Dean seriously hated hospitals. He even more seriously hated ICU floors of hospitals, because having someone you cared about there was never good. He was a mixture of guilt and worry at the moment. Worry because Concha was on the dreaded ICU floor, guilt because he was ridiculously happy it wasn't Sam up there. Sam stood right behind him, not close enough to touch, but close enough to feel his every movement, every breath.
Smiling as much to cover up his discomfort at this place as to charm some information from the nurse behind the desk Dean leaned over it the smallest amount, making a big deal out of reading her name tag.
"Maybe…Marissa, you could help us out. We're here to see Concha West? She was brought in last night."
Nine hours. Nine long, freaking hours it'd taken him and Sam to get here. He silently chided himself for not biting the bullet and getting on the helicopter. He would have if he'd realized then how long it would take to get here. Neither of them needed any treatment, so once out of the ambulance, they'd gotten the once over by a doctor and sent on their way.
Their way up to the ICU.
Marissa smiled, flipped through a large stack of papers, meeting first Dean's then Sam's eyes. Dean immediately liked her. She seemed honest and direct and genuinely caring. "Are you relatives?" The standard question.
Feeling Sam's nod, and hearing his smooth reply, "cousins."
"Well, she's had a lot of smoke inhalation, no real burns though, which is probably some sort of miracle."
You've no idea lady.
More paper turning, then a brief glance at the computer screen next to her produced a small frown. "I don't have either of you listed for visitation." She glanced up, smiling with honest sympathy, "but I can probably fix that. Give me a minute." She slipped out from behind the desk, headed down the hall. Key card gained her access to the main part of the floor. It was nothing more than a few minutes before she returned. "Concha is still unconscious, not unexpected. Her brother is sleeping, I'll have to get his permission to add you to the list. I didn't wake him. Should I?"
"Na, no." Dean glanced back at Sam, "is there somewhere we can wait, get something to eat maybe?"
"We could check back later?" Sam asked.
"Yes on both." Marissa dug through a drawer, "here, take these. They're meal passes for the hospital cafeteria, not the greatest food, but won't kill you either." She gave them a short laugh, "and free."
Taking the passes Sam tapped one finger on the desk top, "thank you, very much. We'll be back in a while."
"Remind me to come here the next time I'm hurt." Dean said to his brother as they walked back to the elevator, "they're nice."
The cafeteria turned out to be on the first floor, right next to the emergency room, where they'd started out. The front of the hospital was windows, the surrounding buildings easily seen. Dean stopped so fast when something across the street caught his eye, just as he was heading into the cafeteria, Sam collided with his back.
"Signal next time, will ya?" Sam groused.
"Next time pay attention and react faster." Dean smirked, poking Sam's ribs. Tipping his chin at a point across the street, "I'm going over there for a minute, coming?"
Sam followed Dean's gaze, eyebrows bouncing up under his bangs, "Hell yeah! You actually want to go willingly into a bookstore?"
Dean huffed a breath and shook his head before stepping out of the large double doors of the hospital, into cool, clear autumn mountain air and crossing the street, mumbling, "smart ass."
Winding his way through the store, having lost Sam not too soon after they went through the front door, Dean found, near the back what he searched for. He spent a few minutes picking out the right one. There was a card section, he headed there next, again spending a few minutes more picking out the right one. Glancing around the store every few minutes, checking on Sam, he'd smile a bit when his eyes fell on his brother. Sam loved these stores, was like a little kid in one. Dean snagged a magazine and found a chair fairly centrally located in the store, and settled there, no harm in letting Sam have time in here.
He was three quarters of the way through the magazine when Sam appeared in front of him. "Did you find what you wanted?"
"About five minutes after we got here." Dean smiled, stood and stretched, glancing at his watch, "nearly an hour ago."
"Why didn't you say something?"
Dean shrugged, "no reason not to hang out here. Find anything?"
"Not that I want to take with me." Sam pointed at what Dean held. "So you gonna share?"
