them to me."
Obediently, Dean pulled them out of his pocket and handed them over.
"I'm going to go get these for you, and then I want you to go home," she said.
He was already shaking his head.
"I can't leave him alone," he said.
"You won't be, Dean," she reminded him, gently. "I'll be here."
He opened his mouth to protest, but Jo was able to anticipate his objections—the main one being that he should be the one there when Sam regained consciousness.
"I know that I'm not you, sweetheart, but Sam's not going to be awake for awhile if they're keeping him sedated. If you go home now, take a shower, change clothes, maybe sleep in a bed, you'll be better prepared to be here for him when he does wake up."
In spite of the sleep he'd gotten the night before, it took Dean some time to think it through, and his eyes strayed to Sam's still form as he considered.
Slowly, he nodded.
"OK," he finally agreed.
"That's my boy," she approved.
They managed to work out a schedule of sorts over the next couple of days, with Jo and Dean and the boys rotating through sitting with either Luke or Sam. Dean spent the majority of his time with Sam, but was willing to let others give him the occasional break or just hang out to pass the time.
Dean picked up the book Tommy had left on the bedside table, tempted to start reading again. But he knew he'd be in trouble with the younger boy if he did. Tommy had brought White Fang to be read to Sam, and Jo had decided on The Sackett Brothers for Luke.
Tommy had insisted that a strict reading schedule be followed—nobody was to read ahead—and Dean was impatient with the timing. But he also didn't want to risk making Tommy mad. Generally, the kid was unflappable, but the last couple of days he'd been understandably emotional and uncharacteristically volatile. While another time Dean might have read ahead just to rile him, he couldn't bring himself to do it right now.
Dean put the book down and settled back in the chair, turning his head toward his little brother, startled to see Sam stir restlessly. Dr. Jones had said they'd started easing off the medication that was keeping Sam unconscious, but it still caught Dean off-guard to see his previously motionless brother move suddenly.
Dean stood quickly, leaning over the bed.
Sam's head turned minutely in the direction of his brother's voice, the hand nearest Dean shifting. Dean took it in his own, grinning at the faint pressure against his fingers. He squeezed gently back.
The hand that wasn't holding Sam's reached for the call button, pressing insistently.
"C'mon, Sammy, open your eyes for me."
The hand under Dean's moved again, and the lashes against Sam's cheeks fluttered, eyes coming slowly to half-mast.
Dean was vaguely aware of someone coming through the door behind him, but all his attention was on Sam.
Sam's eyes wandered dazedly around the room, finally making their way to the man at his side, sharpening suddenly at the sight of Dean.
"It's about time," Dean said gruffly, trying to cover the relief that was making him feel lightheaded.
Sam watched him, face confused. Dean was about to say something when his little brother spoke.
"Dude, are you holding my hand?" Sam rasped.
The sound that escaped Dean might have been a laugh or could have been a sob, and he bent over, resting his forehead briefly on Sam's chest before he straightened, pulling his hand out of his brother's.
"You started it, Samantha."
"I was unconscious," Sam returned unsteadily before his eyelids drooped again. "So whatever you need to tell yourself. Deanetta."
Dean snorted. He'd always been smug that "Dean" didn't convert into a feminine form as easily as "Sam" did. Everything Sam had come up with over the years had been a stretch.
"Dude, that's not even a name."
"Deanielle?" Sam tried groggily.
The nurse who had answered the summons was smiling as she moved around Sam's bed. She picked up one of his abused wrists with gentle fingers, checking his pulse.
"It's good to see you awake, Mr. Winchester," she said.
"Thanks," Sam said. His eyes opened to blink at the woman and then shifted back to his brother, uncertain now.
"You've been out a couple of days, Sammy," Dean said softly. "All that banging into walls got you a subdural hematoma, kiddo. Dr. Jones had to operate."
Sam paled, swallowing.
Dean reached out, taking Sam's hand again, holding it firmly.
"You're going to be OK. The doctor took good care of you." Dean looked at the nurse.
"Right," she agreed brightly, checking Sam's vitals, adjusting one of the drips. "I've paged Dr. Jones to let him know you're awake, and I'm sure he'll be by soon to see this for himself." She straightened the thin blanket over the bed with an expert flick of her wrist.
"But don't you feel like you need to stay awake for him, Sam, you hear me?" She arched an eyebrow at Dean, and he nodded his understanding. It was clear that Sam was already drifting even as he was trying to stay awake.
"Dean?" Sam's voice was weak, and Dean felt his brother's fingers tighten slightly around his hand again.
"Are the boys OK?"
"They're fine, Sammy."
