A/N: Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and review! Your comments are appreciated so much and in many ways help keep me writing. Thank you to beta Abni for putting up with me.
Where Night's Black Bird Her Sad Infamy Sings
Consciousness returned slowly, first it was merely the sensation of being perfectly warm, perfectly comfortable, the bed was the perfect temperature, the pillow beaten to perfect softness. Then the awareness of residual pain crept in, he was sore, his muscles over-used, there was a small ache in his chest. I must have slept really wrong to be this stiff. He sighed, and the scent of fresh coffee drifted into his brain. Wow, I wonder where Sammy got coffee that smells like that? A little more awareness answered his question. Bryn's. We're at Bryn's. I was…I took the spell…Huh, I guess it worked. At first elation at that thought, then a hint of sadness. I guess hell still has a bed waiting for me. Damn. Yep, exactly. He groaned a little without realizing it.
The hand on his tightened and he felt a warm palm placed against his forehead. Sammy? Let go of that hand. Hear me? He tried to tighten his hand on his brother's, he found his muscles wouldn't obey the command. "Dean?" Sam said softly.
"Here Sammy," he said, or thought he did, nothing came out. What? I know I said something. I know I did.
"Dean?" Sam said again.
"Sam? What's going on?" Still nothing. He tried to open his eyes, something was holding the lids closed as firmly as if they were glue. He felt the first hint of panic creep into his chest. "Sammy!" He tried for a shout, he heard a tiny groan. What's wrong? I can't move, I can feel, but I can't move. Sam?
"I'll be right back, Dean." The hand on his tightened in a quick squeeze, then Dean heard Sam's rapidly disappearing footsteps as his brother shouted for Bryn.
He was aware as the cat walked from where it had been settled on his feet up to his head. A cold nose came into contact with his cheek, and then a paw patted at his nose. Go away stupid cat. The weight shifted onto his chest as the cat rubbed its face against his. Stupid cat. It mewed softly at him, and the paw was patting his face as Sam came back into the room.
"Bad Pyewacket," Bryn said. Yeah, bad cat. Tell it to go away. "Dean?" she said gently.
"Yeah?" he said. Nothing came out. A hand was placed against his chest and then on his head.
"What's wrong?" Sam's voice held a note of extreme panic. He sounds completely freaked. Sam what's wrong? "I thought…"
"It's okay, Sam." Bryn's voice was gentle.
"How is it okay? What's wrong with him?" Calm down, Sammy, it sounds like you're about to have a stroke. "Why isn't it working like it did for me?" What? WHAT??? Sam? What the hell are you talking about?
"I used something different for you, Sam. The wound was different and we weren't dealing with the onflyge as well." Wound? Sam? What the hell is going on? Sammy, are you okay?
"Sammy?" A tiny groan escaped again.
"Dean? Are you awake?" Bryn asked. Yep. Been here all along. "I'll be right back."
"Dean? Are you there?" Sam said softly as Dean heard Bryn walk out of the room. Yeah, Sam, I'm here. What's wrong? "I'm okay." You sound okay, Sammy. "I…" Sam paused. Sam? What? "I need you here, Dean. I need you back. Please." Uh, hello? Here, Sam. "I…Dean…" Sam stopped as Bryn came back into the room. "What's that?" Sam's voice sounded weary, tired. The anger Dean had heard before when addressing Bryn was gone. Something happened, what?
"It's something to let the spell work a little longer. He can't be awake yet."
"Can't?" Sam asked. Can't? That sounds bad. "Dean?" Yeah, Sammy? "Drink it, please." Okay, Sam. I've come this far. The covers were straightened over his chest and Sam's hand settled on his again. Yeah, well, we'll talk about that later, Sammy. He was slowly losing feeling, until he sank down into a soft dark depth, silent and warm.
The hand was still on his as awareness crept back. Sam, hey. The light was bright against his eyelids, sunlight was warming his face. He could hear the cat purring by his ear. Dean tried to close his hand around Sam's to let him know he was there, but the muscles, once again, didn't respond. The panic flared so fast he heard the change in his own breathing as his heart started pounding. What's wrong? Why can't I…
"Sam, I can't move, I can't…" The sound escaped his body in a small sigh.
