Disclaimer/Spoilers/All That Jazz: See Chapter 1.
a/n: Shaman: A guide, a healer, a source of social connection, a maintainer of the group's myths and concept of the world. It is the person, man or woman, who experiences, absorbs, and communicates a special form of healing power. (The Cambridge Encyclopedia, 1990).
Kelly – thanks for sticking with me.
We have met the enemy, and he is us. -- Walt Kelly
Ramble On – Part 8
Abe watched as Dean jerked back slightly and Sam's fingers tightened on his brother's arm. He knew his words would have an impact on them, but he also suspected that on some level they'd known. If not that the wendigo had been the shaman's brother, at least that he had not completely been the beast.
Dean dragged in a breath and Abe's eyes flicked up to the TV screen where the lines of his life were measured. A couple bounced shakily then smoothed out. Sam kept his eyes on Abe, but Abe could see his awareness of his brother. It was in his posture, the lines of his face, the grip of his fingers.
"What the hell are you talking about, man?" he said, his voice a perfect imitation of Dean's stubborn demand for the truth just moments ago.
"I'll let Running Horse explain," Abe said. He saw Dean's eyebrow flicker up, and he continued. "I'll translate."
Dean simply blinked at him, his eyes weary, his face pale. He lay at the awkward angle Doc had positioned him in to ease the pressure on his wounded back, his left arm laying limp across his body. He had fisted the sheets in his right hand, and held that arm very still so that Sam's hand didn't slide away.
Sam shifted slightly in the wheelchair, reaching down to rub the top part of his right leg – the only place he could reach. "Well, go on then."
Running Horse heard his cue and began speaking in a low, rhythmic voice. Abe had always found his cadence to be relaxing, almost hypnotic. But he knew that the brothers would have to hear the truth, so he raised the tone of his voice to the near-barking, authoritative tone he'd witnessed Dean react to. If Dean responded, he knew Sam would follow suit.
"Many years ago… I am an old man, I do not know the year… I fell and broke my neck. My brother was a grown man then, and learning the ways of the tribal shaman. It was the summer when many of the young men of our tribe left to fight in the Great War. The first of many… My brother did not leave. He was old enough to marry, to start a family, but he had me to care for. Our mother had died when I was very young. Our father had left the tribe long before that summer…"
Abe paused and left Running Horse take a drink of water. He kept his eyes on the brothers. Dean's head had sunk back into the pillow and if possible, he'd grown paler. Sam's jaw was hard, the muscle on the sides jumping as his dark eyes stayed pinned to Running Horse, looking both fearful and curious to hear his next words.
"I knew I was going to die. I felt my body grow cold. I felt myself falling and flying at the same time. I looked to see the Spirit Horse come to me. I looked for my mother. But then I saw my brother's face, and the look in his eyes… he was going to save me, he said. He knew how to save me. He began speaking words… I had never heard these words before… he touched the break, and the pain grew…"
Running Horse paused when they heard the heart monitor jump again. Sam and Abe both looked to Dean, who simply shook his head. Abe could see his chest rising and falling in an increasing rhythm.
"Dean?" Sam asked, an entire conversation of care spoken through one word.
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean asked, but Abe heard the weakness in his voice.
"We can come back –" he started.
"No," Dean interrupted, trying to control his breathing. "No, we gotta know."
"The pain grew until I could no longer see, no longer hear… but I could feel my brother. I could feel his hands. Then, as if it had never been there, the pain was gone. I could move my body. I could breath. My brother was beyond happy. He was determined to learn all the tribal shaman could teach him. Past healing. Past spirit-walking. Past enlightenment. He said he wanted to find a way to keep us safe… so that we would never die… but everything dies. It is the balance of the universe. He could not accept this balance."
"His hunger for knowledge increased and I grew afraid of him. This took many years… but when I was old enough to marry, I could not bear to be near my brother… though I loved him more than my life. One night, fearing for him because of the voices speaking in my dreams, I followed him to the cave. I witnessed there a horror that changed my heart…"
Abe heard Sam make a small sound in the back of his throat. He looked at him. Sam's eyes were on Running Horse. They were dark pools of worry and weariness. Dean didn't look at his brother, but he fisted his right hand tighter, so that the muscles bunched under his brother's hand.
"Easy, Sam," Dean said in a low, calming voice.
"It's not the same," he whispered again. Sam turned his head slightly so that he could see Dean out of the corners of his eyes. "It's not the same as us," Dean repeated, his voice still soft, but the edge to it said believe me.
"My brother had learned of an ancient power, one that shaman do not speak of, one that was discovered in darkness and led to darkness. By eating the flesh of one with power, he would absorb that power and with it, immortality. I now know he believed he could save us, save me, from any harm. He had killed the tribal shaman and as I watched, he consumed him. The blood ran from his mouth, down his chest, his eyes were no longer the eyes of my brother, the sounds coming from the cave were wild, animal-like, and terrifying."
"I returned during the day, having studied the shaman's magic enough to try to understand my brother. I marked the cave wall with stain made of blood, herbs, and tree sap. I marked it in the form of a pentagram to keep the evil away from the tribe. I used the earth as the barrier. And I kept him in there. Alive, but not living. Increasing his hate. Increasing his blood lust. Killing his soul. Saving my people."
"The protection charm was broken," Sam said, his voice rough. "When we found it, a piece was missing."
Abe nodded. "When you said that there had been two creatures, I went to Running Horse. He didn't know of a second. Near as we can figure, it was the second wendigo that freed his brother."
"Why didn't you kill him," Dean asked, his voice sandpaper-rough, his eyes on Running Horse.
Abe started to translate, but stopped when he realized that Running Horse had been waiting for this question. The old man seemed to sag slightly in the chair, his face downcast. He said something in a voice that reminded Abe just how old this man was. It sounded like empty tree branches rubbing together in the wind.
