There was a loud crash followed by some of the most colorful swearing John Winchester had ever heard. Figures, his son always did have a mouth that could put a sailor to shame. "Is there nothing in this goddamned house that isn't falling apart?" The frustrated growl came from somewhere downstairs. "Um, yeah… the coffee maker!" Sam's voice called out happily. "Ha ha smart ass." Dean called back to his brother caustically.
John caught the eye of the petite blonde across the room and hung his head, shaking it lightly. She of course took matters into her own hands. Strutting over to the door she poked her head out and yelled right back at them. "You boys have such a big problem with my little house, you can sleep in your damn car tonight! Am I clear?" She was as bad as they were sometimes. Still, it warmed his heart to hear Sammy laugh so often like that now… and to see Dean's smile actually reach his eyes for a change. It had been a long time since his broken little family had felt so good.
Dean and Annie…now that was something. He'd always fostered the hope that one day, after they finally destroyed the demon, Dean and Sam would get the chance to have what he and Mary once did: a home, a family, love...He'd never dreamed that it would come before the fight was over. Annie, who would have thought that such a small package could be so tough?
"I'll take the car Annie, at least I know my rearview mirror won't fall on me while I sleep…unlike the ceiling fan that almost killed me this morning!" "Might I remind you whose idea it was to have a ceiling fan above the bed in the first place?" She was out in the hall now, waving around the paintbrush she held as she called back to him. "'Honey', he says to me, 'honey, it gets too stuffy in here at night… you know what we need? A ceiling fan!' I'd like to remind you that I was perfectly fine without." "Yeah, well I never expected the damn thing to try and murder me in my sleep. I swear Annie…" Dean's voice was coming closer as he climbed the stairs from the kitchen so they could argue face to face. "this place is trying to kill me…first the lawnmower, then the showerhead, the garage door, the ceiling fan this morning and that chair in the kitchen just now…I'm starting to think I should pull out the EMF reader and the rock salt. There's got to be some kind of spirit in here or something." John smiled to himself and loaded the roller he'd been using with more paint. "Oh, so they attacked you did they? Hmm, well as I recall, someone took it upon himself to 'fix' pretty much all of those things." She reminded him, hands on her hips.
He couldn't see his eldest son from where he stood, but he knew the innocent look that was on his face as he called down to his brother. "Sammy! Have you been trying to fix stuff again? I told you to stop doing that…one of us is going to end up dead at the rate you're going!" "Dean Winchester, I don't know how you expect to pull off that innocent look when I watched you install that ceiling fan myself." She was not letting him get away with it. Dean's voice lowered considerably now that he was right before her. "Really? But I didn't… maybe that shape shifter is back… I really should look into that…" he was teasing her. There's nothing those two liked better than to get a rise out of each other. John heard Annie's quiet giggle, Dean's soft chuckle and knew exactly what they were doing when suddenly they were quiet. Sometimes he thought Missouri was right: things come too easily to that boy.
"Dean, this room's not going to paint itself!" There was another giggle and a frustrated groan. "Yes sir."
Most of the bandages were gone and there were angry red scars where open wounds had been not so long ago. All in all he looked pretty good considering a week ago he'd been hallucinating and fighting them all off, near death from fever and blood loss. The werewolf had done one hell of a job on him, but Dean had been too stubborn to let it win. Thank God for that too, he thought to himself. Since Mary's death he'd hunted just about every kind of evil thing there was out there…he wasn't strong enough to hunt his own son, werewolf or no. It would have killed him. Thank God they'd won that one because without his boys there was just no point to any of it.
'Sunday morning rain is pouring…'
The clock radio on the other side of the room played softly, a background to my surprisingly quiet thoughts. It had been a very long time since I could just lie in bed and enjoy the sound of rain pattering away at the window. Even as I did there was more than a little guilt for it… the demon's still out there… and a lot of other evil stuff that we should be hunting. The warm blonde body curled up next to me made it impossible to feel bad about taking this time for myself… and for her.
'In darkness she is all I see…'
My god I have it bad! Even the yuppy music she listens to at night is starting to sound good.
