Disclaimer/Spoilers: See chapter 1.
a/n: We've come to the end. Thank you for hanging on for the ride; I hope you enjoyed it. I appreciate each of your comments and thoughts, and look forward to seeing you again when the muse compels.
Also, I'd like to share Tara's vid to Halos from Under the Flood once more, created specifically for this story: http:// bamvidvault. / video/ weapon-and-the-wound-halos (remember to take out the extra spaces)
More in the end notes…
Kelly, thank you. For everything.
I won't break this
It took so long to make this
The life I lead is getting through to me…
Weapon and the Wound, by Days of the New
The night seemed to wrap around them, opening its arms to allow them entry, then sealing behind them as they moved down the road, blocking out light, sound, any essence that there was life outside of these walls of metal and glass.
Sam let Dean's Physical Graffiti cassette play, Zeppelin's familiar riffs and wanton wails slipping softly under the darkness to comfort him like the voices of old friends. His brother was an arm's reach away, collapsed in an exhausted heap against the passenger door, his breath casting small clouds on the glass. Sam stole a glance to the side, the warped reality of distance affected by the semblance of experience.
Dean slept as though caught in the grip of a large hand, his back tense, his arms wrapped around his middle, his brow pulled into a frown. In a glance, Sam caught a twitch of his brother's lips, a tightening of the skin around his eyes, a look of pain that only slipped out when Dean was most vulnerable.
Sighing, Sam stopped at a red light, rolling his neck to alleviate some stiffness, both hearing and feeling the cracks from that motion. When the light turned green, he turned left, following a path of instinct now, too tired to gauge if the direction he was heading was right, if the choice he was making was right, if the advice he heeded was right.
He'd simply needed someone to tell him what to do. Suggestions became orders, and for once in his life, Sam was a willing follower.
Upon reaching their destination, Sam stopped the Impala, sliding the gear into park, and sat back against the seat. The music lulled him and for a moment he considered allowing his head to drop back, close his eyes, and shut out the craziness of the world. Retreat, hide, pretend, deny.
"And our time is flyin' see the candle burnin' low. Is the new world rising, from the shambles of the old? If we could just join hands…"
Pulling in a breath, he reached out, gently shaking Dean, last night events replaying in his head, competing with the music for his attention.
He ejected the tape, letting the radio take over.
"Hmm." Dean's voice was groggy, barely aware.
"Dean, we're here." Sam shook him again, curling his finger tips around the curved edges of Dean's shoulder muscles.
"Beautiful disaster… flyin' down the street again. I tried to keep up. You wore me out and left me ate up. Now I wish you all the luck. Butterfly in the wind without a care. A pretty train crash to me and I can't care…I do I don't whatever…"
"Where?" Dean's voice ground out like salt water tossing rocks on a beachhead.
Sam looked over, rolling his head on the back of the seat, weary beyond comprehension. "Open your eyes, man."
"Don't want to."
"Just for a second." Sam cajoled, putting just the right amount of pleading in his tone to draw his brother from the safety of slumber into the harsh reality of now. He knew, because of Brenna, that Dean was hurting deep. That his cracks were in places people couldn't see. That he wouldn't be healed anytime soon.
Rubbing a knuckle across his left eye, Dean blinked, rolling his eyes sleepily toward the front window.
"That's Dad's storage unit."
Sam looked down. His hand rested, palm upwards, in his lap. "I know, Dean."
Dean carefully pushed himself away from the door, straightening in the seat with a creak of leather. "Why are we here?"
His voice was hard, an accusation, and he turned his eyes to Sam without adjusting his abused body, waiting for an answer. Sam took a breath, staring at his hands. He took another, looking over at Dean. A third and he was glancing at the digital clock installed when Dean had rebuilt the Impala. Bobby wouldn't arrive for another hour.
"There's something I didn't tell you..."
Dean sat up straighter. "Sam?"
Sam licked his lips, trying to pull courage from the air. Dean hated secrets. Hated them. He would sooner face Hell than find out that something had been kept from him. But this wasn't an I took the Impala without asking secret, or even an I see dead people in my head secret.