"Because he was my brother."
"No he wasn't," Dean argued, his breaths coming in quick pants. The beep of the monitor increased, and Sam turned to him. "Not anymore. He was evil. And you knew it. And you allowed… you…"
"Dean? Hey," Sam said, his grip tightening visibly on Dean's arm.
Dean's face matched the pillow he lay against, the only color coming from his dark-blonde hair and the sooty lashes that brushed his cheeks as his eyes fluttered closed once. He forced them open, the flash of green Abe saw almost lit from within.
"Hey, Doc," Abe called.
Dean kept his eyes on Running Horse, his voice weak but accusatory. "You let evil live. And people died."
"He was my brother."
Abe heard a noise from Dean then. An almost keening growl. He looked at the boy's face. Dean's eyes were closed, his lips pressed together as though holding back a silent scream. Abe saw the muscle in his jaw jump and once again his heart went out to him. Stepping away from Running Horse he moved towards Dean's bed. Thinking to help ease him into a more comfortable position, he carefully grasp Dean's left arm and tried to move it back on the pillow. He mirrored Sam's jerk of surprise when Dean cried out.
"Dean?!" Sam said, leaning forward, hampered by his leg and the chair.
Dean's head was pressed back into the pillow and he was breathing through clenched teeth. Abe let go of his arm and stepped back as Doc appeared in the room, moving up next to the side of Dean's bed where Abe stood. He checked the read-out on the monitor, then as though he didn't believe it, he put his stethoscope in his ears, listening to Dean's heart.
"Dean," Doc called, pulling open his right eye and shining a light in it. Abe could see his pupil react from the angle where he stood at the edge of the bed. Dean didn't respond. From what Abe could see, he seemed to be concentrating on breathing, as though that simple, natural action had become a monumental effort.
"What's wrong with him?" Sam asked, his voice trembling. Abe heard the youth in that voice. The little brother. The need to be reassured that he wasn't going to lose his hero.
Doc shook his head. "This is what I was trying to tell you boys earlier," he said, tilting the bed slightly lower and adjusting the pillow at Dean's back so that he could look at the dressing there. "The infection that set in to his arm isn't abating with the antibiotics. And now," he said, peering under the bandages at Dean's back, "it looks like his back—"
"Right here, people," Dean ground out.
"Dean," Sam leaned as close as his wheelchair would allow. "What's wrong? What hurts?"
"God, Sam," Dean groaned. "Arm… just… cut it off or something."
Sam lifted his eyes to Doc's. "Isn't there anything else you can try?"
Doc's generous mouth was pressed into a thin line. He was staring at Dean's profile with narrowed eyes. Then, like a light bulb had literally gone off in his head, he turned and left the room.
"He's got an idea, Dean, okay? Just… just hang on," Sam said, leaning close again.
"Don't let go'ame, Sam," Dean whispered.
"Don't let go… I'll fall if you let go," Dean's voice was so low Abe could barely hear him.
But as Abe made out the words, his worry increased. Just listening to their conversation earlier, he knew that Dean would never have admitted to such a thing if he'd been completely coherent. His need for Sam he saw as a weakness. That much Abe had seen when, upon realizing that his Dad hadn't come for them, the first thing Dean did was berate himself for putting Sam's life in danger.
"I'm right here, Dean," Sam whispered, reaching over with his other hand to cover Dean's fist.
Doc blurred back into the room, moving with more speed and grace than Abe gave the big man credit for. When a life was in the balance, Doc was a man on a mission. He carefully moved behind Sam's chair, hooking a different IV bag up to the pole next to Dean's bed. Without moving Sam's hands away from his brother, he exchanged the line that fed into the catheter on Dean's arm. Next he filled a syringe with a clear liquid and hovered over the port.
"Dean," Doc said. Dean grunted once in response. "I'm going to give you something for the pain. It might make you sleepy, but you need to rest. I'm trying a stronger antibiotic to kick this infection in your arm, okay?"
"Sam?" Dean whispered through frozen lips.
"I'm not going anywhere, man."
"'Kay," Dean said to Doc. Doc pushed the painkiller into the IV, and as they watched, within minutes Dean visibly relaxed.
The hurried beep of the monitor smoothed out and returned to a normal rhythm. Abe watched Dean's fisted fingers relax under Sam's hand. Sam moved that hand away, but kept his fingers wrapped around Dean's right forearm.
"Dean?" he called, checking. His brother didn't respond. His face was still lined with pain, but his breathing had evened out. Abe watched as Doc lifted his eyelid, checking. He pulled back, his shoulders dropping slightly.
"He's out, Sam."
Sam looked up. "Might make him sleepy?" he asked.
"Well, if I told him that I was going to knock him out, what do you think he'd do?"
Sam looked back at Dean. "Tell you to go to hell."
"Exactly," Doc sighed. "It was a good sign that he woke up on his own, but…"
"What?" Abe asked.
"I can't get that infection under control. It's almost like… like it comes in waves. Which is not how the body works," Doc shook his head.
Running Horse spoke up. Doc lifted his head, then shook it once, denying the old man's words.
"What?" Sam asked. "What did he say?"
Abe sighed tiredly. "He said that it isn't infection. It's poison."
"My ass," Doc growled. "This boy hasn't been poisoned, he was injured. His cuts are infected."
Abe pushed his hands into his back jeans pockets. "Doc, listen," he began, his voice a slow, measured beat of reason. "You said it yourself – the infection came from the bacteria on the creature's claws. What if Running Horse has a point? What if that… bacteria is poisoning him?"
Doc lifted his eyes to Sam, studying him, questions in his eyes. Abe watched Sam stare back. It was almost as if he were witnessing a battle of wills. And he was amazed when Doc was the one to look away.
"It never touched me, Doc," Sam said. "I'm not infected because it never touched me."