There was a longer pause, and Dean thought that maybe Sam had fallen back asleep.
Dean barely heard Sam's hoarse whisper.
He sighed, shifting his grip on Sam's hand.
"Alive and in custody."
"Does he remember?"
Sam's head moved in a small nod.
"You ready to go back to sleep?" Dean asked gently.
"Mm-hm," Sam breathed.
"Then do it, brat," Dean ordered softly settling back into his chair. "I'll be here."
Luke had returned to consciousness a couple of days later and the drop in tension had been felt around the hospital—family, friends, doctors and nurses had heaved sighs of relief and breathed prayers of thanks and gotten back to the business of their lives. Still there, still present, but easing away.
Crisis mode over for the most part—her husband healing, Sam improving daily, her children slowly finding their ways back to the boys they'd been just days before—Jo found herself with the time and energy to begin the process of working through the events of the last week or so.
And the anger, the rage she felt—pressed down, unacknowledged until now—threatened to consume her.
In her mind she knew that she wasn't being fair or rational. In her mind, she knew that it wasn't Dean's fault, hadn't really even been his choice to put Michael and Jacob in danger. She realized that without the older boys, Tommy would quite probably have been lost. That Sam, too, would not have survived if her nephews had not been there.
But even as her mind whispered these truths to her, her heart refused to listen, wouldn't hear. Would only clutch the fury closer, unwilling to let go.
Jo was pretty sure it wouldn't be a comfort to Dean, but he wasn't alone on her list. God Himself was there, backed into a corner with Dean as Jo held out a warning hand to both of them.
Dean wasn't unaware of her displeasure and had, since the day after Luke had woken up, assiduously avoided her, sticking to corners, edging along walls as he exited any room she entered, her resentment radiating around her, her eyes refusing to look at him or even acknowledge his presence.
Face tight, gaze cast to the floor, Dean accepted her censure, didn't protest it. Removed himself, let himself be isolated. Uncomplaining.
Jo knew he was in pain. But she just didn't care.
See, she thought. See. Although what she thought he was supposed to be seeing she couldn't have said.
"Come on, Dean."
It was Michael, outside of Luke's room, voice understanding, cajoling.
Jo could hear the low murmur of Dean's reply, but not the words.
"Luke's been asking about you, OK?" He was wheedling, using all the tools in his arsenal to lure Dean into the room. "He almost died, you know?" It had become almost a joke with the family, using Luke's brush with death as a way to manipulate each other into doing things. I think you should do the dishes. Luke almost died, you know.
"Are you going to deny him this almost last request?"
Jo heard a snort and the mumble of something decidedly disparaging.
"C'mon, man." His voice dropped, serious now, with an ache that Jo didn't want to acknowledge. "Just give her time, Dean. She…"
Dean entered the room abruptly, clearly avoiding whatever Michael was going to say. He stopped when he saw Jo. She saw his breath catch, and he took half a step back.
Luke's breathless rumble stopped him again, and Dean smiled at the man, eyes flicking to Jo before he moved toward the bed.
"Hey," he said. "So, I hear you almost died."
Luke wheezed out a laugh. "That's what they keep telling me." He lifted a hand and Dean took it. Jo saw the muscle in Dean's jaw jump as he shook Luke's hand, holding on a little longer than he would have normally. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but closed it again, swallowing hard.
"How's Sam?" Luke asked.
Dean cleared his throat, swallowed again.
"Better," he said roughly. He cleared his throat a second time. "Kicked me out while Nurse John gives him a sponge bath."
Luke laughed, and Dean smiled in response.
"Can't say I blame him for that." Luke's eyes strayed to Jo. "You want to hang out while you wait?"
"I'm going to grab something to eat."
Jo said it as lightly as she could, but still Luke frowned. Dean's head dropped, and he started to back away from the bed.
"I'll go. I…"
"No. Stay Dean," she said coolly. "I know that Luke wants to talk to you." And with that she left the room.
The silence that descended was heavy in the wake of Jo's departure, and Luke felt a sharp stab of pain in his chest at the brief look of devastation on Dean's face before the familiar mask slipped into place.
"I'm sorry," Dean said.
"You didn't do anything wrong, Dean."
There was a flash of something in Dean's eyes before he shook his head.
"Jo wouldn't agree," he said softly. "I don't know if I agree," he added, eyes going to Michael before they came back to Luke.
Michael was motionless on the other side of Luke's bed, but Luke could read the confusion and hurt from his nephew.
"You didn't do anything wrong," Michael said vehemently. "You didn't have a choice." The young man looked at Luke. "He didn't, Luke. Aunt Jo doesn't…"
"Michael," Dean interrupted him. "Don't…"
"I'm not even sure what happened." Luke broke into what looked like might become an argument. "Tell me."