This was almost worse.
Dean's hand rested on his shoulder, asking for his eyes, and Sam felt a nauseating turn of his stomach.
"I knew they were leaving," he rushed out, just to get over the threshold of truth, just to get it out.
Sam looked over at Dean, the rumble of the Impala present beneath their legs, the darkness cloaking them from the glaring night, the hum of the music drawing their hushed voices together so that every word felt critical, every breath essential.
"Why give up? Why give in? It's not enough, it never is. So I will go on until the end. We've become, desolate. It's not enough, it never is, but I will go on until the end…"
It wasn't a question, Sam realized. It was a command. He cleared his throat, turning slightly in the seat so that he could face Dean.
"I knew Brenna and Virge were leaving."
Dean reached over and turned down the volume, his spine straight, his shoulders square, all semblance of weariness erased with the look of no bullshit, Sam stamped on his features.
"Start talking," Dean growled, "and don't leave anything out."
Sam licked his lips again, looking down at the blue glow cast from the digital clock across the leather seats of the car. He caught the glint of the silver seat belt with his eye and stared at it. Hard.
"I couldn't sleep," he began. "And I was, uh… worried about you…"
For one disorienting moment, he couldn't remember where he was. He heard someone breathing in the bed next to his, but knew instantly that it wasn't Dean. Blinking, Sam rubbed his puffy eyes with one hand, lifting his face from the pillow. The motion pulled at the damaged skin at his back and memory returned with the heat of the wounds.
Shifting to his side, he stifled a groan as he curled his legs up, breathing through his nose until the pain eased. He pushed himself carefully upwards, his bare feet hitting the carpeted floor of the hotel room, his eyes on Virgil's sleeping form. It was chilling seeing someone laying there that wasn't his brother.
A cold pit settled uncomfortably in his stomach as his thoughts jumped ahead to the potential outcome of this year. Rubbing a rough hand over his lips, Sam worked to banish the thought, to calm his suddenly racing heart, quiet his breathing.
It wasn't working. He needed to see Dean. Now.
He held his breath for a moment, listening. The music he'd heard as he'd fallen asleep was silent. No noise came from the adjoining room to indicate if he'd be interrupting something his brother would rather he didn't.
As he stood from the bed, the floor beneath his feet creaked slightly and Virgil stirred restlessly in his bed. Sam froze, unwilling to share the night with someone else just yet. He shuffled quietly across the floor, catching his reflection in the bureau mirror, remembering Dean's haunted reflection in the glass just hours before.
The glowing light from the digital clock filled the room with a soft hue of neon blue, casting a strange pallor on Sam's features as he twisted to get a glimpse of his bruised back. He was dressed in gray sweats, his chest bare. There were three gauze patches in a triangular pattern surrounded by reactive discoloration of his skin. He reached into a duffel and grabbed a T-shirt, realizing only when he pulled it on and felt the cotton grip him tighter than he was used to that he actually had one of Dean's shirts.
He faced himself, the white outline of Led Zeppelin's Icarus logo standing out against the black of the T-shirt in the blue light. Taking a steadying breath, he moved to the adjoining door, easing it open without a noise.
The other room was just as dark, a similar blue light casting strange shadows from the bed and other pieces of furniture. Sam immediately heard his brother breathing, recognizing the familiar rhythm and hitch of Dean's ever-alert, troubled sleep. Stepping further into the room, he realized that he only saw one huddled lump in the king-sized bed.
Stomach tightening, he looked instinctively to his left where the hotel chairs sat in shadow.
"Hey, Sam," Brenna whispered.
Though he'd been looking for her, Sam jumped, startled by her throaty whisper. He moved closer to her, leaning a hip against the dresser, very aware that if they woke Dean, there would be some explaining to do.
"Hey," he replied.
Sam smiled softly, still unable to really see her. "I was going ask you the same question."
She was silent for a moment, then shifted and Sam saw the blue glow of the clock against a bare leg as she pulled it up and wrapped her arm around it. For one moment, he was afraid that she was naked, and he shot his eyes over to Dean's sleeping form.