"And why is that," Doc said, his eyes now on Dean's face. "You were practically helpless out there. It should have torn you to shreds."
"Well, I shot the first one... after it threw Dean into the wall. And with the second, well, Dean wouldn't let it," Sam shrugged. "Plus," he looked over at Running Horse. "He copied the protection charm on the canvas."
Doc looked up at Abe. "Yeah," he said thoughtfully. "Saw that."
Abe lifted a shoulder. "The shaman magic protected his brother. Why couldn't it heal him?"
Doc studied Abe longer and Abe felt like he was disappearing under the intense gaze. He thought for a moment that they had him convinced, but then his eyes clouded once more and he shook his head.
"These antibiotics will work," he said, decisively. "I'm sure of it."
"I can't afford for you to be wrong," Sam said, his eyes hard.
"Sam, you need to rest," Doc said, completely ignoring Sam's trembling confession. "Let me get Josh to help you back to bed."
"Kid, I will not have two lives on my conscience," he growled and stormed out of the room.
Abe felt himself grow cold at those words, and looked at Sam. Sam's face was pale under his mop of shaggy brown hair, his jaw trembling as he looked after Doc's retreating form. After a moment he looked over at Running Horse.
As if feeling his gaze, Running Horse murmured, "Seyenz." He lifted a shoulder in apology.
Sam pressed his lips together, then nodded. "I know. I couldn't have done it either," he whispered.
When Josh came in to help Sam into the bed, Abe called for Mark.
"Mark, you and Brian help Running Horse get back to his house," he ordered.
"Where are you going?" Mark asked.
"I'm staying here with them," Abe jerked his head over his shoulder at the brothers. "But, uh, Mark?"
"Stay close, huh? I don't think this is over," Abe sighed, resting a heavy hand on Running Horse's shoulder.
As the late afternoon sun waned in its travel through the windows of Dean's room, Sam lay sideways in his bed, his eyes on his brother, his right leg propped on pillows. Abe sat in the chair Running Horse had vacated, watching Sam watching Dean.
"I think he learns by teaching," Sam suddenly said. Abe jumped slightly at the unexpected sound of his voice.
"Well, our Dad, he, uh, he kept this… journal. A way of keeping track of everything he hunted," Sam said, his eyes flicking from Dean to Abe, then back again.
"Things like… like demons and werewolves?" Abe asked, hesitantly, afraid for the answer.
"Among other things," Sam nodded. "Dean tell you that?"
"Not exactly," Abe shifted. "I mean, he told your Dad that he'd been hurt worse when I wanted to leave one of you behind… he insisted that he walk."
Sam nodded, still looking at Dean.
"He, uh, he mentioned a werewolf," Abe said.
Sam snorted, "Which one?"
Abe swallowed hard, a chill shivering down his spine. There had been more than one? "I can't believe how you two have grown up," he whispered.
"It's a long story," Sam said, "but you found out about the wendigo all on your own, so you know I'm not making it up."
Sam pulled his bottom lip in. "I've never known anything else. Dean, he uh, he had normal until he was four," he shifted and looked up at the ceiling, his face dark, his eyes haunted. "I'm not sure which way is worse."
"What happened when he was four?"
"A demon killed our mom," Sam said, his voice crackling over the words like wrinkled paper.
Abe felt the cold chill again. Watching Sam's face he realized he was losing him to memories. "So this journal?" he asked, pulling him back.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, still looking at the ceiling. "Dad has everything in that. History, ways of killing, protection, exorcisms, the works." He shifted his eyes back over to Dean. "Dean knew we'd have to learn it. So instead of helping me with ABC's, he had me copy stuff out of Dad's journal. It's how he taught me to write."
Abe looked from Sam over to the still body in the other bed. That night in the woods he'd felt from Dean such devotion to his brother, such respect for his father. The more he learned about him, the more confusing he became. It seemed he was such a cornerstone in this family. And yet… and yet it was as though he were invisible at the same time. He was gravity. Needed, depended upon, and unseen.
"Pretty smart," Abe said, thinking about the boys' writing lessons.
"Well, yeah, until I got into kindergarten," Sam said with a grin. "Dad had some serious explaining to do."
Abe chuckled. "I'll bet."
Doc ducked in and checked on Dean, his face impassible. He didn't look at Abe, but went over to Sam. He listened to his heart, his lungs, took his pulse, checked his temperature.
"You're doing better, Sam," Doc said. "But I still don't like your color. You need to rest."
"I'll stay, Sam," Abe offered as Sam opened his mouth in protest. Doc did look at him, then, as if surprised by his dedication. "I'll keep an eye on him. I won't let you sleep through something important."
Sam lifted one corner of his mouth in surprised gratitude. "Thanks, man."
Abe lifted a shoulder, then looked at Doc, challenging him to deny him this. I pulled them out of the woods, old man. Just try to kick me out.
Doc pressed his lips together in a line of defeat. "Fine. Call me if something changes," he said, looking over his shoulder at Dean. "I'll be right outside."
"You got it," Abe nodded.
Darkness settled over the little room as the sun rolled slowly under the earth. Sam fell into a restful sleep minutes after Doc left the room, proving to Abe how tenuous his own recovery was. He had as much determination to keep his brother with him as Dean had displayed in the woods. Abe adjusted himself in the chair, rolling his tired neck. The sounds of the monitor, the heating ducts, the boys' breathing began to lull him into a sleeping awareness.
The nightmare began for both almost at the same time. Abe blinked awake, unsure how long he'd been asleep. The first thing he heard was a quickening of the heart monitor. Then he heard Sam thrash once in his bed. Next a low cry from Dean. He stood, between the beds, unsure what was happening, who to go to.
Sam solved that problem. He sat up abruptly, sweat causing his hair to stick in clumps to his face, his lungs fighting for air.