"Aunt Jo hadn't even asked," Michael mumbled and Luke cut him off with a sharp, "Michael."
Somewhat chastened, the teenager subsided as Dean told Luke the story of their encounter with the demon.
It took awhile to be told with Luke asking questions and Michael occasionally inserting his own comments or some of what Tommy had told him over the last few days. It was a horrifying story, and Luke wasn't unsympathetic with Jo's reaction to the boys' participation in the battle.
Dean had pulled up a chair next to Michael so that Luke wouldn't have to keep looking from one side to the other as they'd talked.
"So, you see why she's pissed," Dean said softly at the end.
Luke was nodding thoughtfully, agreeing that he understood, when Michael broke in defensively.
"I don't. I don't see why she's pissed. We're OK; we're all OK. And we wouldn't have been if we hadn't gone." Michael's voice broke with emotion. "Tommy would be dead, Luke. Sam would be dead. Why can't she see that? Why…?"
"Sweetheart," Luke broke in gently. His eyes went from Michael's face, angry, frustrated, to Dean's, resigned, regretful.
"I think she probably does see that," Luke said carefully. "I just think that right now what she's seeing more is that she could have lost all of you. Not just Tommy. And Sam. But you and Jacob." He paused. "And Dean."
Dean's shoulders hunched at this, and Luke saw the younger man's head move tightly from side to side. Denying that this was a possibility.
"Your mom had the hell scared out of her, Mikey. Me shot, Tommy taken, Sam, the rest of you boys in danger. She can't… She can't get her mind around all of it yet, and she's just stuck in being angry right now. Angry at Dean because he's convenient. Angry at God mostly, but He's not visible in the room currently for her to take things out on."
He smiled wryly at Michael and at Dean, whose head had come up for just a moment.
"Give her some time, boys, OK? Both of you." Dean's head had turned, looking to the door, wanting escape, Luke realized.
"Dean, do you hear me?" Reluctantly, Dean returned his attention to Luke. "She's not perfect," Luke said softly. "Don't let this ruin your relationship with her. Please."
Dean blinked at Luke. "I don't blame her," he said, a little stunned.
Luke looked him, considering. Maybe you should, he thought.
"Maybe not," he said instead. "But don't make the mistake of thinking that her blaming you is legitimate either."
Dean shifted, uncomfortable. He cleared his throat.
"Maybe I'll go see if Sam's all clean again," he said.
Luke kept his eyes steady on the younger man.
"OK," he agreed.
Dean stood. "I'll see you around."
A tight smile. He left behind a blanket of silence.
Michael's voice was small.
"Is everything going to be OK?"
Luke felt his heart constrict, and he swallowed heavily.
"I think it will be, kiddo," he said. He turned his head to Michael, pale and looking like he might cry. "We just… everybody's going to need time." He reached out tiredly, touching the boy's face gently. "We'll get there, though."
They sat in a comfortable silence for awhile, Michael leaning forward to rest his head on Luke's bed, Luke rubbing a hand slowly back and forth over the boy's back.
Luke felt his eyes start to slide closed, and he popped them open as far as he could.
"I'm going to head home," Michael finally said, sitting up and stretching.
"You don't have to," Luke mumbled, although he was a little relieved.
Michael laughed as he rose. He reached out and patted Luke's leg under the covers as he passed.
"Night," he said.
"Night," said Luke, shifting restlessly. These beds were so damn uncomfortable.
"Yeah?" Luke inched his butt down the mattress, twisting to find a good spot. He raised his eyes to look at his nephew.
"I love you."
Michael said it quietly, watching seriously, but there was a hint of a self-conscious smile on his lips.
Luke blinked back the moisture that had suddenly sprung into his eyes.
He cleared his throat.
"You know I'm not dying any more, right?" he asked gruffly.
Michael smiled and then schooled his features.
"Wait. You mean nobody's told you…?"
Michael moved forward, and Luke raised an arm as the boy leaned into him. Luke wrapped him in an awkward hug.
"I love you, too, kiddo," he said softly, turning to kiss the cheek next to his. "And I am so proud of you."
He felt more than heard the unsteady breath that Michael drew in before he pressed his face into his uncle's shoulder.
"You hear me?" Luke asked and was rewarded with a tight nod.
"Good." He smacked a loud kiss on the top of the tousled head and pushed away.
"Now go home and let me sleep."
Michael pulled back, wiping quick hands over his face.
"See you tomorrow."
Dean poked his head into Sam's room.