"He's really scared, Sam," Brenna said in lieu of answering his implied question. "I don't think he really knows how deeply his fear runs."
"What do you mean?" Sam slipped his hip up to the dresser top, slouching there with his hands hanging between his legs.
Brenna sat forward and Sam saw the dark cloth of a T-shirt covering her shoulder. "He's afraid of what he can't remember, what he does remember, what he knows, what he doesn't know…"
Sam swallowed. "Yeah, but… that kinda describes all of us."
Brenna shook her head, a tangle of red-gold looking almost purple in the odd lighting. "He has this hole in him… it wasn't there before."
"Before, all I saw was you. You and your Dad. And you're still there, you still stand out, but…" She rubbed her face and Sam saw the marks on her wrists as testimony to torture. "It's hard to describe."
Sam looked back at Dean, his brother's profile softened by sleep, his mouth open, lax. Dean lay on his stomach, his still-damaged back released from having to support him. His arms were under the pillow as if instinct had sent them there after the protection he was almost never without. One leg escaped from the blanket, the other stretched down toward the end of the bed.
He looked… young. Too young to have faced the horrors he'd faced. Too young to stare into the eyes of death and sneer. Too young to have to give up his future.
"Can we try something?" Sam asked, still looking at Dean.
Sam looked back at Brenna, then silently held out his hand. She had done it once before, back in New Orleans. She had shared her vision with him—with them—uniting them in a fight that had taken place essentially in Dean's mind. He needed to see Dean's mind now, if she'd let him.
"Oh, Sam, I don't… I don't know…" Brenna retreated back toward the shadow.
"You let Dean touch you," Sam pointed out.
"Yes, but… Dean, he…"
Sam slid from the dresser, falling softly to his knees in front of her, his face nearly level with hers. "Please," he said. "I just… I want to understand. I need to… I gotta save him."
Brenna's breath hitched. "I don't know if you can."
Sam felt tears build in his throat, threatening to choke him. "I gotta try," he said, emotion shaking his voice.
He held perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, willing her to trust him. As if pulled by a string, Brenna's hand slipped from the dark, the soft skin of her palm pressing carefully against the scruff of his cheek. He heard her inhale and suddenly every sound, every sensation was amplified.
He heard the computerized ticking of the digital clock, heard Dean breathing slowly, heard the soft rustle of sheets as his body twitched in sleep, heard his own heartbeat slamming panicked against his ribs, felt every inch of cotton dressing his body.
In an instant, he saw what she'd seen in Dean. It was a rush of color and light, an overwhelming collage of memory and images. It was too fast to sort, too intense to process, and he pulled away, falling to his rear and catching himself with his hands.
Brenna was panting. She leaned forward weakly, her head in her hands. Sam shot a scared look toward Dean, both relieved and worried that he hadn't stirred.
"Did you… see?" Brenna asked.
"Yeah, but," Sam swallowed, scooting back to lean against the dresser, his hands flat on the floor to balance him. "I couldn't… there was too much."
"Replay it," she suggested, "and slow it down."
Sam closed his eyes, recalling the rush. It was, he realized, mostly disjointed thought. Dean watching Dad burn, Dean watching Sam lay still in death, Dean missing Dad, Dean kissing the crossroads demon, Dean wanting to quit, Dean not knowing how, Dean looking to Bobby, Dean looking at himself. And then, like a heartbeat in the background of every thought, was Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam…
"There's a box," Brenna said. "Like… a vault? Or a safe?"
"I kept seeing a box. A big one. And he wanted you in there. Like he could keep you safe inside this… this room."
"A room," Sam said, looking at his brother. "Like a storage room?"
"Something like that," Brenna stood and walked carefully over to the bed.
Sam saw that she wore only underwear and a T-shirt, but seemed unfazed by his presence. Her whole focus was on Dean. As she stood looking down at his brother, her whispered words became harder to hear.
"Whatever this… room… is, it holds something sacred. Something critical. And he wants you there. He fears losing you over Hell, Sam."