"What, what is it?!" Abe stepped over to him, grasping his shoulders.
"He's… he's caught…" Sam said, pushing Abe away and trying to shove his covers down off of his leg.
"He's what?" Abe looked over at the form on the bed. The monitor had picked up a double-time rhythm and Dean's face was fisted in pain. He pressed his head back into the pillow and his legs twitched as though he were struggling… or… running.
"Sam, whoa, hey, what are you –" Abe tried to stop Sam from swinging his leg over the bed. Sam pushed Abe away again and reached for the arm of the wheelchair.
"He's caught. I saw him… his dream," Sam was panting from the effects of his dream and trying to get his body from the bed to the chair. He jarred his leg and winced.
"Don't ask me stupid questions, just help me or get out of my way," Sam barked.
Abe really had no choice. Sam was getting into that chair. Abe helped to balance him, and lifted the leg rest for his right leg. He pushed him the few feet over to Dean's bed, and then turned to call for Doc as Sam grasped Dean's arm.
"Hey, hey," Sam whispered, his fingers wrapping around the tight muscles on Dean's arm, his brother's fist bunched into the sheets. "I'm here, Dean…"
Doc was standing in the doorway when Abe turned.
"How longs he been like this?"
"Just a few minutes, I think."
"What do you mean you think," Doc barked as he moved over to Dean's quaking body.
"I fell asleep," Abe said, apologetically.
"You fell asleep?" Doc looked up at him.
"What do you want from me?" Abe yelled back.
"Hey!" Sam said, pulling their eyes to him. "Do we have to do this now?!"
Doc shook himself and started checking Dean.
"What's the matter with him, Doc?" Sam asked.
"I think he's… having some sort of a… seizure," Doc answered hesitantly. "But it's not presenting as…"
"He's dreaming," Sam said.
"How do you know?"
"I saw it," he repeated. "And no I don't know how, I just did. He's trapped in the cave... as the wendigo – the second one… the one that talked."
"What do you mean as --" Abe started.
"He's dreaming that he's the creature!" Sam snapped, his eyes flashing from Dean to Abe, then back again.
Dean's head jerked back and forth and he tried to move his left arm, but the real pain stopped the dream motion. Abe watched as Sam scrunched his face in sympathetic pain, keeping one hand on Dean's arm and putting the other one on top of his brother's head, his thumb carefully smoothing the lines of pain across Dean's forehead.
"Doc," Abe said. "You have to let Running Horse try."
Sam ignored him, but Doc lifted his head. "It's not going to work, Abe."
"Nothing else has either," Abe shot back.
Doc sighed, looked down at the brothers, then nodded. "Fine."
Mark appeared instantly in the doorway. "He never left, Abe," he said.
"Running Horse. He never left."
"Well, get him in here, then!"
Mark left the doorway and returned in minutes with Running Horse at his side. The old shaman moved quickly despite his stooped carriage and sightless eyes. Mark and Abe maneuvered him in front of Doc, on Dean's left side. Running Horse looked at Sam.
"Onik," he said. He continued, his brows pulled together, his expression fierce. Sam shot his eyes up to Abe.
"Don't let go of his arm, Sam," Abe said in a low, commanding tone. "You hang onto him no matter what, okay?"
Sam clenched his jaw and nodded, his fingers gripping Dean's muscle-corded arm tighter.
Running Horse lay a hand on Dean's bandaged arm. Abe's gut clenched at the wounded sound that came from Dean's throat at that touch. Doc started to go forward, his instinct as always to stop pain, but he hesitated. Running Horse's voice began as a low chant, almost a song. Abe opened his mouth to translate but realized he couldn't. He couldn't speak. He could barely breathe. The energy in the room was similar to what he'd felt from Sam in the woods. He was held fast, a motionless witness to the coming moments.
Sam began to tremble with Running Horse's words. He kept his eyes on Dean's face, his hand on his brother's arm, but he was not unaffected by the energy. He was fighting it, pushing it back to Running Horse, pushing it into Dean. Running Horse's words increased in volume, then hit a cadence that would have made Abe jump if he could move.
Dean gasped, a rattling wet sound. He was sweating, rivulets of moisture running down the sides of his face. His jaw clenched and his head pressed back into the pillow. As Running Horse increased his chant his back arched up from the bed, the muscles in his stomach bunched, his right fist pressed into the bed, his left arm trembling violently. Just as Abe thought Dean would actually snap from the visible tension in his body, he opened his mouth and let out a cry.
The sound made Sam gasp. Abe saw him wince as though contact with his brother was painful, as though whatever Running Horse was doing to Dean was traveling through his wounded body and into Sam. Don't let go… I'll fall if you let go… Abe heard those words again with new meaning. Hang on, kid, he silently conveyed to Sam. Sam groaned low in the back of his throat and clenched his eyes against a pain Abe wasn't able to imagine.
Dean's cry came again and suddenly Sam's own echoed his brother's. Sam's head was bowed, his fingers white in their refusal to be pushed away.
"Sam," Dean's voice was a low punch of pain. Abe's eyes flew to Dean in astonishment. His head was still pressed deep into the pillow, his back only slightly relaxed, his eyes shut tight, but his head turned toward where he'd last heard his brother's voice. "Sammy…"
"I won't let you fall, Dean," Sam ground out, unable to raise his head, but not loosening his grip in the slightest.
"Sa—ahhhh!" Dean's plea was cut off as his back arched once more and Abe watched in amazement as his white bandages on Dean's arm were suddenly soaked in a reddish-green liquid. He saw the same liquid spreading slowly over the bed underneath Dean, soaking through the sheets. Dean tried to stifle his pained cry, but as the poison was pulled from his body, Running Horse's words sped up, his tone growing harsher, more staccato, his grip becoming fiercer.
Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, it was suddenly over. Dean collapsed against the bed, eyes closed, breathing quick and uneven, heart rate erratic, but present. Running Horse seemed to shrink slightly and Abe found that he could once again move. He reached out automatically to grasp the old man's shoulders.
Sam's head fell onto the bed next to Dean's arm. "Dean?" he said, his voice low against the mattress. "Dean?" he called again. He was panting and trembling, but he didn't let go of his brother.
"He's out, Sam," Abe said.
"Josh!" Doc called. "Get the hell in here!"
Abe moved Running Horse away from the bed on shaky legs. "Did it work?" he asked the old shaman.
Running Horse looked exhausted, but the smile on his wrinkled face was Abe's answer. Abe sat him down in the chair, then turned toward the boys. Josh was trying to ease Sam away from Dean's bed, the concern for his young patient evident on his face. Sam shook his head silently, unwilling or unable to let go of Dean's arm. Josh's words were not getting through.
"Sam, I need to check you out, kiddo. You are awfully pale. Just let go, Sam. Let him go. Sam, you need to let go of him –"
Abe stepped up to Sam. "He's okay, now, Sam. You did good."
Sam lifted his weary eyes to Abe. "Did it work?" his voice trembled, and unshed tears lingered in his eyes.
"Yeah, Sam," Abe nodded. "It worked." He looked over at Dean. He was a mess, but he was breathing. "He won't fall," he whispered.
At that Sam uncurled his fingers from his brother's arm. Josh shot Abe a look of gratitude, then moved Sam over to the other bed. Abe turned to help Doc.
"What's all that green stuff?" he asked.
"The infection. Or mystical wendigo disease. Or whatever the hell you two wackos said it was," Doc grumbled, cutting the bandages from Dean's arm.
"Well," Abe couldn't suppress a grin. "Guess even wackos are right once in awhile."
Doc shot him a nasty look, but Abe just grinned back at him, jubilant in his victory. Doc's resistance to the old ways of healing in their tribe had always been a point of contention between the men. Abe respected his methods – had seen him work miracles with medicines – but he was gratified to have been right about this. About the creature that had killed their people, and now, about how to save the boys that had killed the creature.
"Help me here," Doc said. He'd removed the bandages from Dean's arm, and rolled Dean to his right side. As he'd done before when they brought him to the clinic, Abe held Dean against him, Dean's forehead resting on his arm. Not normally one for emotion, Abe was surprised when his throat constricted as Dean sighed. It was almost a whisper of thanks through the boy's unconscious lips.
"Man, he's a mess," Doc grumbled. "Mark!"
Mark again appeared in the doorway. Abe wondered if he simply stood just out of sight waiting to be summoned.
"Get some clean sheets in here," Doc ordered.
As Abe held Dean, he watched Doc clean off the liquid that had poured from his body. Mark and Brian came in and between the four of them they changed the bedding and helped Doc replace the stitches in Dean's back and arm that had pulled. The whole process took almost an hour, and Abe hadn't heard a sound behind him. He completely expected Sam to be asleep when he turned around. But the dark eyes caught his the minute Dean was settled.
"I saw his dream," Sam whispered.
"That ever happen before?"
Sam nodded. "Once. Well, kinda. I was in his dream then."
Abe pulled his eyebrows together. "In it?"
Sam sighed. "Long story," he said, rubbing his neck. Josh stood on the other side of his bed, glowering at Abe like a bodyguard.
"What?" Abe asked him.
"He needs rest, Abe," Josh grumbled.
"I'm not the one keeping him up," Abe shot back.
Sam sighed. "Guys, cool it," he said. "He was dreaming about the… the cave… and he was seeing us through the wendigo's eyes..." Sam cleared his throat. "I think he was trying to tell me something."
Running Horse spoke up. Abe always wondered why the old man never learned to speak English when he understood it so well. He figured it was a matter of pride. He listened, shocked, then looked to Sam.
"You're right, Sam," he said, clearing his throat.
Sam shifted his head forward in an obvious 'yeah, and...' motion.
"Running Horse thinks that Dean knew to put that symbol on the travois because… he um, connected to the creature."
"He knew what would keep it away from you. He simply wanted to get you safe, and cared about nothing else."
Sam pulled his eyebrows together, looking over at Dean. Running Horse spoke again.
"One day he will destroy himself to save you… It is the blessing and the curse of brothers."
Sam blinked, looking at Abe. "What the hell am I supposed to do with that?"
Abe shook his head, a pang of sympathy lancing his heart. He opened his mouth to answer Sam when a voice behind him cut him off.
"You listen, and put it away, Sam," Doc said softly. He was looking down at Dean as he spoke. "You can't live your life worried about how Dean will behave because of your actions."
Sam swallowed and lay slowly back against his pillow. He looked up at the ceiling.
"Sam," Doc pressed. "It is his choice to sacrifice for you."
"No offense, Doc, "Sam whispered. "But that's a load of crap."
Abe swallowed, looking between Sam and Doc.
"I appreciate what you're saying," Sam continued. "But you don't know what our lives have been like." He shifted his head over toward Dean's bed, his tired eyes resting on Doc. "My brother's been out of choices since he was four years old."
Chicago, IL 2006
"All right, come on. We don't have much time. As soon as the flare's out, they'll be back," Sam panted.
Dean's voice was tight with pain and breathless from half-carrying their father out of the apartment building. "Wait, wait. Sam, wait," he pushed John up, away from him, making him balance on his own. "Dad, you can't come with us."
"What?" Sam was incredulous. They had just found him again! "What are you talkin' about?"
John blinked the blood out of his eyes, looking from Dean's hunched form, his left arm pressed against his side, to Sam's slashed face. "You boys—you're beat to hell," he said, shaking his head.
Dean swallowed thickly, "We'll be all right." He said it with such certainly. Sam saw sadness flicker in John's eyes.