Silently Dean held out the card, which made Sam smile and nod, the other item was a small poster. Unrolling it Sam glanced at it, then stared at Dean, a wide smile spreading across his face. "Dean, this is totally cool, man."
They paid for their items, heading back to the hospital. In the cafeteria they signed the card, the front horses on a background of stars, blank on the inside, with a simple message…'Get better fast. Love Dean and Sam.' Ate a quick meal and headed back to the ICU.
Marissa was still there, "sorry, I still couldn't get your names added."
"That's ok. Could you let Dante know we're here, he can call us when we can visit. And would you be able to put this where Concha will be able to see it when she wakes up? Leave this card for her?" Dean held out the poster and card.
"Sure. I'll do it right away." Marissa smiled at them, taking the card and poster. "What is this?"
"You can look." Sam said.
Unrolling the poster Marissa looked at it for a minute, then cocked her head to one side. "This is an interesting thing to give someone. Some special meaning I take it?"
"It's her favorite." Dean explained. "She's into astronomy. That's Orion."
"Yes, I know, the hunter." Marissa said before heading off to the main part of the floor and Concha's room again.
"Chaser away of all things evil." The brothers said together.
The flames and haze and smoke cleared slowly, withdrawing in layers. Concha heard a rustling sound before she dared try lifting her eyelids. Vision swam in unsteady waves for a few minutes then cleared, focused. Someone was hanging something on the wall across from her, she realized then she was on a bed. A smile, tired and not too ambitious made its way across her face.
The nurse turned, seeing Concha's open eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"Wonderful." Concha's voice felt raspy, like it didn't want to work. Lifting one hand off the bed at a slight angle, she pointed to the poster. "Chaser away of all things evil."
Smiling, the nurse finished taping it to the wall, "so I was told." She held out a card. "They left you this. I can add them to your visitation list?"
"Huh?" Concha looked up from the card. "Who? What list?"
"You're in intensive care, only family can get in. Your cousins weren't on the list."
Concha's head turned, she was sore. Dante, stretched in a reclining chair a few feet away, sleeping, came into her view. "Cousins. Dean and Sam?"
"That would be them."
Swallowing, nodding, "yes. Ask them to wait an hour or three, I need a nap." She let her eyes close.
The sun was slanting through the window of her hospital room at a different angle than it had earlier, when the nurse—Marissa—hung the poster on the wall across from her bed. Concha had slept for several hours, the sun was setting, it would be dark in another hour. Pushing up on sore arms, Concha sat on the bed, then swung her legs over and waited for the room to settle into one place. A few deep breaths, a glance at Dante, maybe she could make it across the room before he woke up.
As her feet hit the floor and she stepped away gingerly, one hand on the bed rail to gain further steadiness, standing there for another minute, getting her balance before beginning her journey, which looked like a few hundred miles, not a few feet. She'd gotten just a few steps from the bed when Dante stirred, sat up, rubbed his eyes and frowned at her.
He was on his feet, crossing the space between them in seconds. Concha froze. It was pointless to try to escape, on her best day she couldn't out run him, it definitely wasn't going to happen this day. She smiled up meekly at him when his fingers curled around her shoulders.
"What are you doing?"
"I…umm…" Concha waved at the bathroom door, "wanted to go there."
Dante's expression changed, softened, became aware of what she was telling him. "Oh. Right. Yeah." Sliding one arm around her shoulders he turned her toward the bathroom. "Ok, then, let's go."
"No." Turning back to face him, palm flattened against his chest, "no, Dante. You're my brother, I love you more than anything in the universe, but you are not going to the bathroom with me now or in our next lives."
"Well, I'll just get you to the door, and stop there."
"Good plan." Her response was muffled when he pulled her to his chest, holding her tight.
Sam's chin dropped against his chest for a second or two before he ventured a glance up again. Sitting on Concha's bed, silently, amused by the exchange between Concha and his brother.