"He said he didn't want to die. That he didn't want to go to Hell," Sam said, his voice choking again, making the effort to whisper almost impossible. "He said he'd… fight with me."
"He will," Brenna said, reaching out a slim hand to brush Dean's cheek, cupping his jaw when Dean stirred, rolling into her touch. "He will to his last breath, Sam."
Sam watched her. She looked right next to Dean. One knee on the bed, her hand on his face. She looked like she belonged there. And Sam knew in that moment that if they were anyone else, if they had any other destiny, if they could just walk away, then he would step away from his brother and leave him to this moment, this peace.
But they weren't anyone else. And because of that, everyone else would walk away from them.
"You can't stay," Sam said suddenly.
"He knows that, too," Sam revealed.
"I know," Brenna nodded, still looking at Dean.
"Don't make him watch you leave."
Brenna pulled her hand from Dean's face and straightened up. Dean shifted, rubbing his face in the pillow, turning in the bed to his other side. He sighed in his sleep, and Sam looked from him to Brenna, her eyes reflecting in the blue light.
She stepped toward him, crouching down so that her face was level with his.
"I saw you, too, you know."
"What do you mean?"
"When I touched you," Brenna cocked her head to the side. "I saw you."
Sam felt cold at the still look on her face. "And?"
"Don't be ashamed of where your paths have taken you," she said softly. "You've earned this."
"I've earned… his sacrifice? His soul?" Sam whispered, working to understand.
She smiled. "His love."
Sam blinked, tilting his head up as she stood. He stayed where he was, silently watching as she gathered her things, then slipped through the adjoining doors into the other room. Sam looked back at Dean, watching him for a long time. He listened to the muted voices in the other room, listened to the motion, listened to the door close.
He sat until the sun began to peek between the folds of the curtains, shining pale beams of dancing dust across the bruises on Dean's back, filling Sam's eyes with tears. He sat and let the tears fall, trailing silent tracks down his tense face, dropping from his chin to splash on the cloth of his borrowed shirt. He sat until the tears were gone and his body numb.
When he stood, Dean stirred once more, but didn't wake, his body hibernating to heal from the blood loss and abuse. Sam slipped quietly from the room, staring sadly at the empty beds in the next room. He saw a slip of paper in the mirror and knew it was from Brenna.
When his phone rang, he grabbed it quickly, flipping it open. When he saw the name on the screen, he closed the door to shield Dean from his voice.
"You told her to go."
Sam nodded, still not looking at him. Dean had watched his brother's face through his story, saw the pain etched in the lines around Sam's eyes, and struggled with the desire to hug him or shake him.
"You did the right thing," Dean sighed after several moments of silence. "And though I'm not too excited that you've seen inside my dreams and used a druid to check out my head… I get why you did it."
Sam looked up. "Yeah?"
Dean nodded. "I'd've probably done the same thing."
Sam's face relaxed, and the corner of his mouth ticked up in a small smile.
"I don't get what we're doing here, though."
Sam licked his lips. "Well, Brenna said… y'know, that you were thinking about a safe place. A place you wanted to put me in."
Dean glanced away, remembering his walk in the unnatural heat, his musing about shutting Sam in a vault and keeping him safe. "So, you thought, what? We'd just camp out in Dad's storage unit for a few months?"
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Yeah, Dean. That's what I thought," he said sarcastically.
"Well, what, then?"
Sam reached behind the seat and Dean followed his motion. When he saw his brother grab a photograph from a pile on the seat that he hadn't even realized was there, Dean's heart sank.
"I knew it," he whispered. He pointed a stern finger at Sam. "You are officially cut off from those daytime talk shows, pal."
"I think you need to do this, Dean."
"Sam, we already buried Dad," Dean twisted around in his seat, facing front.
"I don't think we did."
"Well, okay, so we burned his body. Same thing."
"That's not what I mean," Sam pressed.
Dean rolled his eyes, looking through the side window into the night.
"Look," Sam bumped Dean's shoulder with the back of his hand. "Just, look, already!"
"Fine!" Dean grabbed the photo from Sam's hand, and looked.