He felt Sam's hand behind his head and he was gently lifted. Something was held against his lips. "Drink." Sam said. Will it put me to sleep again, Sam? "It's something to dispel the last of the spell, Dean. It will help." Okay. He managed to get his throat to work well enough to get the bitter liquid down. Why does it all taste so bad? Sam set him carefully back onto the bed.
"Sam?" he heard the whisper of his own voice that time.
His brother's hand tightened over his arm. "Hey, Dean, welcome back."
"Hey. How long?" His voice was barely audible.
"About thirty-six hours," Sam said softly. Dean heard a lot in those four words.
"You okay?" Dean said, his voice sounded a little stronger that time.
"Yeah." Oh, yeah, Sammy, you sound everything but okay to these ears.
"Right." Dean managed to get one eye partially open, the light blinded him and he let his eye close again. He got it open further a second later, then the other, his brother swam into focus after three blinks. "Hey," he said again as a smile lit Sam's face.
"Hey," Sam said.
Dean shifted a little in the bed, smiling a little as he realized he could. "Is this the t-shirt I was wearing?" He looked down at the quilt. "Different blanket?" He frowned. Why would I be in a different shirt? Hmm, don't like that look on your face, Sammy. How bad was it?
"Yeah," Sam said with a sigh.
Dean looked up at his brother, his eyes coming to rest on the white bandage on Sam's arm. "What's wrong with your arm?" I heard a bit of conversation, didn't I? About you being wounded? Sammy? What the hell happened? Not panicking, not yet, but WHAT HAPPENED??
Sam's looked at his arm then back at Dean. "Nothing."
"Not good enough. I heard you talking, I think." Dean frowned. I'm pretty sure I heard Bryn say…
"I'm fine, Dean." Sam said with a weary sigh.
Something in his brother's tone set the alarm bells off in Dean's head. "Sam?" Hey, voice is strong enough to sound a little pissed.
"It's okay, Dean, really. The wight nicked me when I went to get the blade. Bryn fixed it."
"What?" Sammy, no, no. "How bad?"
You are lying to me, Sam. "Sam?" Still sound pissed, good. Come on, Sam, truth time.
"I'm okay, Dean. Bryn took care of it," Sam said with a gentle smile.
Dean tried to push himself up to get a better look at his brother. Sam put a hand behind his back to help him sit up and then settled another pillow behind his back. Unfair. Hard to stay mad when you take care of me. Damn it, Sam. And I was getting ready to give you a hard time. Not really, you look terrible. When Sam had helped him up, Dean noticed his brother's hands were shaking a little. "What happened?" He frowned a little. "Tell me, come on." How bad were you hurt trying to save me?
"It's no big deal," Sam said. "It caught me with the blade when I was fighting it."
"Fighting it?" Sam? You were supposed to hop over the fence shoot it with the magical arrows and get back here.
"Yeah." Sam chuckled. "It got the drop on me, but…" The chuckled became an actual laugh.
"Not seeing much funny here," Dean said sternly. And it sounded stern. Getting better every second. Not sleepy at all, nope.
"It's a little funny, Dean. No." Sam was still laughing. "It's a lot funny." Tears were leaking out of his eyes as he laughed.
"Sammy?" Have you lost your mind? What happened?
"I thought…well, for a minute I thought I was…" Sam shook his head. "And then Pyewacket tackled the wight."
"The stupid cat?" Okay, that is a little funny. "I knew it was a good idea sending him along."
"It was. After the cat attacked it, I grabbed the knife and ran."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Would you have taken the spell if you'd known, Dean?"
Dean took a deep breath to contradict his brother, but he let it go. He knew the truth of it. "No. Not until I was sure you were okay."
Sam nodded. "As soon as you were under, I let Bryn take care of it."
"I slept through most of it," Sam said. "You aren't going to let this just drop are you?"
"It's not bad, Dean, really. Bryn said it won't have a scar at all. I just need to leave the bandages on for three days. Well, Bryn's been changing them, but I have to have it covered with this ointment and the bandage with the runes."
"Sam…" Dean took a deep breath, it became a yawn. "I just woke up." It sounded like a whine, even to his ears.