"He says," Dean pointed at Sam.
"Don't involve me."
Dean snorted some odd noise, and continued. "AS I was saying, he says you got yourself, no let yourself get almost possessed just to catch that thing and accomplished that by taking off your charm. Do that again, and we can and will hold you down while it's tattooed on your forehead. There are more of us, and we're bigger."
Arching one eyebrow, Concha folded her arms over her middle in mock indignation. "Really? You and what army pal?"
A pillow took flight aimed at Dean's head. He caught it, throwing it back to the bed before getting smacked with the thing. "Do no do that. It's just creepy."
"You'll get used to it."
"No, no I really won't."
Sam had to turn away so Dean wouldn't see the smile broadening his features. He glanced up without moving his head when Dean blew a huff through his nose and waved one hand in Sam's direction.
"You talk some sense into her Sammy. I'm going to bid the fair Marissa good-bye." Dean gave the recently animated pillow a stealthy glance as he skirted around the bed, "I'll be back in a bit." And out the door he went.
"We are bigger than you." Sam teased.
"Hummmm…..whatever. I've been hearing about it for a full day from Dante."
"Seriously, don't do that again. Those things we made are important." Sam held out the necklace with her carved symbol dangling from it. "And yes, I'm a bit touchy on the subject of possessions."
"Ok, ok, fine." She slipped it around her neck. Standing in front of the room's window, she glanced out then turned back to Sam, the sunlight coming through causing some glare, he couldn't clearly see her face, her expression. "Anyway I have something to tell you."
The way she'd spoken, how he couldn't see her face very well, it was a bit unnerving. Hoping she didn't notice him tense up a bit, he resisted the urge to look behind him, see if Dean was in the hall outside the door. "What?" He made sure to keep his voice soft, neutral, but didn't know why it was suddenly important.
But, of course he really did know why, she had, if only for a few brief moments been possessed. Not exactly as others had, she had too many unconscious defenses and the demon gave up, but it had been in there, with her. Sam knew, possibly more than any of them, what that felt like, and how you just didn't get over it in a day or two.
His heart rate probably doubled, and he couldn't keep his smile from dropping off his face when she said simply, as if commenting on the weather, "it left me something, left something behind."
Yep, that would be what he was worried about.
Finding his voice suddenly not working, probably had something to do with his constricting throat, Sam spread his hands out in the universal question gesture. He slid off the bed, straightening to his full height and slowly edged along it, he needed to get out of the room.
Concha frowned, "what's wrong with you? You look like you've seen a…….oohhh…." She darted forward, grabbing his arm.
Sam froze, not exactly sure what to do.
Laughing, nervously Sam thought, she smiled, nothing evil, a regular Concha smile. "Sorry, I didn't mean it that way. It left me something, probably something it never intended to, and wouldn't want either of us to have."
"What?" Sam croaked, his voice finally deciding to work.
"How to hide from it, them. In the few seconds it was in me, " she shivered, "and I never ever want to do that again, I got a little glimpse. I got one of its secrets. And the best part, I can show you too. You can stay off its radar," her gaze shifted for just a second to the door, then back to Sam, "which means you keep Dean off it too. It can't find him without being able to find you first. One more weapon."
"You mean I can stop the visions?" Sam suddenly felt too heavy, he dropped back onto the bed, doubting his legs would support him much longer.
"No, I don't think so. I don't really know. But even with the visions, you won't be…I don't know the word to use…visible I guess, to the demon, any demon unless you choose to be. But you have to practice, 'cause it's important you can control it, use it when you want or don't want, whatever the case may be."
Sam was amazed, truly amazed at how simple a task it turned out to be. He silently chastised himself for not thinking of it sooner. Now he had his own, internal, mental protection symbol, and he really never intended to turn it off. That brought him to another bit of information he'd been mulling over the last few days. "I think I found something too."
"What?" Concha sat beside him, waiting for him to continue.