"All clean?" he asked with a smirk.
Sam was curled on his side with his back to the door and his brother.
Dean moved around the bed, dragging a chair with him, so that he could sit face to face with Sam.
"I guess a bath didn't improve your disposition any."
Sam kept his eyes closed, but poked his hand far enough out from under the covers to express his displeasure with a simple gesture.
With Sam's eyes closed, Dean could inspect the bandage on his brother's head. They'd shaved a fairly large patch behind Sam's ear for the surgery and trimmed up around it almost to the crown. It was not a pretty sight. The white gauze that covered the wound was clean and the skin that surrounded it looked pink and, to Dean's mind, healthy.
"Where've you been?" Sam mumbled.
Dean slouched back in the chair.
"Talking to Luke and Michael."
One eye opened.
"Yeah? How are they?"
Dean shrugged. "OK."
They were quiet for a moment.
"What happened, Dean?"
Dean turned his head from the blank television he'd been staring at to his brother. Sam was watching him seriously.
"Just now?" he asked.
"No. That day. What happened when Michael went back?" Sam shifted, moving to sit up. Dean got up, easing the pillows under his brother, helping Sam get settled.
Dean sat down in his chair, kicking off his boots, tucking toes between the mattresses on Sam's bed.
"Tell me," Sam said softly.
"He exorcised the demon."
"Michael exorcised it. I'd done this binding spell to hold the damn thing, started the ritual, but the spell didn't hold. Potter got loose in the middle of the exorcism and was beating the crap out of me when Michael showed up. The kid got a hold of Dad's journal and starting reading the exorcism."
"How? He doesn't know Latin." Sam hesitated. "Does he?"
Dean couldn't help the laugh at the memory of Michael's atrocious pronunciation.
"I don't know, Sam. Not for sure." He paused. "I've got a guess."
Sam raised an eyebrow at his brother.
Dean shifted, sitting forward, dropping his stockinged feet to the floor.
"I think…" He stopped. Started again. "What do you believe when you read an exorcism, Sammy? What were you thinking when you did the exorcism on Meg?"
Sam's brow wrinkled as he thought. "I don't know. I guess I'm trying to say it right. Hoping it will work. Reminding myself that it does."
Dean nodded. "It's the ritual, isn't it? We've seen it work, haven't we? Known that Dad wouldn't have written it down if it didn't. We trust the power of the words that we're speaking."
Dean looked up at Sam, saw in his brother's eyes that he grasped what Dean was saying, but still didn't really understand.
Dean looked down at his hands.
"I think… It wasn't the ritual that Michael trusted, Sam. It was the power behind it."
He hesitated for a second. "He read the words because I told him the ritual would work, but he believed it would work because he believed that God could and would defeat the demon. Not because the ritual was powerful, but because God was powerful."
Dean could see Sam digesting this, considering it.
"The Word become flesh," Sam said softly. Dean gave him a quizzical look. "We believe in the words. Michael believes in the Word that became flesh." He shrugged. "I don't know."
Dean said wryly, "The power of Christ compels us," and Sam smiled back at him.
"What do you think?" Sam asked finally.
Dean deliberately misunderstood. "About what?"
Sam scowled at him. "About God, jackass," he said impatiently.
Sam persisted. "I asked Dad onetime," he said, "if he believed in God."
Dean just looked at him.
"He said he did. He just wasn't speaking to Him right then."
One corner of Dean's mouth lifted.
"That sounds about right," he said softly.
Sam nodded. He looked like he wanted to say more, but didn't.
After a couple of long moments, he ventured, "The demon said something about you."
Dean felt himself go cold.
"What?" He hated that he could hear the falter in his voice. He cleared his throat. "What did it say?"
Sam looked at him, face uncertain.
"What, Sammy? Tell me."
"It talked about…your purpose. It wondered if killing me, killing Tommy would turn you from your purpose." Sam's voice was strained, face tight with the memory.
"It didn't say. Just that… that your purpose involved more than me. That you have a larger job to do than protect me."
Dean stared at him. "What the hell does that mean?" he demanded.
Sam shook his head. "I have no idea."
Dean scowled at his brother.
"So I have a larger job to do than just save your ass all the time?" he asked sarcastically.
Sam laughed and shrugged.
"That's a big enough job in and of itself, huh?" he said with a grimace, and Dean's face softened at the look.
"Sammy," he started.
But his brother interrupted him.
"I don't know," Sam said with another shake of his head. "You do alright with keeping me out of trouble. Couldn't be much harder than that, right?"
Luke looked at his wife, head down, immersed in a book, refusing, he knew, to meet his eye.