"Bryn said you would be in and out today, go ahead, sleep. I'll be right here."
"You need to eat."
Sam laughed softly. "Okay, I'll go eat, then I'll be back."
"Yeah…We..need…to…" Dean tried to force his eyes open, they drifted closed and stayed that way. "Talk."
"We will, later."
Yep. Later. You're not getting out of this that easy, Sam…I…And he was asleep before the words formed in his head.
"When can we leave?" Sam's voice woke Dean.
"Not for a few days at least, Sam." Bryn's quiet voice answered.
Not really in any hurry to leave here. "I…" Sam paused.
"We need to make sure you're okay, and Dean needs time to recover. It will take awhile." What? I thought Sam was okay. Sammy? You said you were okay.
Sam sighed, Dean could hear tears at the edge of that sigh. "How bad will he be?"
"It should settle down and just leave the old scar. It will take time, but it should fade to the point where it was before the wight got involved."
"Can it interfere with your spell again?" Good question, Sammy. With everything else I really don't need that.
"No," Bryn said quietly, there was a steel edge to her voice.
"How can you be that sure?" Sam sounded a little angry.
"I can be," Bryn said. "I won't let it hurt Dean again." Dean heard his brother's intake of breath. That sounds like the beginnings of an explosion. "Sam? The sun is out, why don't you and Pye take a walk in the garden? Bring in some wood. When Dean wakes up maybe he'd like to sit by the fire for awhile and I can change the linens."
"I…" Sam took another breath. "I…uh…" The cat suddenly meowed. Well that sounds almost like a howl. Didn't know cats could do that. "Okay, you're right. I'll be back." Dean heard Sam stand and walk out of the room. Your steps are dragging a bit there, Sam.
Bryn sighed. It had a note of sadness in it. "Damn," she said softly.
"Will Sam be okay?" Dean asked, opening his eyes. Bryn had tears sparkling on her cheeks. Bryn crying is never a good thing, never.
"Is that the truth?"
"Yes it is, Dean. I wouldn't lie to you about Sam. The wound wasn't very deep and he let me treat it in plenty of time to make sure he would be okay. He'll be fine, no scar or anything. Although he will be more vulnerable to that kind of weapon from now on."
"We'll avoid wights," Dean said, pushing himself up. "Except the one chasing you. When we're out of here…"
"I can't have you risking yourself for me, Dean. No." Her voice was firm.
"Bryn," he said, laying his hand over hers. "You saved Sam, you saved me…"
"Even when you didn't want to be saved?"
"It's not that I didn't want to be saved." He paused when she frowned. "It's…I don't want to go to hell, Bryn. I'm terrified of that. I…" He swallowed. "And I am…" He couldn't go on. I am terrified by the thought of…
"You're worried about what Sam might do?"
Dean breathed a sigh of relief. I need to talk about this. "Yeah. I am freaked about what will happen to him when I'm gone. But that's not what scares me most. It's what he might do to get me out of this deal." He ran a hand over his face. "I…God, Bryn. I don't know what to do." He looked at her, meeting her eyes. "He hates me for it."
"He's angry about it, yes. You probably should have expected that." She laughed sadly. "Think how you would feel if the positions were reversed. But would you hate him? I don't think so. You'd be angry and desperate."
"I'd be out of my mind. Watching him every day, knowing there was a time limit on his life, I would…Oh, god." He put his head in his hands. Oh, god, Sammy. I'm sorry. I am so sorry. All I thought was how I couldn't live without you. I didn't think, only a year and then you would be alone. I…Sam…Dean cleared his throat.
"Dean?" Bryn said softly, her voice was sad. "I have to talk to you about…"
"What? You said Sam was okay." He looked at her.
"It's not Sam."
"Oh. Me. You can't lie to me about Sam, but you can lie to Sam, can't you?" he said with certainty, aware of the black spot in his chest.
"I'm not sure it's quite a lie, not yet. There is still a chance it could heal all the way."
Dean grinned. "Chance is good. I'll take chance. I suppose it means a spell and something nasty to drink?"
"I'll put mint in it to cover the taste." She smiled back at him.
"Cause that works." He laughed a little, then grew serious. "If we stay here, will I die?"