"My visions mostly had to do with the other kids like me, the ones the demon has plans for. Except the visions I had when I was around you. Those just called the demons, presumably to you, but you aren't one of those kids. So I was trying to find something in common each of the times a demon appeared when I had a vision here. It's stress, opens the door sort of. The first one, the one you triggered, I was stressed just because it happened. You were stressed because of what it did to you. A few days ago, when we were hunting the tartum cubs, we were all…" he smiled, then chuckled, "stressed."
"But it didn't happen every time. It didn't happen when we were riding up there and found the adult tartums, and it didn't happen when Bobby shot arrows at me. Which was definitely stressful."
"We don't know for sure it didn't, we may not have seen it is all. And I think there's more to it, I think Dean and Dante fit in somehow too, because in each instance they were there too." He raised his shoulders a fraction, letting them drop immediately, "it's something to think about, the only common denominator I've found so far. We'll have to keep working on it. But I do think we should put some distance between ourselves, at least for a while."
"I think you're right on that, and I think you have something. More fine tuning I guess. It makes sense that if we can form a human trap we can also make the thing come to us when we want."
Dean loosened his tie, removed it and his suit jacket, dropping them both over the back of the nearest chair. He reminded himself once more of the total evilness of ties. He glanced at Sam, who'd been uncharacteristically quiet today, not unexpected, but his near total silence Dean found unnerving, Sam was a talker. But since this morning Dean hadn't heard six consecutive words come out of his brother's mouth. The entire day Sam had only responded to someone else speaking to him, which since they knew almost no one in this town were few and far between. Dean didn't bother asking what the problem was, he knew, had known since Sam started trailing behind him hours ago.
Sam flopped back on his bed, legs dangling off the end, one arm over his face. Dean wanted to comment on how he'd be a lot more comfortable without the evil tie strangling him, but instead asked, "you ok?"
"Yeah. A little tired." Sam's voice was thick, gravelly. Pushing up on his elbows Sam finally took off the tie, tossing it across the room to the chair Dean's draped over. "It was a nice memorial for Shelley."
"It was." Dean had to agree, but didn't comment further. He knew Sam was working up to say something, and having a good idea what bothered his brother Dean just waited until Sam put together in his head what he needed to say. For something to do, other than stand there and watch Sam, he started sorting their laundry.
"I'm a terrible person."
It was said so softly Dean wasn't sure he'd actually heard correctly, or that Sam had actually spoken. "What? You are not. Where do you come up with this stuff Sammy?"
Sam looked around the room, looked everywhere but at Dean, dropping his gaze to his lap. "The whole day, there's this poor girl who lost the only family she had, Kelly is a nice girl. And I felt really badly for her, but I couldn't help feeling…"
When Sam's words trailed off Dean finished for him, "feeling happy it wasn't your brother?"
Sam nodded, looking miserable.
Dean took a deep breath, "you're in good company I guess. I felt the same way. And when we were waiting to see Concha in the hospital, all I could think of was how it wasn't you in there." Stopping for a minute, watching Sam's expression soften, relax, he added, "I think it's a natural, very human reaction."
"Like survivor's guilt?"
"Yeah. Like that." He was silent for a few minutes more. "At least no one else will suffer from those things, we stopped it."
Sam didn't say any more, and Dean let him be. A while later when Dean glanced over at his brother, Sam was sleeping. Deciding that wasn't a bad idea at all, Dean took a quick shower and dropped into his own bed, asleep in no time.
Waking up early the next morning, Dean felt better, the gloom from the day before having lifted. He could see Sam felt better too when they headed into town, to a diner in search of breakfast. Sam put away enough food for three people, Dean idly wondered if the kid would stop growing if Dean stopped feeding him, then decided a hungry Sam might be a bit too dangerous, even for Dean. Laptop on the table between them and to the side Sam rattled off some possible cases to Dean as they ate, explaining along the way why they needed some distance for now from Concha and Dante, sharing with his brother all the theories he and Concha had formulated.