Sam wasn't ready to give up so easily. He'd just gotten John back, dammit! He wanted him there – he wanted to know he was there! "Dean, we should stick together. We'll go after those demons—"
Dean's voice shook and he tried to straighten, "Sam! Listen to me!" His voice carried the one authority Sam had always been compelled to listen to – over John, over his own voice… "We almost got Dad killed in there. Don't you understand?"
The blood from the cut on Dean's forehead ran down his face and crossed his lips. He blinked heavy eyes at Sam, begging him to understand. "They're not gonna stop, they're gonna try again. They're gonna use us to get to him. I mean, Meg was right. Dad's vulnerable when he's with us. He's—he's stronger without us around." He finished his plea, dropping his eyes and holding his side.
No. "Dad, no." Sam lifted his hand to his father's shoulder, gripping it tightly. He saw Dean's face out of the corner of his eyes. Dean's eyes were sad, his face pulled in a pinch of empathy. "After everything, after all the time we spent lookin' for you—please. I gotta be a part of this fight."
John frowned, the blood on his face throwing the shadows on his features into an odd light. Sam couldn't tell if he saw regret or pride in his father's eyes. "Sammy, this fight is just starting. And we are all gonna have a part to play. For now, you've got to trust me, son. Okay, you've gotta let me go."
Sam swallowed hard. He looked at Dean. Dean was watching John's face, waiting for John to look at him. Waiting… Sam pressed his lips together, fighting back the tears that had been threatening since Dean had stopped them. He looked back at John and gripped his shoulder once more, patting it softly. He dropped his hand, and John stepped between them, walking toward his truck.
Sam looked at his brother. Dean looked back, and the expression in his eyes was a tangle of pain, regret, sorrow, and resolution. Sam pulled his eyebrows together, letting his misery reflect through his eyes, wanting Dean to see how badly this was hurting him.
"Be careful, boys," John ordered, then stepped into his truck without a backward glance.
"Come on," Dean said, bouncing slightly against Sam to get him moving around to his side of the car.
Sam backed away, keeping his eyes on his Dad's shadow inside of the truck. He opened the door of the Impala, stepped in and looked at Dean. The wince of pain as Dean adjusted himself behind the wheel wasn't hidden quickly enough. They raised their eyes as one and watched John's truck pull out of the alley, pull away from them.
Dean started the car without another word. He backed up through the alley, going the opposite way as their father. He rotated the wheel slowly, holding his arm against his left side. Sam reached up as Dean drove down the lonely, darkened back streets of Chicago to carefully rub at the blood drying on the cuts across his cheek. He heard Dean breathing shallowly beside him.
"I can't believe you just let him go," he said. It sounded sullen and petulant, but he was tired, he was hurting, and he wanted John back.
"I didn't have a choice, Sam," Dean said in a tight voice.
"But now he's out there, and it's after him," Sam said after a few minutes of silence. He couldn't let it go. It had felt so good to be in a room with his father again… to be there and not fight… to be there and feel his father's arms around him… to be there.
Dean let out a shaky sigh and Sam looked over at him. His brother looked terrible. The cut on his forehead and next to his eye had stopped bleeding, but he hadn't let go of his side since releasing John. Sam blinked and thought back to the fight in the warehouse… back to how quickly he was able to get to the flares in the bag… back to how someone had run interference for him…
"You okay, Dean?"
"Sam, I had to, okay?" Dean said in a tight voice. "I had to. I wanted him back, man, you know I did. Seeing him again, man, it was like… like a weight had been lifted. But…"
"I'm serious, man. If I thought that there was any other way to keep us together, to keep you guys safe…"
"Dean!" Sam barked. Dean blinked in surprise and looked over at Sam, as though just realizing that his brother was sitting next to him, staring at him.
"Jesus, Sammy," he muttered. "We gotta get you stitched up."
Sam reached up to his face again, wincing slightly as his fingers touched raw flesh. Dean blinked at him, turning his attention slowly back to the highway – almost too slowly. He had to pull the wheel sharply to keep it off the edge of the road.
"Dean, are you okay," Sam whispered again. He was asking about more than just his side, his wounds… and he hoped his brother heard that.
Dean paused, pulled in his bottom lip, and for a moment Sam thought he'd get his answer. "I'm fine, Sam," Dean whispered.
He drove on into the night, resolutely ignoring Sam's stare. Sam was glad he watched so closely, else he might have missed the heavy-lidded blink that nearly sent them into the ditch. When Dean recovered the car, he looked over at Sam with wide eyes. Sam blinked back. Dean slowed the car, pulling it over to the side of the road.
"You wanna drive?" Dean asked quietly.
Sam didn't answer. He stepped out of the car, moved around to the driver's side, opened the door, and with a gentle shove, moved Dean across the bench seat and into the passenger seat. Sam slid behind the wheel, slightly surprised to feel the sticky wetness on the seat. If Dean had known he was bleeding enough to get it on the Impala, he'd have stopped a long time ago.
"Guess this answers your question, dude," Dean said in a weary voice from the passenger seat as Sam pulled back onto the road looking for the nearest motel.
"Dad was glad to see you," Dean mumbled. "I don't think I ever saw the man so happy…"
Sam pressed his emotion back. Dean was right. Their Dad had looked happy. Which was why it had been so hard to let him go.
"I know, Sam," Dean said, his head resting on the window, his eyes closed.
"I know you miss him, man. I wish there was another way…"
Sam was smiling. It was the first thing he saw in the fuzzy light of the room. Sam's smile.
"Dude," he groaned. "It's too early for you to be so happy."
That only made the smile wider. "It's six o'clock."
"In the morning?"
Dean groaned again, taking stock. He shifted on the bed, feeling the pull in his back. He was sore – felt like he'd gone a few rounds with that Native American body builder Sam had talked about. His head pounded. But the intense ache, the to-the-bone pain he'd felt before was gone.