He took a deep breath.
"So, what's up with you and Dean skulking around each other?"
"Nothing," she said, seemingly unconcerned, fascinated by the words on the page in front of her.
"What?" she demanded, peering at him belligerently over her glasses, daring him to push.
He watched her seriously.
"You're hurting him," he said, softly.
Jo sucked in a painful breath of her own, a small sound like a moan escaping. She stood abruptly and moved away from the bed, pacing to the window and then to a corner of the room. She crossed her arms over her chest, pressing her back against the wall, glaring at him through bright eyes.
Silent, he followed her with his eyes. He watched as she struggled.
"I don't know what to do," she suddenly cried. "I can't…" She stopped, and then said in a rush, "They could have been killed! All of them, Luke! We could have lost all three of them, don't you see that? Dean…" She stopped. Couldn't say it. Wouldn't.
"Sugar, it's not his fault."
"I know that!" She almost sobbed, desperate. "You think I don't know that? I do!"
"But…" he probed.
"But he. . . He didn't protect them, Luke." She wiped angrily at the tears on her cheeks. "I never would have thought that of him. That Dean wouldn't protect Michael and Jacob. That he would deliberately . . . He put them in danger. And I can't… I don't…"
"Josie…" Luke reached out a hand to her, but she shook her head, staying where she was.
"I know it wasn't his fault, Luke, I know that. But I can't get over the fact that if he hadn't taken the boys with him they wouldn't have been exposed to that evil, they wouldn't know…"
"Josie," Luke interrupted her gently and she trailed to a halt. "Josie, have we ever told any of our kids that evil doesn't exist, that Satan's a myth? Have we ever tried to make them believe that spiritual warfare wasn't a powerful reality?"
Jo shook her head, but her face stayed set.
Luke watched his wife closely. "Honey, I'm not saying that I don't wish that the kids hadn't had to face that danger. That Dean hadn't had to take Michael and Jake with him."
Luke saw Jo's eyes narrow at his last words.
"He didn't have to take…"
"Do you really think that he didn't think that? That he just decided to put the boys in danger?"
Her lips tightened.
"Do you know what happened when they got there?" he asked.
Jo's chin came up, and she looked at him defiantly.
"Ultimately, Michael's the one who exorcised the demon," he said quietly.
Breath catching, Jo paled.
"They'd gotten Sam and Tommy to safety and left Dean to take care of the demon. Sam was frantic about Dean on his own, so Michael went back."
Jo's face crumpled slightly, and she brought her hand to her mouth.
"When he got there, the demon had gotten lose of whatever spell Dean had used to contain it while he was exorcising it. It attacked both of them, but when it focused its attention on Dean, Michael picked up the ritual that Dean had written out and read it. Dean said that Michael was the one who banished it."
They looked at each other from the space between them.
"I get that you're angry, Josie. I understand that. But if Dean hadn't taken Michael with him, he'd be dead. If Jake hadn't been there to get Tommy and Sam to safety, they'd have still been in the house. We would have lost all three of them. Michael and Jacob would never have been in danger. But would it have been worth the cost? Do you think it would have been worth it to Michael and Jacob?"
He left it there. Let it hang.
She was crying, standing as far away from him as she could, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Don't punish Dean for something that wasn't his fault. Don't punish him for doing what had to be done—to save all their lives."
Jo closed the door to the sitting room, sighing with relief that she'd managed to escape. Sam and Luke were both asleep, worn out from a day spent getting them settled in the downstairs bedroom and a judiciously administered dose of pain medication. Jo felt a small twinge of guilt at making them share a room – and Luke's disgruntled, slightly offended expression had been hard to ignore – but there was no way she'd survive having one patient on each floor. If she was going to be primary nursemaid ("help" provided by the four other males in the house aside) to two invalids, she was going to keep them on one floor. And in this house that meant one room.
After the painful conversation with Luke about Dean, Jo had waited for an opportunity to talk to Dean, to try and smooth over her behavior over the past few days, but there hadn't been a chance, a sudden flurry of preparation for bringing Luke and Sam home and little time alone with him. The times they had been in the same room, she'd tried to show him her change of heart, offering hesitant smiles and softer words. But he'd been leery, giving her cautious looks and mumbling responses before slinking away.
Now that they were home, though, she knew she'd be able to make it right.
Jo sank onto the small settee, picking up the book she'd put down over a week ago and rolled her head around on her neck. Deliberately ignoring the chattering voice in her head that started running through the list of things she had to do, Jo found her place. She'd give herself 30 minutes.