"Guess what?" Dean said when Sam finally stopped and took a breath. "We get paid for that little hunt. There had been a reward for getting rid of the," he made quote marks with both hands, "mountain lion."
Sam's face lit up, "really? How much?"
"Ten grand." Dean drawled as casually as he could, sipping his coffee.
Going completely still Sam just stared at him.
"Shut your mouth Sammy you look sort of silly." Dean had one more little surprise to spring on his brother, but for that one he'd wait for Concha. Sam asked him twice what had Dean smiling so much, but Dean merely shrugged and raised one hand in a 'who knows?' motion.
A half hour later, right on time, Concha appeared, sliding into the booth next to Dean, so they both faced Sam. He could tell by Sam's slightly raised eyebrows he'd seen the small, rectangular book Concha laid in Dean's hand, and that Dean quickly tucked in the pocket inside his jacket. Not that either one had really been trying to hide anything anyway.
"So, what's good today?" Concha made a big show of examining the menu.
"Nothing, he ate it all." Dean waved at his brother.
"Ha, ha, very funny. What are you two up to?" Sam's eyes narrowed, he glanced from one to the other.
"I was hungry, wanted breakfast." She nudged Dean's side. "Go ahead, tell him."
"Na, you did all the work, you tell him."
"It was your idea, and he's your brother, you should tell him."
Looking from one to the other, Sam said, "one of you tell me before I have to choke it out of the both of you."
"You tell him, I'll just miss some important detail. Please?" Dean met Concha's gaze for a few seconds. He really wanted to watch his brother's reaction, and not be distracted by having to explain things too. She seemed to understand that now.
"Ok." Concha shrugged. Laying both hands, palms down on the table in front of her, she took a deep breath. "Here's the deal, if you'd like it. My advisor at Cornell knows stuff, stuff about us, well hunters in general, and he can cover computer tracks like nobody's business. His name is Marcus Crandall, but he likes to be called Craven," she held up one hand, "don't even ask, it's just weird. Anyway he can get your records transferred from Stanford and if you want to finish your degree, you can, through Cornell, most of it you can do online, just go there to take a test or two. The degree will actually be from Cornell, not Stanford, but Cornell has graduated some pretty upstanding students." She stopped and slapped Dean's hand away when he waved his thumb in her direction. "Then, if you wanted you could go on, do the same thing I did. Again most of it you can do online, and you'd only have to show up at Cornell a few times a year. All his and my research materials can be downloaded, or put on disks or again just accessed directly online, securely too. Besides me there are a grand total of two other people on the planet that do what I do. One is this old lady in Nepal, she's like a hundred and six, hates Americans and thinks we're all already burning in hell, so not forthcoming with help. Then there is this guy in South America somewhere. Let's just say he's got issues with drug lords. It's not a happy thing. The good guys could use more help."
Dean just couldn't hold it in any longer, he hadn't felt like smiling this much in…..he couldn't remember when. The sheer stunned look on Sam's face just made it all that much sweeter, the kid really had been surprised, had no idea what was coming. After a few minutes of Sam's complete silence, he got sort of impatient watching his brother watch them, "Sammy, say something!"
Sam's eyebrows disappeared into his bangs, he opened his mouth, then shut it again, then took a deep breath. "You did this? For me?"
"Told you I'd work it out, didn't I?" Dean lightly tapped the back of Sam's hand with his fingers.
Concha slid a folded paper across the table to Sam. "Craven's email, he's expecting to hear from you, and your secure ISP, password, so on."
Sam laid his hand over the paper, but didn't really take it, still looking at Dean. "But how?…This stuff costs….a lot."
Laughing out right Concha said, "so Dante keeps reminding me." She and Dean exchanged a brief glance then said together, "you got a scholarship."
"So you want to do this?" Concha asked.
"We can go to Cornell, it's ok?" Sam was still mostly talking to Dean, who nodded.