"Sam?" he blinked his eyes open, looking around the room. No one else was there. He was strangely relieved. Sam sat next to his bed in the wheelchair, only this time his leg was encased in a brilliant white cast.
"What day is it?"
Sam lifted an eyebrow, giving him a bemused look. "It's Friday. We've been in the clinic a week, man."
"You've slept through most of it."
"Oh, man. The Impala…" Dean groaned, reaching up with his right hand to rub at his forehead.
Dean saw a strange mark on his right forearm. "Yeah, man. We left it parked on the side of the… Dude. How the hell did I get this?" he rotated his arm, looking at the hand-shaped bruise turning from purple to yellow on his arm just above the wrist.
"I gave it to you," Sam said. Dean's eyes flew to his brother's. Sam looked… proud.
Sam tightened his lips. Dean had seen that look before. Sam was debating on exactly how to tell him something.
"So you wouldn't fall," Sam said softly, hoping Dean would remember on his own. He watched as Dean's eyes bounced from one side to the other, remembering, reliving.
"The… the wendigo… it…"
"Poisoned you," Sam supplied.
Dean nodded, looking slightly shell-shocked. He lifted his eyes to Sam, his unguarded expression sucking the breath from Sam's lungs. Damn, Dean, he thought. The walls were so much a part of his brother – the careful looks, the sarcastic answers, the way he talked around a subject when it got anywhere in the vicinity of his feelings. Sam was used to that. He was used to being on the other side. Dean letting him in – even if just for a moment, just through a look – rocked him.
"You're okay, Dean."
"What about you?" Dean blinked, shaking away the memory of the wendigo, the pain, the agony as the shaman pulled the poison from his body.
Sam smiled again. "I got a cast."
"I see. I'm itching to sign it," Dean's face pulled up into a half-grin.
"Dude, do not say itch," Sam groaned good-naturedly.
"Boys," said a voice from the doorway. The voice, the tone -- it so matched John's that Sam saw Dean freeze. He tried to close off the instant flash of hope, but Sam saw it anyway. He shook his head once and leaned back so that Dean could see the doorway and Abe leaning against the frame.
"Hey," greeted Sam.
"I see you're awake," Abe said to Dean. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," Dean answered honestly.
Abe stepped into the room and closer to them. Dean shifted, trying to sit up straighter in the bed. Sam watched with amazement. Dean was so closed off to strangers – he manipulated them, worked the situation so that they gave him what he needed. But with Abe… he acted like he was being… judged, inspected, measured. He… acted like he did when Dad was around.
"So, I, uh," Dean began, clearing his throat. "I owe you, man. We owe you," he said, tilting his head to Sam.
Abe waved a hand in the air. "Not necessary."
"Sure as hell is," Dean protested. "If you hadn't come along… we wouldn't have made it."
Sam felt himself grow cold at Dean's words. That had been his nightmare through the last week. They had come so close this time… and to hear Dean say it aloud made it real, made their debt to Abe real. He nodded his agreement at Abe.
"Listen," Abe said, clearing his throat. He looked down at the floor, and shoved his hands into his back jeans pockets. "You boys, uh, you don't owe me anything." He paused, and they waited, recognizing the struggle for words. "You gave me something."
He paused again, then lifted his eyes back to the brothers. "You helped me believe in something again. You two…" he shook his head, his eyes bright. "You have something special. More than just… siblings. You're partners. You're friends. I could see it walking through the forest even when you," he nodded his head to Sam, "were unconscious and you," he nodded at Dean, "were half dead."
Sam blinked and looked down, then over at Dean. His brother's jaw was tight, but his eyes dry. He listened to Abe's words, but it was almost as though he didn't know where to put them.
"Don't lose that, boys," Abe said, his voice thick with emotion. "I get the feeling your lives aren't gonna get any easier… and from what I've witnessed… the only thing that's gonna get you through it is each other."
They sat in silence. The only sound being the steady cadence of the monitor, the whoosh of air from the heating ducts. Sam broke the silence.
Abe nodded and started to turn away.
"Abe," Dean's voice caught him. Sam and Abe looked at him, expectantly.
"Think you could do one more thing for us?"
Abe lifted a shoulder, waiting.
"Don't know where the keys are, exactly, but uh," Dean licked his lips, pausing, then continued. "I'd really appreciate if you went over to Kingsley Trail and picked up my car."
Sam's eyebrows shot up. He looked at Abe, catching his eye, trying to say without words that this was Big. Feel the weight of this request; it is Dean's way of saying I believe you, I trust you, I thank you.
"Sure, I think I could handle that," Abe grinned. He went to the cabinet where Doc had stored their personal possessions. He lifted out a pair of keys, holding them up to Dean. "These them?"
"St. Christopher's medal, huh?" Abe said, looking at the keys.
Dean nodded again. "Friend gave it to us," he offered.
Abe nodded back, "Must know you pretty well – protection for travelers and all." He gave the boys a grin and left the room.
Sam turned to Dean, waiting. Waiting for his brother to comment on Abe's words, on the fact that they survived, on what had happened to him when Running Horse touched him. Waiting for something… Dean didn't look at him.
"Sam," Dean interrupted whatever his brother was about to say with a raised hand. "I think we may have reached maximum overload on chick-flick moments."
Sam shook his head, unwilling to be deterred. "I'm not gonna forget, Dean."
"Won't forget what?" Dean asked, shifting stiffly on the bed, relieved that he could move his left arm without the excruciating pain of before.
"What you did for me. What you've done for me."
Dean lifted his eyes to Sam's, confused. "What are you talking about, man?"