A motion out the front window caught her attention, and she looked up. Through the curtains, she could see Dean on the porch swing, arms stretched out along the back of the wooden seat, the rocking motion of his feet keeping the swing gliding gently back and forth.
His head was turned slightly to the right, watching something, she thought, but not rising, just sitting. Swinging.
Without thought she'd gotten up and eased out the front door, soft steps taking her to his side.
She'd startled him, and he stood abruptly, the swing tilting crazily as he pushed off.
"Hey," he said, watching her carefully.
"Can we talk?"
She felt her heart tighten at the way his face closed up, but he nodded stiffly.
She sat gingerly in the swing, Dean steadying it for her, but staying standing. Jo looked hesitantly up at him. She put a hand on the seat next to her.
Expression giving nothing away, Dean sat.
They were silent for a moment, Jo turning her head to gaze out to middle distance while she gathered her thoughts. Dean swallowed, expectant, but waiting.
"Dean, I'm sorry," she started quietly. She paused, trying to figure out where to go from there.
"It's OK," he said, voice taut. "I understand."
Jo turned to him.
"As soon as Sam can travel, we'll go." He was staring almost fiercely at the horizon. "Don't worry. We won't…"
Jo felt her mouth fall open.
"Dean…" Horrified, Jo reached out, grabbing at his hand. "Honey…"
His hand lay limp in hers, the rest of his body held rigid, still not meeting her eyes.
"I understand," he said again, tonelessly. "I'd go now, but Sam…"
"Dean!" She said it loudly, sharply, breaking through his reassurances.
Finally he looked at her, eyes dull. "It's OK…"
"Listen to me, Dean. Listen," she said it urgently, tears in her voice and in her eyes. "I don't want you to leave. I'm not asking you to leave."
How could she not have anticipated this reaction?
"Do you hear me?"
He blinked at her, almost uncomprehending. "But…" his voice was hoarse. "You've been so mad. I thought…" He looked at her, uncertain. "I would understand…"
"No." She said it as firmly as she could with the ache in her throat. "What happened wasn't your fault, Dean, and I'm sorry, so sorry for how I've been acting since…"
Dean looked away. "It's OK."
"No," she repeated. "It isn't OK; it wasn't OK." She wanted to make sure he heard her. "Look at me."
He turned his head to her, and she was stunned by the look on his face. The careful mask of indifference and understanding he'd been wearing was gone, and what was left exposed stole her breath.
"We brought this on you," he faltered.
"You didn't bring this, Dean. You didn't."
Jo was hit with the stunning revelation that her anger—even wrapped in cold silence—had been read unerringly by Dean, confirming his own belief that somehow he was responsible for everything that had happened. Her selfishness in lashing out at Dean, blaming him when she knew it wasn't his fault, had made him believe the awful lie.
I did this, she thought numbly.
"I was wrong to have blamed you, Dean."
He paled, eyes dropping. "You never said…"
"I may have never said it out loud, but I made sure you knew I was angry, didn't I?" She asked it ruefully, squeezing his hand. "I was more scared than I'd ever been in my life and I handled it poorly, Dean. I struck out at you because you were the closest person at hand, and I am so ashamed of myself." She ended on a whisper.
There was no sound from Dean, but the hand in hers tightened. She looked up and he was shaking his head.
"Will you forgive me?"
Again there was no response, but she knew it wasn't because he was refusing her. It was because he couldn't bring himself to see that she'd been wrong.
"If we hadn't been here…" he started.
She reached out and touched his face. "Sweetheart, don't you know that there's evil everywhere in this world? You didn't bring this on us – you saved us from it."
He ducked out from under her touch.
"You dreamed about the demon that killed your mother coming here. But it didn't. It wasn't that particular evil, was it?"
Dean shook his head, "No, but…"
"Did you know that God uses dreams to speak to us sometimes?" she asked, interrupting him. "Maybe not with visions like Sam has or premonitions, but I believe there are times He moves us, prompts us, through dreams."
He frowned at her.
"Dean, if you and Sam hadn't come, Tommy would have been all alone with that man." Her voice broke and Dean paled. "Sam wouldn't have been there to protect him. You wouldn't have been here to know what was happening, to go after him, to save them." She paused. "To save me."
Jo bent her head, clasping her hands tightly in her lap. Dean was quiet, watching her with wide eyes.
"If Tommy had been…" she stopped, wiping her hand over her eyes, trying to collect herself. "If he'd been killed, Dean," she went on in whisper. "I don't know if I would have survived that."
"I believe that God never gives us more than we can bear, and He knew that losing Tommy would have been more than I could have handled." She looked up at Dean.
"And so He sent me you."