His throat tightened as the memory of this day shot through him. He hadn't even realized his Dad had a camera, let alone had witnessed this. But there it was, in faded color. Dean, roughly twelve years old, stood grinning next to an eight-year old Sam as the latter gripped the hilt of a knife he'd thrown into a target, one foot pressed against the wood, the other braced on the ground as he worked to pry the blade loose.
"You made a bulls-eye," Dean said, his voice choked. "First time out."
"You taught me that, Dean."
"You were always better than me with the knives, Sammy," Dean replied, still staring at the photo. "I didn't even know Dad was there."
"Yeah, well, look at this," Sam handed him another photo.
Dean crouched next to a rear tire of the Impala, his back to the camera. Sam stood next to him wearing his brother's too-big coat and holding a tire-iron. Snow framed the edge of the picture.
"And this," Sam continued.
Dean almost didn't want to see, but was compelled to take the picture. A four-year-old Dean held what appeared at first glance to be a wad of rags, but then he saw a small fist jutting out between the folds. Dean grinned up at the camera, baby teeth gleaming. A woman's hand rested easily on his shoulder, the image of protection.
"This is the last one," Sam said softly.
Thank God, Dean thought as he took the picture. It had obviously been taken from another room, the images were small, their backs to the camera. But it clearly showed Dean leaning over Sam's shoulder at a table, books spread out before them.
"Funny thing is," Dean said, clearing his throat, "you were probably explaining something to me, Smarty Pants."
"He had all this stuff in that room, Dean."
"Locked away. Like… in a vault."
Dean nodded again.
"I know he didn't tell us," Sam said softly. "But I don't think it was because he was a coward."
Dean flinched, having forgotten he'd accused his father of that.
"I think it's because he knew we'd come looking for it."
Words from long ago echoed in Dean's head. You're my brother, and I'd die for you… Long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you… You are my children. I'm trying to keep you safe…
"Y'know when I said that…" Dean looked down, rubbing the last picture with the pad of this thumb, "that I wasn't much different than that wizard?"
"Well, I think," he looked up, staring out at the storage unit. "I think in a weird way, we're all like that."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, just that," Dean pressed his lips together, trying to both hold back the unexpected tide of his emotions and force the words out. "He was a crazy bastard, no question. But… I mean, all he wanted was to be around his brother again. And Griffin," Dean turned in the seat to face Sam, "he got lost a bit there at the end—tiger can't change his stripes and all that—but he started this 'cause of Beck."
Sam looked down, his expression hidden.
"I guess what I'm saying is…" Dean licked his lip, his eyes on Sam's hands. "I'm glad the knife is gone."
"What?" Sam looked up, surprised. "What if it could have saved you?"
Dean looked him in the eye. "At what cost, Sam? I meant it. I don't want to die. I don't want to go to Hell. I don't want to leave you here." He leaned forward, watching as Sam drew back, wary. "But not at any cost."
Sam shook his head, turning off the ignition and stepping from the car. Dean watched as he closed the door, hard, then leaned against the car. Taking a breath, Dean got out of the car, leaning against the opposite side, facing his brother.
"You know, you can't walk both sides forever," Sam said, his lips flat with frustration.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," Sam pinned him with his eyes. "That I can't save you with my hands tied."
"Why do you think—" Dean was interrupted by the rumble of an approaching car. He turned, surprised, and watched as Bobby's rusted Chevelle pulled up next to them. He frowned as the older hunter shut off the engine and exited the car with a creak of hinges.
"Dean. Sam." Bobby nodded at each of them.
"What are you doing here?" Dean asked.
Bobby looked from him to Sam. "You didn't tell him?"
"I thought it would be better coming from you," Sam replied.
Dean looked over at his brother, the insecurity of being caught once more unawares drawing a frown across his forehead. "Tell me what?"
"Turns out Sam was right," Bobby said, reaching back into his car and grabbing a leather bound, ancient-looking book. "The Kestrel Dagger can be used to swap souls."
Dean leaned against the Impala, the strength exiting his legs in a mad rush. He looked over at Sam, watching as his brother rounded the front of the car to stand next to him.