Sam sighed, looked down, then lifted his eyes again. "I trust you, man. You're my brother. I know you'd…. you'd die for me. But don't lose yourself to save me, okay?" He thought of Josh saying those words to him. He thought of Running Horse predicting Dean's ultimate sacrifice. His stomach twisted and the agony of his thoughts shone through his eyes.
Dean's eyebrows when up. "You okay, man? What are you saying this stuff for?"
Sam just shook his head. "I just wanted you to know…" he couldn't continue. He had tried to tell Dean when they were in the forest, when he thought they were going to die, and he couldn't get the words out then. What made him think he was going to be able to now… now that they were safe, now that Dean was back with him.
Dean watched as Sam struggled to climb over that wall that was always between Dean and the rest of the world. He looked down. "I know, Sammy." He knew. He'd always known how his brother felt about him. He didn't need to hear the words.
"I mean it, man," Sam said softly.
"Me, too," Dean said, then looked up, taking a breath. "But if we have many more conversations like this we're going to have to paint the Impala pink."
Sam grinned, nodding. He lifted a brow, "You're so not signing my cast, dude."
Dean feigned disappointment. "Aww, Sammy. Such a kill-joy. And I have the perfect poem all worked out."
"Poem? Are you friggin' kidding me?"
"There once was a geek-boy named Sam…"
"Shut up, man."
It took another week before Dean could get out of the bed and walk unaccompanied across the room. Abe had brought in their duffels and clothes. Dean's first attempt to pull a T-shirt over his head ended with him unconscious. The second with him sweating and shaking. When he was able to dress himself without keeling over, Doc allowed Abe to take them to Running Horse. Their visit was brief, but as Sam leaned heavily on the crutches, he watched with interest as Running Horse's milky eyes never wavered from Dean's. As they left, he reached out for Dean with his withered hand. He reached out for Sam with his other hand, pulling the brother's close.
He stood between them, looking at Dean, holding on to both. "Nij," he said. "Seyenz."
The boys looked blankly at Abe. He shrugged. "Two brothers," he said.
Dean looked at Running Horse. "What does that mean?"
"Seyenz," Running Horse repeated. Dean looked at Sam, shrugged, then gently patted Running Horses' hand before they left. Abe walked out with them. They walked back to the clinic in silence. Abe stopped at the bottom of the clinic's ramp.
"You know, he lost his brother long before the wendigo took over," Abe said. "He lost his brother the minute his life was saved."
Dean looked over at Sam, then back at Abe, nodding. He walked slowly behind Sam up the ramp. When they reached the top, he said to Sam in a low voice. "It's time to go, man."
Sam didn't think Dean was healed enough. He still tired easily, favored his left arm, and couldn't rest on his back without breaking out into a sweat. But the look in Dean's eyes left no room for argument.
"Can you make it?" Dean asked.
"Yeah," Sam answered. "I just have to get this off in a couple weeks." He gestured to his cast with a crutch.
Dean nodded, opening the door to the room they'd inhabited during their recovery. "I, uh, I just need to…"
"Get back on the road," Sam said with a nod.
Dean lifted grateful eyes to his brother. "Yeah."
The next day, they had their weapons and duffels in the car. Sam grumbled good-naturedly about being relegated to the back seat.
"Dude, there's no way you can sit in front," Dean said, impatiently. "You can't bend 'cause of your cast and if we move the seat back far enough for that, I can't reach the peddles."
"Not my fault you're little."
"Oh, you did not just go there," Dean glared at him.
Abe stood next to Doc and Josh, watching as the brothers situated themselves, listening to their banter.
"Hey," Abe called as Dean tossed Sam's second crutch toward his brother. Dean looked back at him over his shoulder; Sam ducked his head so that he could look out of the opened car door.
"Two brothers," Abe said, repeating Running Horse's words.
"Yeah?" Dean said.
"Two destinies," he finished. "It doesn't have to end the same."
Dean looked back in at Sam, who met his eyes solemnly. He saw his questions mirrored in his brother's eyes. Doesn't have to end the same as what? As Running Horse and the wendigo? As each other? They had always known they were different; their 'normal' was not societies 'normal'. But destiny?
Sam lifted a shoulder, his eyes softening, not pretending to have the answers. "Guess we'll figure that out as we go, huh?" he whispered so that only Dean could hear. Dean dropped his eyes, pulled in his bottom lip, then nodded.
"You okay in there, Sam?" Dean asked one last time before shutting the back door.
"Let's go," Sam nodded.
Dean turned to the trio and lifted a hand. The gesture, accompanied by the half grin, spoke more words than Abe knew Dean would ever be able to express. The door creaked noisily as he opened it and got in. He turned on the radio, Zeppelin blaring from the speakers.
"Got no time for spreadin' roots, the time has come to be gone. And tho' our health we drank a thousand times, it's time to Ramble On…"
Pulling away from the reservation, Dean sighed as he listened to the words, looking in the rear-view mirror at his brother. Sam nodded back at him.
"No better place to heal up than the road, man."
"You never know, Sam," Dean dropped his eyes to the road ahead of him. "We could run into Dad again soon. For real this time."
"Yeah," Sam sighed. "Knowing him he'll just jump into the back seat one day when we least expect it."
Dean grinned. He'd like that. "I'd like that."
"I know you would, man," Sam nodded. He looked at Dean's eyes in the rear-view mirror. "I know."
a/n: onik – arm
A wise fellow writer once told me that every story has a natural ending. I could have kept this going through many different twists and turns, but when I thought about it, I started out telling a story of survival and brotherhood. So I tried to keep the focus narrowed on that. I hope you've enjoyed the ride.
And, if anyone is interested, I've begun sketching out a Season 2-based story that will bring the druid Brenna Kavanagh back. It's kinda dark so far. And I know, OFC, but some of you liked her, so if you want, look for that to start after the holidays.
Thanks so much for reading. Your reviews truly make my day. -- GS.