Dean swallowed hard, tears leaking out of his eyes as he shook his head jerkily in denial.
"He did, Dean. He sent us you and Sam. That dream. That horrible nightmare that had you running to our rescue." She laughed in wonder. "It might not have been the rescue any of us had considered, but still. It was a rescue, sweetheart. It was."
Dean was stunned into silence, unable to come up with a suitable reply or words at all. Jo reached out and took his hand in hers again, holding it tightly.
"I'm so grateful," she said softly. "And I'm sorry I haven't been able to express that to you."
She sniffed and ran a hand under her nose.
"All I've been able to see, to think about, was how angry I was that the boys had been exposed to that danger. All of them. Not just Tommy hurt by the demon, but Michael and Jacob walking into that kind of risk. I couldn't see past the fear, and because I don't like being afraid, I guess I decided that anger would be a better option."
"I don't like being scared either," Dean said softly with a quirk of his lips. Jo laughed unsteadily as she looked at him.
"Do you forgive me?" she asked.
Dean frowned, still not liking the question, but slowly he nodded.
"Thank you," she said. She turned in the swing, reaching out to pull him into a hug. "I love you," she said into his ear.
Dean hesitated slightly, arms coming more securely around her. "I love you, too," he whispered tightly.
If she didn't laugh, she'd sob, so Jo laughed unsteadily, pulling away and putting a hand to his cheek. Tears tracked down her cheeks as she smiled at him.
"And thank you for my boys. All five of them. I might have lost all of you," she said unsteadily.
Dean's eyes went down, and he shifted, turning back to look out across the field. Jo let him ease away, reaching out to skim a hand over the back of his head, before she turned, too.
His arm came around her and they sat in silence, just swinging.
When the final bandage came off, there was no longer any way for Sam to fool himself into thinking he wouldn't have to cut his hair.
Practically bald on one side is no way to go through life, son, had been Luke's amused comment.
So Sam had resigned himself to the inevitable, much to the glee of his older brother and Luke.
Sitting on a chair out in the backyard, Sam bent his head in response to Jo's gentle fingers tilting his head forward. She ran her fingers through his hair one last time, smoothing and soothing.
"Ready, sweetie?" she asked.
Sam nodded in resignation, muscles easing under Jo's touch, the buzz of the clippers bringing back odd memories.
When he and Dean had been really young, their father had been haphazard about haircuts. There had been times, early on, when they'd all grown shaggy, finances and jobs keeping John from thinking about or prioritizing personal grooming for their small family. Sam's hair had always grown faster than Dean's, so it had usually been the younger boy's out-of-control mop that elicited comments from strangers or managed to startle John into dragging them both to a barber shop.
Sam could still see the look of bemusement on John's face when he would come out of whatever preoccupation had consumed his attention for weeks at a time and notice the hair falling past Sam's ears and over his eyes. It was the same look Dad often had when he seemed to realize suddenly that Dean's wrists were sticking out inches past the cuffs on his shirts. It was a vague, when the hell did that happen, kind of expression that had grated on Sam's nerves as a teen and now just made him a sad. For all of them.
When Sam had been close to 10, John had found a pair of old electric clippers at a flea market he'd been prowling for silver or iron or whatever else he could find that might be useful and cheap. The clippers hadn't worked well initially, but after a couple of bumpy haircuts with skinned heads and tears from both boys, John had finally managed to get the little appliance running smoothly.
There'd been regular—usually monthly—haircuts after that, John keeping the boys, if not himself, in flat-top buzzes for no other reason than convenience.
And looking back, Sam had to admit that those early hair cuts by his father were mostly fondly remembered.
Dad's big, calloused hand on his head, the hum of the clippers, Dean watching with a critical eye, his turn next, pointing out places Dad had missed. John had been swift and efficient about his work, lingering only for a moment, gentle palm rubbing over each boy's head, brushing off cut hair.
Sometimes there'd been a reassuring pat or even a fleeting kiss on the top of his head as he moved Sam off the chair, pulling Dean into place. And right now, remembering his father's touch, warm and strong, brought an ache to Sam's throat that took him aback.
The later cuts had gotten brutal—Sam rebelling one of the only ways he could figure out, fighting tooth and nail against his father's militaristic hair-styling requirements. Every month, every six weeks, every two months (he could see now that his father had let the time stretch out between inevitable battles), it had been all out war until Dean had stepped in, taken over the responsibility, letting Sam talk him into minutely larger gradations on the clippers each time before he ran them firmly, if oddly apologetically, over his younger brother's head.