"You're sure?" Dean asked. "It could have worked?"
Bobby frowned, lifting a shoulder. "It's messy—lots of Latin, some rare herbs, and a fair amount of blood—but yeah. There's a risk, though."
"What kind of a risk?" Sam asked.
"Aside from the fact that you're sending another soul to Hell in your place… the possibility of the ritual killing you is highly probable."
Dean looked down, his legs feeling hollow. He wasn't sure how he was actually still standing. The knowledge that he let his salvation slip from his fingers seemed to cave him in.
"You could have told us this on the phone," Dean said, his voice hoarse.
"I did," Bobby said, his eyes shifting to Sam. "Sam wanted me to meet you here."
Dean frowned, looking at Sam. "Why?"
Sam pushed his fingers into his jeans pockets, his chin lowered, eyes up, looking for all the world like a puppy that tore up his master's favorite book. "I thought Bobby should, y'know… see the storage unit. I mean, we just stumbled over this knife, Dean, and it would have worked."
"No," Sam put a hand out, taking a step back. "Don't, man. Just… have a little hope, okay? Bobby could find something. He could!"
Dean looked at Bobby, then back at Sam. "Okay, Sam."
Sam dropped his hand, exhaling with relief. His phone rang and he pulled it from his pocket. "It's Virge," he said, stepping away.
Dean watching him go, not ready to look back at Bobby.
"There's something else."
"There usually is," Dean sighed, shooting his eyes to the side.
"That dagger ain't gone," Bobby shook his head slowly, his lips disappearing inside his wiry beard as he pressed them close together.
Dean turned, facing his mentor. "What are you talking about? I was there, Bobby. I saw the thing go off the edge of the train."
Bobby stepped closer, dropping his voice. "That's just it… it can't be destroyed. Not like that."
"You have to melt the blade in a fire with," Bobby lifted his hands helplessly, "about ten different ingredients—some that I thought were just myths."
Dean felt the blood drain from his face. "Shit, Bobby. That means that knife is out there—somebody could find it and—"
Bobby shook his head. "It don't work like that. The power of the knife goes to the next owner. Whoever killed the last one. Or whoever bought it outright. To anyone else, it's just a knife."
"What about that whole… you can't use it or—"
"You can't use it against the owner," Bobby clarified. "Anyone comes across that knife now—other than you—and they just got themselves a pretty blade. It could change hands a hundred times."
Dean took a breath, glancing over at Sam, then down again. "Bobby."
"Don't tell Sam."
Dean looked up, holding his heart in his eyes. "I don't want him to go after the knife."
Bobby frowned, dropping his voice even lower. "Do you know what you're saying?"
"Yeah, I do," Dean said. "I can't," he swallowed, "I can't risk losing him, Bobby. Not for me."
Bobby reached up, clapping his hand against the side of Dean's neck. "Kid," he said, his voice gruff. "You break my heart. Don't you know that brother of yours would do anything for you?"
"That's just it, Bobby," Dean pleaded. "Unless we were sure that demons had souls…"
"You think Sam would trade his for yours."
Dean nodded, feeling Bobby's grip tighten. "Promise me."
Bobby looked down, sadness bowing his shoulders.
"Bobby," Dean reached up and gripped the older man's wrist. "You promise me you won't ever tell him."
Bobby released him, sniffed, stepped back, and looked up, meeting Dean's eyes. "You got it, kid."
Dean bounced his head once, an inaudible thank you. Sam loped back over to them.
"They're in Boston," he said, slightly winded. "Brenna knows some people there. They're, uh," he looked up at Dean, "they're going to stay there awhile. He just wanted you to know."
Dean felt his mouth tug up in a rueful smile. "What's he think, I'm going to do a booty call on his woman?"
"Think she was yours first, man," Sam said.
"She's his now," Dean said. "And that's… okay."
A strange hitch gathered his lungs into fists and he turned away to take a breath. He had made the choice; he had known it was right. But living with the knowledge that it was over, that there wasn't going to be a someday this time, tightened his heart. He started toward the trunk, gathering the boxes they had taken from the storage unit.