There's comfort in the scent of the shampoo in her hair as I tuck her body a little closer to mine. She's so soft… and curvy… and flexible… hmmm. It's easy to forgive her that annoying stubborn streak she has… and the way she makes me do stuff I don't want to do… and the way she picks on me with Sam… and the way she doesn't let me get away with anything. Oh so worth it.
Dad's rumbling snore comes to me from down the hall, and the sound of pages turning quietly in the kitchen as Sam reads to feed his self imposed insomnia. Annie sighs softly beside me and suddenly everything is right with the world. Normal, sort of. If only it could stay that way…
'Driving slow on a Sunday morning, and I never want to leave'
Funny, never pictured myself being able to relate to yuppy music…
Truth is though, I really don't want to leave this place. It's a shock to be able to say that in the last week it's become home. My body is healing a lot faster than any of us expected though, and that means I'll be on the road again soon. Hard at work saving people and hunting anything supernatural I can get my hands on.
Not that I've been helping the healing process along any. In the past week I've mowed the lawn twice, painted the entire outside of the house, the fence and the little shed out in the backyard. I've fixed the garage door that wouldn't open or close, the lawnmower twice, installed a new shower head to replace the ancient one that was there before, and put a ceiling fan in Annie's room… I even fixed up that wobbly chair in the kitchen. There's still the inside of the house to paint and fix up. Through it all Dad, Sam and Annie have hounded me to rest. 'Take it easy' they tell me. Finally they gave up and started helping me instead. Can't blame them for worrying though, can I? I mean I have almost died three times in the last few months. Doesn't help that the last time it was from my own rash decision.
Those werewolves… and Jack… let's just say that's a place I never want to go again. At least the nightmares have finally stopped. Hopefully they're gone for good this time. I'm still pretty stiff and sore all over and the scars will be sensitive for a long time to come but the weak feeling is gone so I know I'm okay.
Annie knows it's just a matter of time now. Dad's already getting restless though he's trying hard to hide it. I caught him scanning the local papers this morning… Truth be told I'm getting a little restless myself, no matter how much I don't want to leave this place. Dad and Sam don't want me hunting anything for a while. They're not too crazy on the idea of losing me. I'm afraid they'll go without me. I'll wake up one morning and they'll just be gone. That's probably why I'm lying awake right now instead of fast asleep like Annie is. I won't let them leave without me, no matter how strongly they believe it's the right thing to do. Just like I won't let Annie come with us when we do finally go, because I don't want to lose her either.
It's going to be hard to leave her behind. The empty bed beside me, the stubborn streak, those home cooked meals. Mm, the woman can cook! I mean: steaks, barbecue, pasta… oh! And those amazing home-made cookies… I could cry when I think about leaving that behind for cold motel rooms and diner burgers and fries…
Sam says he's not going anywhere until the bite mark on my arm heals up enough to scab over. It's the only open wound I have left and it's not showing any signs of closing up. I think he'd keep me here forever if he could. Says that it's the only way he'll know for sure I won't try to get myself killed again. I swear he worries too much.
The song on the radio changes to something slow and mournful… oh this is just too much. Chick flick songs… ugh! I can't take it anymore, I've got to get up and shut it off. Too bad I don't know any of the other local stations yet, I'd so change it on her if I did. Not only to save my sanity… but to get her all worked up. I love getting her all riled up… She's explosive. Like playing with a flame.
Halfway across the room now in nothing but my boxers and considering whether it's worth throwing on a shirt and my boots to get my tapes from the car, I hear the first moan coming from the kitchen. I've heard it before… and every time I do I hope I never will again. Is it just a headache this time? Or is he having another vision? I don't know for sure but I'm sure as hell not willing to just stand there and wait to find out.
Taking the stairs two at a time I made it down to the kitchen just in time to see Sam's mug full of coffee fall out of his hands to shatter or the floor as he clutched his head in agony. "Sam!" My god, it's happening again! What the hell am I going to do?
It didn't last long, they never do. He stares into nothing with that terrible horrified look he gets. I always feel so damned helpless, but I do what I can for him as part of me wishes he could be normal like he always wanted just because I know it's what would make him happy. Mostly though I just wish the visions didn't hurt him. It's not like a couple of aspirin can take care of it and there's not a whole hell of a lot I can do at this point but wait it out with him. What little I can, I do. These visions make it real hard for me to protect him like I swore to myself I would.