Sam had spent most of those sessions complaining about Dad, Dean moving the younger boy's head this way and that, "mmm-hmming" occasionally, letting Sam vent. Sam had always known when he'd gone too far, though – he had several small scars on his ears from nicks Dean had given him.
"Oops," Dean would apologize blandly when Sam yelped in protest.
This cut was shaping into a replay of the earlier memories, with Dean standing nearby, a satisfied smirk on his face. Luke had made Michael carry out a chair for him and he sat, arms folded, watching with approval.
Michael said he was there for moral support, although he rejected Dean's suggestion that he cut his own hair to demonstrate his solidarity with Sam.
"I don't think so," he'd said.
When it was over, Sam ran an exploratory hand over his head. He hadn't had his hair this short since he'd left home. Dean's eyes, when they met his, were surprisingly understanding.
"How's it feel?"
Dean shook his head. "Yeah, well. It looks weird, too." He cocked his head on one side, studying Sam. "Dude, when did your head get so big?"
Dean looked at Jo.
"You'd think it would look smaller without that mess on top, wouldn't you?"
Dean was grinning and he reached out to run his own hand over Sam's head. Sam jerked away.
Jake was matching Dean smirk for smirk. "Look at the size of that boy's head!" he exclaimed, making a poor attempt at a Scottish accent.
Sam's eyes narrowed.
"It's a huge noggin," Michael agreed with a lilt of his own. Sam glared at him. Traitor.
"I don't think it looks that big," Tommy said, confused, trying to reassure.
"That's a virtual planetoid," Dean said.
Sam stood, shaking off hair and the towel Jo had draped over his shoulders. He caught it before it hit the ground and handed it to Jo, who was biting her lip, not meeting Sam's stony gaze.
Jaw tight, Sam stalked toward the house, flinging open the screen door.
"It's like sputnik," Luke said. "Spherical, but quite pointy at parts!"
Made reckless by the emotional trauma of his haircut and the taunting by the family, Sam flipped them all off before the door crashed behind him.
He heard Jo's gasp of surprised laughter, and Luke shouted after him, "I won't tolerate those kinds of obscene gestures in my house, young man!"
Sam had just reached for the door into the kitchen, when he heard Luke add, voice pitched loud enough for Sam to hear, "I guess he'll be crying himself to sleep tonight, on his huge pillow."
The gales of laughter that followed were cut off by the slamming of the door.
They'd stayed another week. Long enough to hear the doctor's pronouncement that Luke was fit for duty, long enough to research their next job, long enough to feel steady leaving.
"Head," Dean barked from where he stood by the driver's side of the Impala. "Move!"
Sam gritted his teeth against the smothered giggles around him and turned a baleful stare on his brother. He was standing on the bottom step of the front porch, giving Jo her hug.
"Yeah," he said witheringly, "that's not already old." But he'd moved toward the car, opening his door.
"That's never gonna get old, Sammy," he assured his little brother.
With a huff, Sam slammed into the car, the door crashing behind him.
Dean sent a thumbs-up to the family standing on the steps.
"Be nice," Jo said reprovingly, and Dean gave her best, wide-eyed who me? expression.
"I mean it," she said. And he grinned again.
"Yeah, yeah," he agreed.
Jo approached the passenger side of the car and bent down to give Sam a last kiss through the window.
"You tell me if he doesn't behave, Sam," she said
Now it was Sam's turn to smirk. "I will," he told her. He looked at his brother. Ha!
"You always were a tattle-tale," Dean grumped, turning the key in the ignition.
"Be careful, y'all, you hear me?"
She was serious now, fixing them both with steady eyes.
"Yes, ma'am," they said.
"We will," they promised.
"We love you," she said, stepping back. "Don't forget that."
They smiled, peering out at her through the window.
"We love you, too," Sam said for them both. "We'll call."
And with a last wave, Dean turned the car, and drove away.
Frail BettySoo, Let Me Love You
You want me to be brave, but I don't know how to summon that kind of courage To do what you say is good for me will take more than I know I can do And I don't know why you ask so much of me Of anyone in my life, you know how I fail But you put this in my hand, a promise I should keep And I don't want to carry something heavy
You should know that it's not just these hands that fail but this heart just gets so weak And I'm tryin' to show that I want to give you more, but I don't think I can do it alone
And I don't understand when you say I don't have to be all that strong to make it Cuz the things you ask of me are hard and costly and seem to take more than I have to give
And you should know that it's not just these hands that fail but my heart just gets so weak And I'm tryin' to show that I want to give you more, but I don't think I can do it alone
And you are here, holding my hand And you say, my dear, you do not understand I never meant for you to do this on your own You say, my dear, I'll take you there, and I will bring you home