"Is it?" Sam asked, grabbing two flashlights.
"Let it go, Sam," Dean said softly. Please.
He watched Bobby as they entered the darkened room, the flashlights cutting the dark with bright cones of light. Sam pulled the string to a luminescent bulb above the work bench, lighting a small golden hue of space.
"I'll be damned," Bobby breathed, crossing the room. "He kept it."
"What?" Sam and Dean asked together.
Bobby pushed a tarp from a dark, wooden box.
"Is that a… coffin?" Sam squeaked.
Bobby chuckled. "It surely is. First vamp I ever tagged. John and I were with Elkins, up in some little retreat in Vermont."
"Didn't think they used coffins," Dean commented, setting the boxes he'd carried in down on top of the work bench.
"This was a quirky bugger," Bobby said, chuckling again. "I thought your daddy was going to shit himself when this dude rose up. Elkins had him all ready for the whole they blend in with us approach, and then we get Dracula himself our first time out."
Sam exchanged a look with Dean, then moved further into the seemingly endless space. Bobby followed, stopping at the shelves of curse boxes.
"These bring back some memories," Bobby said softly. "This one here? I made this one soon after I met John. He had himself a locket that—" He looked up at Sam, then closed his mouth. "Eh, I'm not sure you're old enough for that story."
"Got any spares?" Dean asked.
"Curse boxes? Sure, I got spares," Bobby glanced over at him.
"They hold anything, right?" Dean continued.
Bobby looked at him, understanding sliding neatly into place behind his eyes. He smiled briefly, nodding once, then cracked a smile. "You want to stuff your brother into one, gonna have to give me more time."
"Ha freakin' ha," Sam shook his head, wandering to the weapons table.
Dean grabbed the box of pictures and slipped carefully through the dusty, shattered door that had been blown away by rock salt. Leaving the other two in the other room, Dean sat down on the dusty floor, setting the box in front of him. From his pocket, he pulled out the pictures Sam had shown him in the car.
Looking at them once again in the light of the flashlight, Dean felt his lungs press flat. Childhood memories weren't generally happy for him. If pressed, he could come up with a hunt, a kill, a beer shared, a laugh or two. But what he generally recalled was pain. Blood. Survival. Loneliness. Fear.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he gazed at the picture of Sam working to pull the knife from the target and blinked back tears. It hadn't all been ugly. It hadn't all been dark. And Dad had seen that. He'd captured that. He'd remembered. He'd kept those moments safe.
"What I'd give to talk to you right now, Dad," Dean whispered. "There's so much I want to know… so much I want to tell you…"
Dad, I fell in love with a druid. You wanted me to kill her once upon a time, remember that? I almost got her killed. But it doesn't matter anyway because she's gone. She's safe.
Dad, I saved Sammy. I didn't have to kill him like you thought. I brought him back. I did what you would have. I did what you did.
Dad, I'm going to Hell. You've been there, you got any pointers?
Dad, I'm scared. What if I don't do right by you? What if I let Sammy down?
Dad, I miss you.
He jumped, realizing too late that a tear had fallen, cutting a path down his dust-covered features to expose his heart to the darkness. He cleared his throat, wiping a hand down his face, dismissing the sign of weakness.
"I brought the other boxes," Sam said, hesitantly, as if realizing he'd walked in on a private moment. "Bobby found some books and stuff. Thinks they might have something useful—for hunting, if not for the deal. He's going to take them to the car. You never know, right? Could be something in there we haven't found."
"Could be." Dean put the pictures back in the box. "He find anything else?"
"Yeah," Sam set the boxes down. "You know Dad got a tattoo, too?"
"What?" Dean looked over at Sam, surprised. Sam held out a worn piece of paper with a design on it that Dean didn't recognize. "What is it?"
"Bobby said it had something to do with the military," Sam shrugged. "Don't know why he got it when he did."
"Why? When did he get it?"
"After I left for Stanford, I guess," Sam said. "Bobby said it was one of the last times he saw Dad drunk."