"At the end of your year?"
"Like I told Sam, I can't stop that."
"Of course he did. And Dean…"
"What?" Why don't I think this is going to be good news?
"If the deal takes you, I'm not sure…"
"I need to be here, and dead before the year is up, right?" And not by my own hands, I remember that too. I wonder how I can convince Sam…Yeah, Dean, how are you going to manage that? "Sammy? Do you mind killing me?"
"Yes," she said sadly. "I can't interfere with the deal. All I can offer is the way out of hell." She smiled sadly. "And a nice place to haunt, of course."
"If I haunt will I eventually become an angry spirit? I remember dad once told me that all ghosts become angry eventually. I don't think mom was, though. But will I…?"
"Part of the protection? Do you know about…I mean I guess…is it one year to the day I made the deal? Or…?"
Bryn shrugged. "It depends. Demons like the unpredictable, so I doubt it would be to the day, maybe a little before, or better yet after so you think you beat the deal."
"So, no way to plan ahead. Just freaking great." Dean smiled at her. "Bryn…"
"Hey, Dean, you're awake!" Sam said coming into the room. His cheeks were red from being out in the cold, but he had a smile on his face.
"Hey, Sam. How are you?" Looking better, Sammy. That walk outside seemed to help. Funny, Bryn's gardens seem to have that effect on us.
"I'm okay. I got a fire going in the living room. Want to go sit by the fire?"
Mostly I want to lie in bed…But…"Can I have something to eat?"
Bryn smiled. "I'll get you both some soup, how's that?"
"Thanks," Dean said, shifting his legs out from under the blankets. He pushed himself up on his feet and felt his legs start to give way. Sam caught him before he hit the floor. Dean leaned against his brother for a moment, Sam's arm tightened around his shoulder.
"Dean…" Sam said softly.
"Yeah, Sammy, me too," Dean said, resting against Sam a second longer before standing up. "I might need a hand into the living room."
"Sure." Sam half carried him into the room, a fire was burning merrily in the fireplace. Sam helped Dean to a chair that had been drawn up next to the fire. When he was settled in the chair, Sam put a quilt over him and brought a footstool over. When he noticed Dean watching him, he grinned. "Don't get used to this treatment."
Dean grinned back. "Right." The cat came in the room and after rubbing against Sam's legs hopped up on Dean's lap. "I guess you and the stupid cat worked out your differences?"
Sam dragged a chair over by the fire. "Yeah, we've been getting along fine since we fought the wight."
The cat looked over at Sam with a blink. Dean laughed. "I think he thinks he did most of the fighting."
"He did." Sam laughed along with Dean.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"It hardly hurts anymore at all." Sam looked at him. "Dean…I know it was nothing like yours, but, god…Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"What it is, what it was like for you."
"I don't notice it much." Except in bed sometimes when I can't sleep, except right after I take the spell, except…
Sam had been watching him, his eyes met Dean's. "Right, of course not."
"Nope." Just let it drop Sam, it's not that big a deal.
"Yeah, and I believe you."
"You should, I'm the oldest, I'm always right."
Dean leaned back in the chair, stroking the cat. Bryn came in a few minutes later with food for all of them, including the cat. She put his bowl down on the flagstones. Dean looked around the room as he sipped the soup she had brought him. The last time we were here, I was mostly in the bedroom and the garden. There are a lot of quilts in this place. Books and quilts.
"You have a lot of quilts," Sam said, almost as if he had read Dean's mind.
"Thank you." Bryn said with a laugh. "I don't have a television and I get a little antsy sometimes. So I quilt."
"I don't know, TV sounds easier," Dean said with a laugh.
"Pyewacket enjoys sewing with me." The cat looked up with a little mew and then went back to eating.
Dean put his now empty mug down on the table beside him and listened as Sam and Bryn talked about magical illnesses and treatments. Sam seemed to be trying to pick her brain for answers to numerous questions, she answered all his questions with gentle good humor. They were discussing supernatural epidemics as Dean drifted off to sleep.