"Whenever you want." Dean twisted to face Concha, who looked confused at this point. "That's Sam-speak for yes." He explained, reaching under the table to rub his shin which at that moment had an unfortunate meeting with the toe of Sam's boot.
And damn didn't Dean Winchester feel just wonderful on that bright and sunny morning in a small town in Wyoming.
Craven leaned back comfortably in his heavy leather chair, puffed his pipe, enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of tea and scanned his email, as was his ritual every morning. He always looked at the senders first, deciding which was more important to open and read first. This morning he smiled warmly, picking one halfway down on the second page.
There were two attachments, pictures. One was a red horse, and why was it Concha insisted on sending him pictures of that stinky animal, and more importantly why did she love it so much?
The second was a recent one of Concha in front of a Cessna plane with three men. One he immediately recognized as Dante, the other two he supposed were Sam and Dean Winchester, but wasn't that just like Concha to not bother telling him which was which? No matter he'd find out soon enough.
There was one single sentence in her message…….All debts have now been paid. Love Conchita.
Craven downloaded the picture of the four young people, and deleted the rest.
Bobby loaded his truck. He'd be leaving to drive home in a few hours. He watched Dean put the last of their gear into the Impala and wondered yet again what it was that had both he and Sam so chatty all of a sudden. He shrugged off his curiosity, if they wanted to tell him they would. Probably some joke they shared between them no one else would even understand.
Dante and the Winchester boys seemed to have forgiven him completely. And if they didn't well, they never let on, acting as they always had around him. As for Concha, that would take some more time. She'd been nice enough to him, but was missing the openness and warmth that had once been there. It would take her time, he did after all shoot at her, and could have seriously injured or killed her. Dante said she'd get over it, and he trusted the man to know his sister well enough to know this to be truth. When she was ready, Bobby would be there, happy to be her friend again.
Twice he'd heard the Winchesters mentioning heading to Ithaca, New York, but when he'd asked what they were hunting down Dean merely replied some leads they'd picked up. So Bobby had dropped the issue.
Concha appeared from one of the rooms behind the stables, carrying two duffels. She tossed one at Dante, who sort of hugged it when it hit his chest, not actually catching it. That made Bobby laugh.
"Guess you'd better fire up the bird, big guy," she patted his shoulder as she walked by.
Concha smiled up at him, "got a little job in Shreveport, we should be able to be in town by this evening, even if we have to stop somewhere to refuel. It's been two whole weeks since you've killed anything, don't want you going through withdrawal," she winked at Sam, then did a fake shiver, "that would just be ugly."
Actually giggling Concha announced, "shtrigas….who knew?"
Dean barked a short laugh, "that's just wrong." He tapped Sam's shoulder lightly, "come on kiddo, you want to be in Ithaca by the end of the week, we'd better put a move on."
"You know, we could…." Dante pointed at his plane.
"No." Sam and Dean said together, "we like to drive."
"Probably heard your nickname is Captain Crash." Concha teased.
Dante smacked her in the back of the head, "one more word and you walk. Get your ass in the plane."
Once in the plane Dante had it fired up and taxiing along the landing strip in short order. Dean and Sam bid a final good-bye to Bobby before Dean shoved at Sam's back telling him to get in the car. Sam just grinned and complied.
Bobby watched the Impala pull away from the stables, as the Cessna was airborne, circling around to head east. Sam hung his upper half out of the car window, waving. Bobby had to laugh when he saw Dean's hand reach over and literally grab Sam by the shirt collar, hauling him back into the car, thunking Sam's head in the process. Bobby could just hear Dean's words chastising his brother for defiling the coolness of the Impala, and Dean. He could see Concha waving back, until Dante maneuvered the plane into a flip and roll, making her grab at the flight panel to steady herself.
For a few brief minutes the car and the plane traveled the same path, nose to nose before the plane veered off east, and the car had to go slightly north to catch the highway.
Bobby waved one more time. That was how he sent them out…into the coming storm.