"Huh," Dean fingered the paper, tracing the design with his thumb. "Too bad he didn't get a Devil's Trap."
Sam huffed out a rueful laugh. "Yeah… think of how different everything would be."
"Dad woulda never gotten possessed back in Jefferson City…"
"He would never have torn you up inside…"
"We would never have been in that car wreck…"
"You wouldn't have been dying…"
The brothers met each other's eyes as the rest of their story twisted through their minds, echoed in their identical expressions.
"Yeah, well," Dean lifted his shoulders. "There's no going back."
"Guess not," Sam sighed.
Dean stood, reaching into the pocket of his jeans. He pulled out the silver necklace with the triquatra knot twisted at the end. He'd never given it back to Brenna after finding it in the museum after Carter—Adoamros—had taken them. He let it dangle from his fingers for a bit, watching it glint in the beam from the flashlight.
"Dean, I'm sorry."
"For what?" Dean asked, still staring at the necklace.
"For… everything. I'm sorry you had to go through all that."
Dean raised an eyebrow, glancing at his brother. "Not like it was a picnic for you either. You forgetting that you got cut up and thrown through a window?"
Sam winced. "Don't think I'll be forgetting that anytime soon. Even though neither of us have the scars to prove it."
Dean looked back at the necklace. "Nothing heals without leaving a scar."
"I'm just… I'm sorry you had to see her again. I know you probably wished you coulda just… imagined how things were for her. It's a pretty big country just to run into her again."
Dean crouched, reaching into a box and retrieving the small gold ring he'd found before. Unclasping the necklace, he slipped the chain through the ring, then clasped it back again.
"I think I had to," he started. "I think… if I hadn't seen her now, like this… I don't know. I might've wondered if it was real, y'know?"
Dean dropped the necklace and ring into the box and closed the lid. "Yeah. It was."
"Is that… enough?"
"Yeah," Dean looked over his shoulder. "It is."
Sam shook his head. "I don't know, man. I don't think it would be enough for me. When I found Jess, I… damn, I didn't want to be away from her."
Dean stood. "That's just you, Sammy. When it's important to you, you don't walk away."
"I did once," Sam said softly.
"No, you didn't," Dean glanced down. "At that time in your life, we weren't important. Not like now."
"I wanted you to walk away," Sam reminded him. "I wanted you to leave her."
"You didn't want me to leave you," Dean corrected him. "There's a difference."
Sam tipped the flashlight up to catch Dean's face. "I just… I want to save you, Dean. I gotta…" He swallowed, dropping the light. "I gotta save you."
Dean glanced over his shoulder at the boxes, then past Sam to the darkened room beyond.
"Hell, Sam," he said, clapping a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Who knows? Maybe you already have."
a/n: This will be my last Brenna story for awhile. I won't say ever because I don't know what will tumble down my road next season. But after I keep a few promises in fanficland, I'm going to attempt an original story. If she comes around again, more than likely it won't be until we're well into Season 5.
That said, I sincerely thank you for embracing this character as you have. You made someone I saw in my head become real, tangible. In the moments she appeared on the page with the brothers, she mattered. Because of you guys. Thanks for that. Some of you may have seen this, but if you haven't, Tara did a Dean/Brenna vid to the song Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls. I'd like to share it with you: http:// . com/ video/2820784: Video:60509
Up next, Desolation Angels. The title is from a Bad Company album of the same name. (Paul Rodgers has the perfect rock voice, IMO. I had to go there eventually.) This story is in response to a charity auction bid made by Amy Blair last year. The woman has been the epitome of patience. The auction was constructed by K. Hanna Korossy to benefit Yum, and was a remarkable display of what we of the fandom can do for one of our own if they're in need.
The story will be set in Season 1, after the episode Faith, and will be a Christmas-type story focused only on the brothers. If you choose to read, I hope you are entertained. In the meantime, while I'm fleshing out the outline, I'll be posting some of my Virtual Season stories and one or two zine stories that have been released from the 'time hold.'
The Rover by Led Zeppelin (Spleen, this one is for you, girl)
Beautiful Disaster by 311
Until the End by Breaking Benjamin