The next couple of days set the pattern. Dean would rest in bed for part of the day, Sam usually beside him reading. And then in the evening the three of them would sit by the fire, talking. By the third day, Dean was able to stay awake for several hours at a time. The sun was out and it was unseasonably warm, so after asking permission and being bundled up in an embarrassingly large amount of clothing, Sam led him out into the garden.
It looks just the same and completely different. It was warm when we were here before, the trees had leaves and the gardens were full of flowers. Sam led him down to the bench, a lawn chair was sitting beside it. Dean dropped into the chair with a sigh.
"Are you okay?" Sam said with concern.
"Yeah, it's just further than I thought it was," Dean said with a half smile. "Felt like a mile."
"If you get cold, let me know." Sam was hovering a little, still frowning.
"Sammy? I'm fine, sit down, you're making me nervous."
"Sorry." Sam dropped onto the bench.
"Stupid cat." The cat came and hopped onto Dean's lap, he absently stroked the cat and watched Sam's face. His brother looked haggard, exhausted in mind and body. Sammy, we have to talk about all this. "Sam…"
"Dean," Sam said in the same instant. Sam looked up and smiled at him.
Dean took a deep breath. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry." Sam's voice was in synch with his.
"Sam," Dean said gently. "I should have told you."
"The main reason I wanted to come here."
"Yeah." Dean looked away from the pain in his brother's eyes. "I…Sam…" He cleared his throat, fighting the sudden lump that was there. Oh, god, Sam. I thought I was a dead man. I…I'm sorry.
"What?" Sam's eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"I thought I was dead. I didn't think there was anything that could be done, but I was hoping…" Dean sighed. "I was hoping that…"
"Bryn's would keep you out of hell?"
Dean shrugged. "Yeah, that and…" He stopped himself. I knew…
"I knew you'd be safe here, Sammy. Nothing could hurt you, nothing could get you. Safe."
"I…" Sam scrubbed his hands across his face. "Safe?"
"Yeah, and I could haunt the place." Dean tried for a laugh, it died before it was fully formed. The tears had spilled out of Sam's eyes. "Sammy, I'm sorry."
"I am too, Dean." Sam looked at him. "I begged you to take the spell, and you could have escaped hell. My turn to be selfish, and I'm sorry for that. I…"
"I can't lose you yet, Dean. I'm not ready to make it without you." Sam sighed. "I'm not really sure I will ever make it…but I know I can't now, not yet."
"I would have been around, annoying the cat."
"Not funny. Don't say it. It's not even a little funny."
Okay, after all that, how do you ask him? "Sammy…"
"Give me a little more time, Dean. Let me figure a way out of this for you."
"I won't have you risking your life for me. You took a big enough risk with the wight."
"Dean." Sam's voice was suddenly completely calm, quiet. Oh, no. That is never good with Sammy, not during a discussion like this. Will I survive the explosion? Stupid cat? You might want to make a break for it while you can. "I will do anything it takes to save you. I can and I will and you can't stop me."
Sam smiled a little. "Yeah, so there."
"What if you can't?" You just said anything, Sam. Does it apply to…
"If I can't save you?" Sam met his eyes. "Not an option, Dean. Not ever. Saving you is all there is."
Sam took a deep breath, Dean watched the emotions playing on his brother's face, grief, acceptance, love. "If I can't break the deal, I'll still do everything I can to save you."
"What?" Are you saying what I think you are saying?
"I talked with Bryn." The tears were running down Sam's face.
"Yeah?" I did too.
"It just can't be suicide, Dean. That's all, not by your own hand. I'll get you back here in time. She gave me…"
"Sam?" Now that I'm faced with it, it's harder, so much harder to ask.
"I gave you that spell, poison, nine months ago to let you rest, to end the pain. You think I could do less to save you from hell? Eternal pain? No, Dean. If I can't save your life, I will at least save your soul."
"Sammy?" Dean put his hand over his brothers.
"And you can haunt the cat." Sam laughed, it was a sobbing laugh, but he tried.
"Thank you," Dean whispered.
Sam nudged him with his knee. "Yeah." He looked across the garden. "Do you mind if I walk out to the fence? I'll be right back."