Pushing him down into the chair behind him I brace my hands on his shoulders, trying to steady him. When he finally comes out of it I want him to have a familiar face to focus on instead of whatever nightmare is inside his head. It's what I used to do when we were kids and I caught him tossing around in his sleep. Back then he'd wake up, see my face, smile knowing he was safe and the nightmare wasn't real and then go back to sleep. I really wish it was the same with the damned visions.
It's not long before he's gripping my arms instead of his head, and he does it as hard as he can. Fingers digging into the sensitive skin or my scars. Then he's struggling to refocus his eyes, grunting with the effort of coming back to the here and now as the vision finally lets go of him. "Sammy? Sam! Come on now kiddo, focus. It's over. I'm right here." The gruffness in my voice could be sleep… it could be, but it's not. It's fear, pure and simple. "Dean? Oh god, Dean!" There's my boy. Big round puppy dog eyes focus themselves directly into mine. I don't like the tears I'm seeing there, or the angst behind them, Still, he's back from whatever nasty head trip he was just on and for that I have to be thankful. "Alright Sam, it's okay. Take it slow. What did you see this time?"
Horror shock and angst. I hadn't seen all three of those in him at once since Jess… "Sam? Hey, talk to me man!" Urgently now. This couldn't be good…
"I saw…" he tried to say it, but the tears started falling. God I hate it when he does that. Breaks my heart every time. "Dean, oh God Dean. I'm so sorry!" It came out a whisper and sent chills down my spine. 'Sorry for what Sam? There's nothing to be sorry about. What did you see?" "I saw… It's Annie. Dean, Annie's going to…" he couldn't finish, didn't even have to say the words. They were written all over his face and I reacted to them the instant I realized what they were. "The hell she is! Where? How? Every last detail Sam, tell me everything you saw. I want it all. We've stopped these things from coming true before, we'll damned well do it again!"
The Winchester name is cursed. There's no other way to explain it. It's the only way it all makes sense.
The vision… ha! More like waking nightmare. God they're always so real. The first thing I saw was the tree. The kind of great big sturdy tree you would normally picture with a tree house and a passel of kids hanging around it. Not this one.
It stood over a crossroads, dark and menacing with the words "the hanging tree" carved into its base. You could feel evil coming off of it in waves. Death literally hung in the air for miles around it.
At first I could only see it in the distance, as if I were walking toward it from far away. As I got closer I noticed something hanging from the branches. A body. I wasn't close enough to see a face.
She was a woman, that much was obvious. She had beautiful blonde sun-kissed hair that fell just past her shoulder blades. Her lithe, curvy body was covered in a long flowing white gown that held an unearthly glow in the moonlight. At first I thought it was a trick of the light that her skin seemed blue. It wasn't long before I realized it wasn't. The closer I got the bluer she was until finally I was beneath her… close enough to reach out and touch her foot had I wanted to…
Dean was kneeling in the dirt below her, howling out his grief in loud, desperate, angry sobs. Screaming into the empty night that he would kill them… kill them all for what they had done to her. The only time I've ever seen Dean like this… we were looking for Dad when the demon got him… trying to find out if he was still alive.
Her entire body had turned blue from head to toe. Her hair looked silver in the moonlight. Scared eyes were frozen wide open, mouth slack and a noose around her neck that went up into the highest branches of the tree. The rest of her body hung limply below her swaying back and forth in the breeze. Annie Morgan was nothing but graceful, even in death.
When I came to I thought I was six again. Dean was in my face, making sure his was the first I saw when I snapped out of it. I used to find it comforting… this time it just brought home the things I had seen. For a moment, a split second in time, while I was looking at him the angry and devastated Dean and the happy, contented Dean were both staring out at me from his concerned eyes. It was really hard to convince myself that the vision hadn't been real… at least not yet.
"Sam? Hey! Talk to me man."
If it hadn't been for the near-panic in his voice I don't think I could have answered him. I sure as hell didn't want to. So I started to say it… and just couldn't get it out. I didn't have to. He already knew.
John was down the stairs in a flash, all the military training of his youth taking over the instant he heard the mug shattering below. Questions raced through his mind, chasing each other mercilessly. Where were the boys? Was Annie with them? Was everyone okay? Were the werewolves back? The demon? He made it to the bottom step and stopped. He couldn't have moved even had he wanted to, frozen by the sight of his boys in the middle of the kitchen.
He'd never seen Sam have a vision before. Neither of the boys had mentioned the pain involved. With a clear view of Dean's back and Sam's face he watched as his eldest son held his little brother through one of the most painful experiences of his life.
Three minutes. That's exactly how long it lasted. It was just enough for that look of horror Sam wore to be burned into John's memory forever. God, and he'd left them alone with this all this time? It got a lot worse before the vision ended. He watched Sam reach out blindly for Dean as if looking for something solid and real to latch on to. He held on so tightly to the scarred tissue of his brothers arms that Deans knees wobbled as if they meant to buckle. John stood completely unnoticed, rooted to the step he stood on his heart bleeding for his sons.
The exchange the boys shared once it was over chilled him to the bone. Annie was in danger… The poor girl had already been through so much… and Dean… for the first time since the day Mary died he seemed to be truly happy. If Annie died, well John didn't even want to consider it a possibility. They deserved more… Better.
The boys didn't notice their father until Annie woke up and called down to Dean groggily from the top of the stairs. "Dean? You're not sneaking around 'fixing' something again are you sweetheart?" The sound of her voice had the same effect as a splash of cold water. Dean spun around to face the sound of her voice. Intense green eyes met and held with John's steady brown ones. Father saw panic and dread in their depths, but burning above all that was a fierce determination. Dean would not let it happen. He would not let Annie die.
Both boys stood tall now in the face of their warrior father. There was a question between them that went unvoiced but was heard all the same. Now that they knew… what could they do to stop it? Knowing the boys needed him to this time, John took charge and spoke first. "Call her down Dean. We'll stop it from happening. We'll beat it together. Meantime there's a lot of work to do and we need to get started." He watched his son swallow convulsively and stand a little straighter. "Annie? You're, uh, going to need to come down here… it's sort of important. Something big's come up." "Oh great… last time you said that you were wearing bits and pieces of the lawnmower. What's broken now?" her teasing was punctuated by a mock exasperated sigh. All three wanted to smile at the assumption that any other day this past week would probably have been bang on but smiling was impossible in the face of what was to come.
'The Hanging Tree' that's all they had to go on… that and the fact that Annie would die hanging from its branches leaving Dean angry, broken and bent on destruction. It wasn't a whole hell of a lot, but they'd worked with much less. It would be enough.
Dean wasn't taking the whole situation very well. Oh, he was covering it well enough with the cool as ice, smart ass attitude that had been his front since childhood. Sam and John knew him well enough to know what he was hiding. He'd never really been good at dealing with fear. Now he reverted to old habits picked up after Mary's death.
For months after the fire Dean had flat out refused to let Sammy out of his sight unless his dad was there to watch over him. Even then the four year old had preferred to keep his own eyes firmly fixed on his little brother. That over-protectiveness made itself known right after Sam's vision and hadn't taken a rest since. He wouldn't let Annie out of his sight, and when he didn't have a choice he found reasons to be nearby. Close enough to hear her if something happened.
Annie's a tough one. She didn't even flinch when Sam told them all what he had seen.
After all, she had Dean and the Winchester family on her side. The odds were with her for this one. She would be well protected, and if she had any say in it well armed as well. It would take more than a haunted old tree to take her away from Dean. Her feelings were as fierce as his… she'd seen flashes of the guilt and pain he carried with him. There was no way she'd leave him to deal with it alone. Someone had to watch out for him while he played the protector and hero to everyone.
Sam and John had the books out of the car again. They were burning up the search engines on Sam's laptop and making calls to just about every contact they had. Dean couldn't sit still long enough to open a book, though he hid it well. He was salting the windows and doors and carving symbols of protection strategically throughout the house. Annie made a fresh pot of coffee and some breakfast, then set to work prepping the house. If they were going to hit the road she'd need to close up the house. There was no telling when they would be back.