"Sure." Sam stood and walked towards the back of the garden, his shoulders were slightly slumped as if anticipating a blow. "Go with Sam," Dean said to the cat. Pyewacket jumped down and caught up with Sam. Dean watched the two of them walk to the back fence. Sam leaned on the fence and the cat hopped into the tree beside his brother. Dean sat watching for a long time before leaning back in the chair and closing his eyes. The sun was warm on his face, and as he fell asleep he thought he smelled the delicate scent of a garden blossom.
"I think that's everything," Sam said, coming into the living room. Bright morning sun was pouring through the windows.
"Did you remember the box from the kitchen?" Bryn asked.
"That was the first thing I put in the car." Sam laughed. "Dean would kill me if I forgot that."
"Damn straight," Dean said. "Homemade canned fruits and jam? If he forgot that, I'd leave him on the road somewhere."
"I packed the arrows, too."
"I still don't like the idea of the two of you hunting the wight." Bryn looked from one to the other.
"You fixed it so it would be easier, right?" Dean grinned. "Spells, charms, all that mumbling in Latin?"
"I hope so. Dean, Sam…"
"No," Dean said. "We're doing this for you. How long has that thing been hunting you?" How long? How old are you? You said once you were a little fey around the edges. I know what that means, Bryn.
Bryn smiled. "A long time, Dean."
"I thought so." She met his eyes and held them for a long moment. "When we come back, you'll have to tell me."
"I will," Bryn said softly.
"What are you two talking about?" Sam looked at them, then shrugged. "We need to get going."
"Take care, Sam." Bryn pulled him into her arms, he leaned down so his head rested against the top of hers.
"Thank you." He stood that way for another moment before he gave her a last squeeze. "I'll just check around once more." Sam disappeared down the hallway.
"You be careful, okay?" Bryn said, stepping towards Dean. "With the wight, with your brother. If you need me, call, I'll come no matter what. Even if the wight is still out there."
"I know." He pulled her into a tight embrace. "Thank you, Bryn, for everything. We'll be back before the end of the year, one way or another."
Dean leaned into the hug. A gentle warmth suffused him as he stood there. The black spot quieting as she held him, the charm resting against it grew warm and hummed a little against his skin. I hope Sam can save me, but there are worse places to spend eternity, I guess. I…even if Sam can't save me, even if he can't get me back in time, I hope he comes back. He's safe here. Safe. How can I leave this feeling behind again? Someday, someday I will have a place like this, safe, full of light. Safe for me, safe for Sam where we can just… He was still standing there when Sam came back in the room. His brother cleared his throat and Dean looked up, aware of tears on his face, he saw an answering brightness in Sam's.
"Ready?" Sam said.
Dean pulled away, Bryn brushed the tears off of his face. "Yeah." He picked up the cat. "Bye, Pye." The cat rubbed its face against his. "I still have your whisker." The cat put a gentle paw on his cheek. Sometimes the cat freaks me out.
Bryn and the cat walked them out to the car. She gave them each a quick hug before they got in. Sam was driving. Dean still felt unsteady after being up for a few hours and he thought it was better for Sam to drive. Because wrecking my baby is just not a god idea. I'd have to haunt my own ass. Dean dropped into the passenger seat and rolled down the window. "We'll call as soon as the wight is taken care of."
"Be careful," Bryn said again.
Sam started the car and pulled to the first gate. Bryn opened the gate for them and then swung it closed behind them. Dean got out and opened the second, turning to wave at Bryn as he closed it behind the car. When he got back in the car he pushed a tape in the stereo, adjusting the volume to not quite ear-bleeding levels. Dean was humming along with the album. "Just like witches at black masses," he sang softly.
"I don't think she's the type," Sam said with a laugh.
"Bryn? No, she's a Glinda."
"She is a witch."
"Took you this long to figure that out, bitch?"
Dean laughed and turned the volume up a little more. "Good to be on the road again."
"Yeah," Sam said, looking over at him. "We'll be back, Dean. I promise."
"Yeah, we will." Dean smiled. "Let's go wight hunting."
"Right." Sam pushed the accelerator down and the car roared down the road. Dean turned enough to glance back at the small house in the protection of the iron fences. Bryn was still watching the car. He sighed and, with another glance at his brother, turned his attention to the road in front of them.
Hark! You shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to condemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite.