IN GOOD HANDS
SUMMARY: A banishing gone wrong leaves Sam caring for an injured Dean. But the brothers' determination to finish the job puts both their lives in jeopardy. Two-shot, featuring whumpage, humor and a seasonal twist.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Sam and Dean Winchester belong to Monsieur Eric Kripke. I am simply encamped in his sandbox, playing with his toys. And what lovely toys they are.
A/N: For Vanessa. And to everyone: a huge apology for the much longer than intended gap between chapters. RL has been nutty over the past few weeks, kicking my butt and stealing my writing time. Things are back on track now – I think! Big thanks and hugs for the lovely reviews of Chapter 1. They were a joy to read and great inspiration to keep clicking the keys. This chapter is a meaty one; I could have split it in two but you've waited long enough. :) Enjoy!
Dean coughed, grimacing at the bitter taste of blood, as his eyes slid open. A hazy spider web filled his vision. He blinked and the haze cleared, the abstract web morphing into the shattered glass of the Impala's passenger door window.
He lay slumped against the dashboard, cheek pressed into the vinyl, shivering uncontrollably. He frowned at the broken window as an avalanche of images tumbled through his pounding head – the spirit of Caleb Barnes appearing suddenly in the road ahead, shooting at them; the explosion of glass as the Chevy's front window shattered; the car skidding and spinning across the road, then tilting and tipping, rolling over and over, tossing them around like rag-dolls.
Dean's stilted breathing quickened. Tossing them around.
"Sam?" His voice was a raw croak, the single word tripping over his increasingly violent shivers.
Dean pushed himself off the dashboard, hissing at the pain that ripped through his hands, that spiked through the roof of his skull. His vision blurred then cleared as he turned his head to the left. He froze.
Sam lay against the driver's-side door, his head hanging forward, his arms falling limply at his sides. Broken glass glinted in his hair and littered the seat around him. Blood, looking almost black in the harsh moonlight, stained his khaki jacket and jeans.
Dean's breathing quickened, each rapid exhale clouding in the frigid air. "Sammy?"
Glass crunched under Dean's feet as he pushed himself across the bench seat. His body protested loudly at the sudden movement, but Dean's focus was solely on his brother. "Sam?"
There was no response, even when Dean gently placed a bandaged hand on the back of Sam's head.
"Damn it. Don't do this." Dean swallowed against the bile rising in his throat. He reached for Sam's neck, feeling for a pulse, then glared at the bandages that wrapped his fingers, at the injury that robbed him of the means to find out if Sam was alive. His chest tightened at even the thought of the alternative.
"No … you're okay, right? Just waiting for your head to clear?" He nodded in a weak attempt to convince himself. "You're gonna be fine. I'm gonna take care of this."
Dean studied Sam's position and shook his head. "Your head hanging forward like that – it's not good for your breathing. I'm gonna have to move you, but we're gonna go nice and slow … nice and slow.
He slid closer. "Anything hurts, Sammy, you just yell, okay? Use some of those four-letter words you learned from your big brother – loud as you want."
Dean placed his left hand on the back of Sam's head, his right arm across Sam's chest and under his arm. His hands again screamed in protest as he lifted Sam off the door, sat him up and lowered him gently back against the seat, keeping his head and neck as stable as possible.
His breathing hitched audibly as he caught his first glimpse of Sam's face.
His brother was a mess. Blood stained the left side of his head, running from his nose, his mouth and his ear, and from a gash on his skull, his hair matted and sticky. His left eye was bruised and swollen shut.
Dean swallowed, holding Sam's face in his hands, and forcing a smile. "It's not so bad, Sam. Not so bad. Nothing we can't take care of." Dean's shivers were escalating with fear and cold. "But, unless you're trying to freak me out, now would be a real good time for you to wake up."
Ignoring the blood, his brother's blood, that now stained his bandaged hands, Dean leaned forward, placing his face directly in front of Sam's. He closed his eyes and waited.
But there was no warm exhale of Sam's breath against his skin. The only sound was Dean's own harsh breathing.
"Damn it." Dean again studied his brother closely, running his hand down Sam's face. "You're breathing, right Sammy? It's just me. My hands aren't working right ... I'm not thinking straight."
He'd examined Sam for injuries too many times to count, his hands deftly finding broken bones or sprains, jagged cuts or suspicious bruises, and quickly determining the extent of the damage. But here, now, injuries old and new robbed him of his two best diagnostic tools – his head and his hands.
Dean's eyes again slid closed as he waited for the latest bout of nausea to pass, for the throbbing in his hands to dull. "Think," he admonished himself. "Think. What do you need to do? You need to ... you need to ... " His eyes snapped open. "Damn it, Dean. Check his heart." His sluggish thinking made him angry and his anger helped clear his head.
He pushed aside Sam's jacket and leaned forward, pressing the side of his face to Sam's chest. He closed his eyes, and listened.
"I can hear your heart, Sammy." Dean flashed back suddenly to a few days earlier at the hospital, a fuzzy déjà vu of leaning against his brother, listening to his heart. "Damn, it's loud … sounds like the Jaws theme …"
Now there was nothing, the silence terrifying. He pressed harder but, still, nothing.
He lifted his head and stared again at his brother, at the too pale skin, at all the blood. "No. No." He shook his head. Sam couldn't be gone. Dean's hands screamed again as he hauled up Sam's shirts and pressed his ear to his brother's now bare chest, ignoring the mottled bruising that already marred Sam's skin. "Come on. Come on. Give me something … something."
And then there it was. Da-dum.
A single beat, faint and slow, almost drowned out by Dean's own labored breathing. He froze in the silence that followed, refusing to take another breath until he heard it again.
He closed his eyes, counting several more beats before he allowed himself to believe that Sam's heart was beating. As he relaxed, he also felt the slight rise and fall of his brother's chest. Dean sat back, dizzy with relief. "Attaboy, Sammy. You keep fighting … you hear me?" Sam's heart rate was a far cry from the healthy, powerful beat his subconscious remembered from the hospital but as long as it was pumping, as long as he was breathing, he had a chance.
Dean looked out through the Impala's missing front window. The storm was over, the moon now clearly visible in the inky sky and casting tall shadows across the snow that half buried the Impala. The Chevy sat at the bottom of a ditch, about eight feet below the road. Thick forest was to their left, the tall pines stretching sixty feet toward the dark sky; to their right was the snow-covered slope that the car had tumbled down.
Dean shook his head. "Nobody's finding us here, Sammy. We'll have to call in the cavalry." He shivered, his breath clouding in front of him, and his attention quickly returned to his brother. "But first – we gotta get you warm."
Dean twisted around and reached into the back where the blanket Sam had wrapped around him for the trip to the hospital still lay puddled on the seat. He hooked his hand under a fold and hauled it into the front with a grunt. It was an old army blanket that had been their dad's. Dean winced, pain needling his hands as he tucked it around his brother. "We've had this a long time, Sammy. When we were kids, we'd both sleep under it in the back seat, remember? Now look at it – it barely covers just you."
He pulled the blanket under Sam's chin and nodded. "You took real good care of me this week. The stuff you came up with …" His voice trailed off as emotion threatened to overwhelm him. He cleared his throat, again forcing a smile. "But I've been watching out for you for a long time – and nothing's gonna happen to you on my watch. That's a promise."
Dean sat back as he fumbled in his jacket pocket and pulled out his cellphone. It was a new one that Sam had picked up for him the day after he'd injured his hands.
The phone had been the cause of the one big argument between the brothers over the past week. Sam had used the last of their cash to buy it because Dean was having trouble working his own phone, the buttons too small for him to operate with his bandaged fingers. The new phone had half the features, but a much larger keypad.
"I don't like you being without some way of getting hold of me in case something happens," Sam said, as he handed over the phone. They hadn't been apart much since Dean's hands were injured but Sam sometimes left him sleeping when he went out on a food run or to replenish first aid supplies. "If you don't trust land lines, this is the next best thing. Just use it until your hands are better."
Sam's rationale was logical, his intent nothing but caring, but Dean was spoiling for a fight. He was tired of being in pain, tired of how the painkillers made him want to do nothing but sleep and, despite Sam's efforts to protect his independence, increasingly hated the limitations his injury imposed.
His frustration had been mounting all day and, when Sam handed him the phone, he blew. "Damn it, Sam. It's a waste of cash."
Sam's jaw clenched. "It's not a waste. What if you need-"
"Screw what if. We maxed out our last credit card paying for this place; we can't eat the damn phone, it can't fill up the gas tank. We need the cash more."
Their cash reserves were running low and, with Dean's hands injured, he couldn't hustle to help replenish them – just one more thing fueling his anger.
The argument escalated until Sam stormed out to cool off and Dean, feeling like a complete jerk, was left to kick himself for over-reacting.
Sam had returned a little over three hours later, saying nothing but throwing a wad of cash onto Dean's bed before disappearing into the bathroom. He emerged from the shower ten minutes later, quickly changed into sweats and a t-shirt, and then flopped onto his bed after grabbing the local newspaper from the table by the window.
Dean glanced down at his hands, then over at his brother. "Housekeeping came by three times while you were out."
Sam's eyes stayed on the newspaper. "Yeah?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah. Once to bring us clean towels – again. Second time to bring the clean glasses they'd forgotten – only they hadn't. Third time to fix the shower – which wasn't broken."
Sam kept reading. "Oh."
Dean's eyes were locked on his brother. "You were gone three hours; someone came by, checked in on me, once each hour. You telling me that's a coincidence?"
Only a slight upturn at the corner of Sam's mouth betrayed his neutral expression. "Totally."
Dean snorted, then bit back a smile as he picked up the wad of bills. "How much is here?"
"Cards or pool?"
Dean's grin broke loose. "I should piss you off more often. It improves your game."
And, with that, the tension was gone.
Sitting in the broken Impala now, shivering, Dean stared down at the phone that had launched the argument. "We're kind of predictable, Sammy. I blow up, you storm off." He shook his head. "One of these days, you should deck me – just to shake things up."
He glanced again at his unconscious brother before jabbing at the phone's Power button. His chest tightened when the LED display read No Signal.
"Damn it." Dean looked around outside the car, frowning at the tall trees and deep ditch, before turning back to his brother. "Okay, Sammy, I'm gonna have to leave you for a few minutes … crawl up to the road there. I think if I get out of this ditch, the phone might work."
He tucked the blanket more securely around Sam, offering his brother a worried smile. "You do anything stupid while I'm gone, like stop breathing, we're really gonna have something to fight about." His hand paused briefly against his brother's face. "I'll be right back."
Getting the door open was the first challenge. The Impala doors were big and heavy; over the past week Sam had opened and closed the doors for Dean, the stress of pulling the handle too harsh for his injured hands. Now he had no choice but to do it himself.
Dean slid across the seat, huffed out a breath and yanked on the handle, hissing loudly at the fiery pain that tore through his hands. The lock gave, but the door didn't open. Puzzled, he studied it for a moment before realizing that, as the Impala had rolled, the car's frame must have twisted.
"Damn it to hell," he muttered as he pushed himself back toward Sam, twisted around on the seat, lay on his back and planted both feet on the passenger door. He bent his knees and slammed his feet into the door, repeatedly. "Where is it written that Winchesters … can't … catch … a friggin' … break."
The door gave suddenly, opening five or six inches before grinding to a stop in the deep snow. Dean slid closer to the passenger side, again placed his feet on the door and pushed, his groan matching that of the Impala's hinges. The door opened another six inches, creating a big enough gap for him to squeeze through.
He sat up, slid along the seat and slowly pulled himself out of the car. As he stood up, his vision swam and, before he could grab the Impala to steady himself, his knees buckled and he toppled over, landing face-first in the snow. He gasped as the snow stung his skin but the shock helped him focus. Wiping the snow from his face with the back of his arm, he used his elbows to push himself up, sitting back on his heels. Then, with an audible exhale, he staggered to his feet and pushed through the knee-deep snow to the bottom of the slope.
Dean glanced up toward the road, breathing heavily; on any other day, it would be an easy climb – the embankment was less than 45 degrees, the snow firm, providing good traction. But with his hands out of commission and his head spinning, Mount Everest paled in comparison.
"One step at a time, Dean," he muttered, jamming his boot into the snow and falling forward, again using his elbows to haul himself upwards. It was hard work and slow going; when Dean pulled himself over the crest and onto the side of the road, he lay on his back, chest heaving. "I can think of so many better ways to spend time in the mountains, Sammy." He rolled over and, again, staggered to his feet. "A hot tub and a ski bunny each come immediately to mind."
His jeans were sodden, the wet denim crusted in snow and hardening in the bitter cold. Snow had also worked its way inside Dean's boots and up his sleeves; his feet were numb and his wrists, just above his bandages, burned from the ice.
He waited for the now familiar vertigo to pass and his vision to clear before glancing both ways on the road; there was no sign of any traffic, no tire tracks in the snow – not even their own. "Come on." Dean's shivering was worsening rapidly. "Where the hell are all those cars heading for the ski lodge?"
Sam's voice of reason echoed inside his head. "There was a storm, Dean. Smart people stayed off the road."
Dean snorted. "Right. The same smart people who asses we're trying to save."
Clumsily, Dean pulled his phone from his pocket, brushed off the snow with his sleeve and jabbed at the power button. His heart racing, his breath clouding with each ragged exhale, he waited for it to power up. Relief washed over him as three bars appeared on the screen. Dean nodded, pressed 9-1-1 and lifted the phone to his ear.
It was ringing, but the sound kept cutting out. Dean began pacing, hoping to find a sweet spot where the signal was clear. A woman's voice appeared suddenly out of the silence before quickly disappearing again.
Dean continued to pace. "I need an ambulance." He was shouting, hoping he was being heard even if he couldn't hear the operator. "My brother's hurt. Our car's gone off the road."
He strained to listen but between the connection cutting out and the uncontrollable shaking of his hand, he heard nothing. "We're on Green Mountain Road, about 10 miles north of County Road Four. Send an ambulance ASAP. Green Mountain Road, 10 miles-"
The line went dead.
Dean closed his eyes and the hand holding the phone fell to his side. He swallowed. "Please, for Sammy's sake," he mumbled, "let somebody have heard that."
Dean spun around and found himself face-to-face with Caleb Barnes.
The spirit grabbed Dean by the neck and pulled him close. As Dean struggled to breathe, pawing at the spectral hands locked on his throat, the spirit's eyes flashed maliciously. "You'll die like I did – alone, forgotten, disappearing like you never existed."
Barnes smiled coldly and shoved Dean off the side of the road. The elder Winchester fell backwards into the ditch, tumbling down the slope before slamming into the Impala with a sickening thud. He landed, face down, in the deep snow beside the half-buried car.
Dean raised his head, but didn't have the strength to look up as Barnes faded from sight.
"Bastard," Dean muttered as his head fell forward and consciousness left him.
Dean roused as he was rolled from his stomach onto his back. The cold burn of the snow faded slowly as warm blankets were wrapped around him and a soft hand gently brushed the ice crystals from his face.
"The c-call went th-through?" His words tripped over the shivers as he fought to peel open his eyes.
"Shhhhh." The female voice was soft, reassuring. "You're safe now."
Dean's breathing sped up as his thoughts immediately turned to his injured brother. "S-Sam ... help S-Sam."
"Sam's being well taken care of." Her touch was gentle as she caressed the side of his face. "I'll make this right."
Dean's vision slid into focus and his face crumpled in confusion; his rescuer was not the paramedic he'd expected to see. The woman was wrapped in a heavy cloak, her face mostly hidden inside the folds of its oversized hood. As she moved, Dean caught glimpses of white-blonde hair that tumbled in soft waves past her shoulders. She turned and the lantern she held briefly illuminated her face, the flickering candlelight revealing intense blue eyes and a warm smile.
"Who-" His eyes slid closed and his question faded as a wave of nausea washed over him.
"Rest." The stranger stroked his cheek with her thumb. "It'll pass."
Dean inhaled sharply at the strange sensation that accompanied the woman's touch.
Her voice was almost hypnotic. "Don't fight it. No harm will come to you now."
There was no logical reason for Dean to trust this stranger but as the nausea faded and he slipped back into unconsciousness, he only knew that he did.
Movement again pulled Dean back to awareness. He rolled his head to the right; Sam was lying about five feet away from him.
Dean struggled to sit up, to throw off the blankets that enveloped him, to get to his unmoving brother. Slender but strong hands pressed gently against his shoulders, stopping him. As before, the cloaked figure hovered over him. This time, the top of her face remained in the shadow of her hood but light from the lantern on the floor between the two brothers revealed her smile. "Sam is in good hands, I promise. Sleep."
He started to protest but as she traced her fingers down his face, drowsiness overwhelmed him. Eyes drifting shut, he followed the cloaked woman as she turned from him and toward his brother. Like Dean, Sam was now cocooned in blankets. As Dean looked on, the woman ghosted her hand across Sam's forehead and down the side of his face, over the jagged cuts and horrific bruising that made the left side unrecognizable. She then peeled back the blankets, pulled up his shirts and slid her hand down his chest, pausing near his heart. For a moment, her hands seemed bathed in a soft light. Dean blinked and the light was gone.
The stranger turned to Dean and smiled again as she rewrapped Sam in the blankets. "He needs rest, as do you. There is much work for both of you to do."
Dean had question on top of question but, instinctively, he knew Sam was safe. And, for now, that was enough.
Dean's eyes slid open and he found himself staring at a candle flickering gently inside a glass hurricane lantern. The light sat on the floor beside the pile of blankets wrapped around him.
He pushed himself up with a groan, feeling stiff and weak, but warm and, surprisingly, pain-free. His eyes darted around the room, but the darkness yielded little beyond the small pool of light created by the candle.
His gaze quickly fell on the pile of blankets on the far side of the lantern – blankets that enveloped his brother.
There was no response.
Dean kicked off the covers, shivering lightly as he left the comfortable warmth, and scrambled to Sam's side.
His brother lay on his back, his head turned to the side, facing away from Dean.
"Sam?" Dean's voice grew more insistent as he placed a hand on his brother's shoulder "Wake up." Dean recoiled at the heat rolling off Sam. His brother was burning up with fever, the flickering light of the candle picking up the flush of his skin, the sheen of sweat on his forehead. Gentle tremors racked his body and he was mumbling incoherently.
"Damn it, Sam." Dean reached out, slid his hand under Sam's face, turned his brother's head toward him, and froze. Blood still stained his skin but the vivid bruising was gone, his eye no longer swollen. "What the he-"
"Let him rest. He's healing."
Dean's head snapped around toward the voice. The mysterious woman who'd rescued them now stood in an open doorway, silhouetted by moonlight. She still wore the full-length cloak, but the hood was down, sitting in soft folds on her shoulders. Wind played with strands of her long hair as it pushed past her into the room.
"Healing?" Dean turned quickly back to Sam. "He's burning up."
"Sam's injuries were severe. He needs time."
Dean sifted through the images in his head, of this woman ghosting her hands over Sam, of the light that seemed to emanate from them as she worked. His breathing sped up. "What the hell did you do to him?"
"No more or less than I did to you."
Dean again stared at her, knowing he should be in more pain than he was. "What did you do?"
The woman turned from Dean to the younger Winchester. "I set things right, so you can do the same. Finish what you started, what you came here to do."
The woman raised her hand and fire flared suddenly behind Dean. He jumped, but relaxed quickly when he realized the fire was contained within a big, stone fireplace – a fireplace he recognized. "This is Barnes' cabin." He whirled around. "Who -"
The woman was gone, the door to the cabin closed as if it had never been opened.
Sam groaned and Dean's attention returned immediately to his brother. He leaned forward, resting his hand on Sam's head. "Easy, Sammy. You'll be okay." He glanced suspiciously back at the door. "You'd better be."
He turned again to Sam and his brother's eyes snapped open, glassy irises staring up at him. The younger Winchester reached up and grabbed Dean by his shirt, desperation in his voice. "We have to help him."
Dean placed his hand on top on his brother's. "Help who?"
Sam swallowed, words tumbling out breathlessly. "Listen to me, Bobby; If there's only one working part, that's enough. We're not just going to give up on him."
"Bobby?" Dean frowned. "Damn it, Sam. Fevers always did scramble your channels."
As a kid, Sam had been a magnet for every bug going and Dean had nursed him through most of them. With fevers, he was prone to nightmares and hallucinations, memories and fears mixing indiscriminately. As an adult, Sam's immune system was stronger but, when hit with a fever, the delirium was much the same.
Sam's eyes slid closed and he was breathing heavily. "Bobby's taking care of the car, Dad - so Dean can fix it up when he gets better. We just have to make sure he gets better."
It sounded like Sam was now reliving some of the aftermath of the crash with the semi while Dean was in a coma. Dean shook his head. "I'm okay, Sammy. Just-"
Sam's eyes snapped open, glaring at Dean. "Your son is dying and you're worried about the Colt?"
Okay, that was obviously aimed at Dad. Dean was not the least bit surprised that his father and brother had butted heads when he wasn't around to play referee.
Sam's head rolled restlessly back and forth. His muttering was again unintelligible, except for one word Dean heard clearly. "Jess."
Dean looked down at Sam's hand, still fisted in his shirt, and closed his own bandaged hand around it. "You still miss her, don't you? Always will, I guess." He smiled. "I wish I'd gotten the chance to know her."
His smile became a grin. "And I really wish I'd been a fly on the wall when you asked her out the first time. You're not exactly Casanova at the best of times, Sammy. And when you're nervous? You're a bit of train wreck."
His grin faded as Sam again became agitated.
Dean frowned. "Okay, we're back to dad again, huh?"
"This is wrong … Where's Dean? He should-"
"Hey, hey." Dean placed his hand on the side of Sam's head, trying to calm his brother by stroking his thumb across his forehead as he had when he was little. "I'm right here, Sammy. Right here."
His jaw clenched worriedly as his brother's shivering worsened. He grabbed the blankets he had been wrapped in and added them to those draped over Sam, then shrugged off his leather jacket and added it to the pile.
Sam's head rolled back and forth, his breathing labored. "Jess? … No … you shouldn't be here…"
Dean's frown deepened as he worriedly pushed Sam's sweat-soaked hair off his face and began checking him over, needing more than the assurances of a stranger' to believe his brother would be okay. "Take it easy, you're okay." He shook his head at Sam's increasing agitation. "Damn it, Sam. What's goin' on in there?"
Sam woke up smiling. He was spooned beside Jess, his arm wrapped around her. He nuzzled her neck, burying his face in her hair. "Mmmm, smells great. New shampoo?"
"Yeah – two month ago. Thanks for noticing." Jess turned over, propping herself up on her elbow, her face inches from Sam's. She smiled, eyes dancing mischievously. "Aren't lawyers supposed to have a keen sense of observation?"
"Absolutely." Sam reached forward, threading his fingers through her hair and pulling her in for a long, slow kiss. Adding a quick kiss on the nose as they pulled apart, he grinned. "If I'd observed you changing the bottles, I would have noticed they were different and figured it out a lot sooner."
Jess rolled her eyes. "Boys. You're all hopeless." She leaned in for another kiss before rolling over, throwing off the covers and pushing herself out of bed. "It took Megan's boyfriend Ken three weeks to notice she changed her hair color."
"At least I'm not that bad." Sam's eyes followed Jess as she walked from the bed to the bathroom, fully appreciating how her tiny tee and hot pants showed off her toned curves. As Jess disappeared inside the bathroom, he rolled onto his back, closed his eyes and grinned. "And I know for a fact you've always been a redhead."
A wet facecloth came flying across the room, hitting him square in forehead. "Gah."
He yanked the wet towel from his face, twisting as he sat up to see Jess grinning back at him from the bathroom doorway. His grin widened as he slid his legs out of bed. "You realize this means war?"
"Bring it on, Winchester." Her smile turned seductive as she slipped a bar of soap inside the white, terrycloth spa-mitt she held. "But be warned – I'm armed." Her eyes flashed teasingly as she disappeared again inside the bathroom. "But first, you have to finish the job."
Sam's eyebrow quirked as he stood up and walked around the bed. "What job?"
"Stop Barnes – before he takes another life."
Sam's smile vanished as he strode quickly toward the bathroom. "What? How could you-"
He stumbled as a wave of dizziness washed over him, and crashed heavily to the floor. As he fell, the room around him flickered and, suddenly, he was no longer in the bedroom, but inside the Impala, behind the wheel, as the Chevy rolled over and over. The car came to an abrupt stop as it smashed sideways into a tree, momentum slamming Sam's head into the driver's side window. The glass splintered under the impact, Sam's blood staining the shattered remains.
Slumped against the door, stunned by the blow to the head, Sam struggled to open his eyes and push himself up. A groan pulled his attention to the passenger seat. Vision blurred, head pounding, he turned slowly to see Dean lying hunched over the dashboard, facing away from him.
"Dean?" Sam's breathing sped up as he reached out a shaky hand, grabbing the sleeve of his brother's leather jacket. "Dean?"
Dean groaned again, lifting his head slowly and turning toward the driver's side. But as he pushed himself off the dashboard, sat back and turned around, Sam's eyes widened in shock. It wasn't Dean.
Sam's rapid breathing was audible. "Dad?"
John Winchester stared back at his youngest son, pain and worry dulling his eyes. "I'm surprised at you, Sammy. Why didn't you kill it?"
"I …" Heart slamming against his chest, eyes locked on his father, Sam shook his head. "This is wrong. You …" He twisted to look in the back seat but there was no one there. "Where's Dean? He should-"
He turned back, but the passenger seat was empty. He swallowed, confusion fuelling nausea, and allowed his eyes to slide closed. The wind picked up, blowing through the missing front window of the car, ruffling his hair and raising goose-bumps on his arms.
"Finish the job, Sam."
His eyes snapped open. A cloaked figure now stood outside the car, staring at him. She was mostly in silhouette but the long cape she wore softly followed the slender curves beneath it. Her face was hidden inside the cloak's large hood, but he knew the voice.
She reached up and lifted off the hood, letting it puddle around her shoulders. She tilted her face, revealing the warm brown eyes Sam feared he'd forgotten. "You have to stop him, Sam … do what I cannot."
Sam's heart was racing. "You shouldn't be here. We-"
His breath caught as her face flickered, superimposed with that of a stranger whose eyes glowed a brilliant blue.
"Saving people, hunting things – that's what you do." It was Jess's voice and someone else's, blending together as one. She smiled. "What you must do now."
Sam blinked, and the cloaked figure was gone. Sudden movement to his right grabbed his attention. Sam turned in time to see a body come tumbling down the snowy slope toward the car. It was a blur of denim and leather but he knew instinctively it was Dean. He flinched as his brother's body slammed into the side of the car.
"Dean!" Pain ripped through him as dragged himself across the seat, gritting his teeth, fighting to stay conscious.
"Hey, hey. Sammy – take it easy."
The familiar voice startled him and his eyes snapped open, darting around in confusion. He was no longer in the car, but lying on the floor staring up at Dean. His brother wasn't sprawled in the snow beside the car, he was crouched beside him, smiling down at him worriedly. Heart racing, Sam reached out and grabbed his brother's shirt, needing physical contact to reassure himself he was real. "Dean … I …"
"You're okay, you're safe. You had a fever – a bad one." Dean leaned forward, gently pressing his forearm against Sam's forehead. "Looks like it's broken, though."
"Fever?" Sam scrubbed a hand over his eyes as Dean lifted his arm away.
Dean nodded. "And you know what happens when you get a fever? You have nightmares." He studied Sam worriedly "Which was it this time? The one where you only get a 'B' in American History, or something more vivid?"
Sam closed his eyes, frowning at the residual headache as he sorted through the images in his head. "It was a bunch of stuff, all jumbled together." His eyes again snapped open. "We crashed the car!"
Dean's jaw clenched. "No, Barnes crashed the car - put us through the spin cycle. But it's okay; we came out in one piece." He slipped his hand behind Sam's head. "Come on, sit up. You need to drink something."
Helped by Dean, Sam pulled himself up and immediately slumped sideways against his brother. Dean held him steady until the dizziness passed.
"You're just a little dehydrated, I think." Dean dug into the pocket of his jacket that topped the pile of blankets covering Sam and pulled out a bottle of water. "Here, drink this – slowly."
Sam nodded, taking the bottle Dean offered. He squeezed his eyes closed then opened them wide, blinking as they adjusted to the flickering light cast by the fire. He unscrewed the lid from the bottle, took a long drink then glanced around. "We're at Barnes's cabin?"
"How'd you get us here?" Sam's eyes widened as he looked up at Dean, his now clear vision taking in the dried blood that painted his brother's face and neck and stained both the front of his shirt and the bandages that wrapped his hands. "God, Dean, you're hurt, you …."
Dean sat on the floor beside Sam. "Relax. I'm okay."
Sam shook his head. "You're covered in blood. You-"
Dean smiled softly. "Don't want to scare you, but most of it's yours." He gestured to the left side of Sam's head.
Sam's eyebrows arched as he reached up and felt the dried blood that caked his face, matted his hair and soaked his jacket. He looked up at Dean, confusion clouding his hazel eyes. "If I'm bleeding this much, shouldn't it, you know … hurt?"
"Dude, I know." Dean shook his head. "But, trust me, I checked you over pretty thoroughly. The fever was bad for a while there but, physically, you're okay – no broken bones, no cuts, no internal damage as far as I can tell. Ditto for me."
"How?" Sam looked again at the blood staining his clothes. "I remember the car skidding, then rolling … How the hell are we in one piece? And if we're not hurt, where did this blood come from?" He glanced around the cabin. "And why'd you bring us here?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "One question at a time, dude. It's like you're five all over again."
"Fine." Sam swallowed. "Let's go with the big one: How are we in one piece?"
Dean turned to stare at the cabin door, the last place he'd seen the cloaked stranger. "I think we have Blondie to thank for that."
Dean turned back to Sam, shaking his head. "Man, this sounds whacked, even for us, but there was this hot blonde. I saw her by the car …" He pointed to the door, "… and again, right over there. She said she healed us, 'put things right.'"
Sam stared at him incredulously.
Dean offered a weak smile. "Told you it was whacked. Look, I'll be the first to admit everything since the crash is a little fuzzy but, I swear, on a stack of Playboys, I am not making this up. I opened my eyes expecting to see a paramedic and, instead, there was a blonde chick …"
Sam's jaw clenched. "… in a cape?"
Dean did a double take. "You saw her too?"
"Yeah …" Sam sifted through his memories, then froze. "Dean … it was Jess."
Dean shook his head slowly. "The woman I saw was not Jessica."
Sam frowned. "But-"
"Sammy, they're similar types, you had a fever; it's easy to see how you could substitute Jess's face for this stranger's but, trust me, it was not Jessica." Dean's voice softened. "You know we … took steps, made sure she wouldn't be trapped here. It can't be her. It isn't."
Sam closed his eyes, sorting through the images spiraling through his head. Again he saw Jessica as she pulled down the hood of her cloak but, this time, her face flickered, briefly revealing that of a stranger beneath. He scrubbed a hand over his face. "You're right. I see someone else." He blew out a breath, shaking his head. "I was dreaming about Jess, about the two of us at Stanford and then, all of a sudden, she started talking about Barnes, about how we had to get rid of him – 'finish the job.' Guess that should have been my first clue, huh?"
Dean frowned. "She was pushing you to get rid of Barnes?"
"Yeah." Sam studied Dean carefully. "You too?"
Dean nodded. "There was a lot more Yoda-speak involved but, yeah, that was the gist."
Sam shook his head. "Why would she give a crap about Barnes?" He snorted. "For that matter, why would she give a crap about us?"
Dean pursed his lips. "To figure that out, we need to figure out who she is."
Sam rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. "My laptop would help."
Dean nodded. "Agreed but, since we don't have it, we'll have to make do with our very own walking encyclopedia of weird." He leaned forward. "Come on, Sammy: you did the research when we were trying to figure out who Barnes was. Sort through the 'also-ran' pile – who'd you dismiss that might tell us who Blondie is?" He shook his head. "I mean – a hot blonde in a cape, running around saving people? That's gotta make the local history books, right?
Sam blew out a breath, rubbing his temple. "Okay, let's start with basics – human or supernatural?"
Dean sat back. "Definitely supernatural. She seems to appear and disappear at will …" He motioned with his head toward the fireplace. "She started that just by waving her hand and, as a trump card, I saw her do this healing hands hoodoo, complete with light show." His jaw clenched as he took in the dried blood that stained Sam's face, all that remained of the horrific injuries sustained in the crash. "And what she did for you ... for us ... that's not something she learned at Stanford Med School."
Sam nodded slowly, eyes narrowing. "What else? Anything ... what she looked like, what she said …" He shook his head. "When I think about her, I just see and hear Jess."
Dean pursed his lips. "She had these intense blue eyes, kind of freaky – like a husky's. She was barefoot – which I thought was kind of weird, given it's Vermont in December. Oh, and she spoke with some kind of accent."
Dean shrugged. "Dunno. German, maybe?"
Sam looked up suddenly. "Austrian?"
Dean frowned. "Sam, the only Austrian I know is Schwarzenegger – and she sure as hell didn't sound like him." His eyebrow quirked. "You've got something, don't you?"
"Maybe." Sam raked his fingers through his hair, glancing toward the window. Dawn was beginning to break up the night sky, the Green Mountains forming a jagged silhouette along the horizon. "I think she's a goddess."
"A pagan goddess." Sam turned back to Dean. "There's a lot of people around here of Austrian ancestry, who still celebrate Austrian customs. And, like with the psycho scarecrow in Burkittsville, when old world customs cross over to the new world, sometimes the deities tag along too."
Dean nodded. "Makes sense. So who is she?"
"Given the time of year, I'd say she's Berthe. In pagan lore, she travels the earth between the winter solstice and epiphany, punishing the lazy and rewarding the hard-working – kind of like a female Santa."
Dean grinned. "Hmmm, fat old guy or hot babe? I know which one I'd rather come down my chimney."
Sam returned his grin. "Two flaws with that plan; One, she doesn't always appear as a beautiful woman - sometimes she's an old crone with an iron ring through her nose." Sam's grin widened at Dean's shudder. "Two, if you end up on the naughty list, her punishments tend to be a little more brutal than a lump of coal in your stocking. If she thinks you're guilty of gluttony, for example, she's been known to slit open your belly and fill it with rocks."
"Ouch." Dean pulled a face, then shook his head. "I knew that freaky brain of yours wouldn't fail us, but how you remember all this crap is beyond me."
"It was Jess." Sam smiled at Dean's puzzled expression. "One of the books I got from the library had an illustration of Berthe." His smile saddened. "It could have been Jess ... the resemblance was uncanny." He cleared his throat. "Guess that's why I was dreaming about her, why the two of them are all mixed up in my head."
Dean nodded slowly. "And this healing thing? That's something this ... this Bertie could do?"
Sam ran his fingers over the blood that still stained the side of his face. "Yeah. It would be well within her powers." He looked up suddenly, staring at his brother. "Dean – your hands."
Dean looked down at the dirty, bloody bandages. "What about them?"
Sam's eyebrows peaked. "If she healed us, maybe …"
Dean stuck out his right hand toward his brother. "The bandage – take it off."
Sam nodded slowly. He put down the water bottle, then reached forward to pull off the tape holding the bandage in place before unraveling it with practised ease.
As he peeled back the last layer, both brothers' eyes widened in shock.
Dean's hand was unblemished. There was no angry, peeling skin, no blisters, no burns. Faint white lines where burn cream had dried in the creases of his palm were the only signs his hands had ever been injured.
"Son of a bitch." Dean looked up at his brother, a smile spreading across his face as he flexed his hand slowly, reveling in the simple, pain-free motion.
Sam's smile matched Dean's. He'd lost track of the number of time he'd bandaged his brother's hands over the past week, worrying each time that the doctors had been wrong, that there would be lasting damage. Now, it was like the injury had never happened.
Dean tried picking at the tape securing the bandage on his left hand, quickly giving up in frustration and jabbing his hand toward Sam. Dean stared at his right hand as Sam began patiently unwrapping his left.
"So, in return for this, for healing us, Blondie, or Bertie … whatever her name is … wants us to get rid of Barnes?"
Sam nodded. "Seems so."
Dean frowned. "Okay. I get why she can't stop Barnes, banish him herself – she's a goddess, he's a spirit, different unions – but if she can heal us, why not just do the same for his other victims?"
Sam shrugged. "According to lore, she's only earthbound between winter solstice and epiphany – that's less than a month. Anything Barnes does outside that timeframe, she's powerless to stop."
Sam finished unwrapping Dean's left hand; like his right, it was fully healed.
Dean smiled, again bending and stretching his fingers. "So, somehow, she knew what we were here to do; saved our butts so we could get rid of Barnes."
Sam nodded, smiling softly. "She used your line, Dean - told me our job was 'saving people, hunting things.'"
Dean frowned as he pushed himself to his feet and stared down at his brother. "I don't like the fact she seems to be able to crawl around in our heads, digging out stuff like that, but she's right; Barnes has gotta go." He bent down, offering Sam his hand. "You wanna try standing up?"
Sam threw off the blankets, reached up and grabbed his brother's wrist, allowing Dean to pull him to his feet.
Dean watched carefully as Sam found his equilibrium. "Still good? No Pink Floyd light show? No twin big brothers?"
Sam smiled. "I'm fine, quit worrying."
Dean's grin widened. "That's what I like to hear. So let's do this."
Sam glanced around the cabin. "How?"
"The way we planned at the motel." Dean gestured with his head to the side of the fireplace.
Sam followed the gesture and his eyes widened; the weapons bag sat at the end of the hearth. "How'd that get here?"
Dean shrugged. "Bertie wants a job done, guess she made sure we had the tools to do it." He crouched beside the bag, unzipped it, pulled out a bundle of iron rods, and a box of salt, then quickly checked through the rest of supplies. "Everything's here." He grabbed two bottles of water and offered one up to Sam. "We're good to go."
Sam took the water, nodding his thanks. Dean stared at the second bottle for a moment, smiled, then reveled in the simple pleasure of twisting off the cap. He chugged half the bottle before stopping.
Sam smiled. "Thirsty?"
Dean snorted. "Actually, I'm starving. Too bad Bertie didn't think to grab the M&Ms out of the glove box when she took the bag from the car." He froze, the bottle of water halfway to his mouth. His face fell. "Oh God, the car …"
Sam cringed in sympathy, remembering the hours and hours Dean had spent working on the Impala following the crash with the semi, knowing too well how rebuilding their lives following their dad's death had begun with rebuilding the car. "We'll get it towed. I'm sure Bobby can find the parts to-"
"Not now, Sam." There was no anger in Dean's voice, just resignation. He looked up at his brother. "You're okay, I'm okay. The car will be too – eventually." He grabbed the bundle of iron rods and handed them to Sam. "Let's just banish the son of a bitch who wrecked her, then … then we'll deal with everything else."
Dean surveyed the cabin. Everything was in place. He nodded at his brother.
Sam knelt down beside the salt circle and, with a piece of chalk, drew in the last two symbols. His voice steady, he began reciting the summoning ritual from memory.
Dean's gaze jumped from the door to the fireplace, phantom pains in his hands quickly reminding him how wrong their last attempt to banish Barnes had gone. But they'd covered their bases this time. He was sure they had. This had to work.
As he spoke the last words of the incantation, Sam stood up slowly, moving back from the edge of the circle to stand beside Dean. Each brother glanced around the cabin, waiting for Barnes to appear.
The spirit didn't disappoint them.
The door flew open and wind blasted through the cabin, snow swirling in its wake. As before, the flames in the fireplace flared, hungrily licking the room. But, this time, both brothers stood well away from the fire, beyond the reach of the angry flames.
The wind roared over the salt circle, the candles burning within it flickering but staying lit, protected inside the glass hurricane lamps the brothers had glued to the floor.
Dean winced at the sting of salt against his face as the blast of air moved over the circle, before turning toward Sam. His brother had his arm raised in front of his eyes to shield them from the salt barrage but as he glanced across at Dean, he nodded.
Dean smiled. The circle was intact – thanks to the wide band of glue the brothers had painted on the floor before laying down the salt. The spirit-fuelled gust had picked up loose crystals but, as the wind died down and Barnes materialized, the salt circle remained unbroken, the spirit trapped inside.
Barnes was livid, eyes flashing as his gaze jumped from Sam to Dean and back. He snarled audibly as he raised his shotgun, pointing it at the younger Winchester. Dean matched Barnes' expression, furious over the implied threat, and instinctively stepped in front of his brother. Both Winchesters jumped as Barnes pulled the trigger and the gun fired.
The spectral bullet from the spirit's weapon seemed to move in slow motion, traveling directly toward Dean – but as it hit the edge of the circle, less than two feet from the elder Winchester's head, it dissipated into nothing.
Dean's steely glare morphed into a cold smile, but Barnes was incensed. He charged at Dean but, like his bullet, the salt circle stopped him cold.
The spirit stood nose-to-nose with Dean, leaning in as close as the circle allowed. "You think this will stop me," he spat.
Dean didn't flinch. "I guess we'll find out, won't we?" He stepped back, eyes never breaking contact with Barnes, and began reciting the banishing spell. His voice was even, controlled.
Barnes' glare turned on Sam. "You think it's right that a man's life ends when he tossed at the side of the road – left there, forgotten, like a piece of trash?"
Sam stepped beside his brother as Dean continued the spell. "You could have reached out – asked for help. There are people, people like us, who would have heard you, who could have helped."
"Help?" Barnes snarled. "Where was that help when I was still breathing? When I was dying?" His smile was cold. "I heard the cars. No one stopped, no one helped. So I swore they would pay – know what I felt, know it was me who took their lives." His eyes flashed maliciously. "I will not be forgotten."
He glared again at Dean. "Give it your best shot, boy. But you'd be amazed what I can do now." He stepped back, eyes sliding closed.
The door suddenly slammed against the wall as another icy blast ripped through the cabin, barreling into the brothers. Each staggered backwards, Sam reaching out to steady Dean as he continued reciting the ritual.
The wind picked up speed, racing around the salt circle, howling louder and growing in intensity with each pass. Barnes stood, untouched, in the centre of the vortex.
Dean was struggling to get out the words, the wind and cold stealing his breath. Knowing his stubborn brother wouldn't turn his back on Barnes, Sam moved to Dean's left, using himself as a human windbreak and sheltering Dean from the onslaught. The elder Winchester patted Sam's chest in silent thanks as he pushed on with the spell.
Ducking his head to protect his face from the barrage of ice and dirt picked up by the wind, wincing at the sting, Sam glanced down and his eyes widened in shock. The wind whipping around the circle was scouring away the salt, the layers becoming thinner with each pass. Soon it would wear through to the wood floor beneath, breaking the circle and allowing Barnes to escape.
Sam grabbed Dean's arm to draw his attention, then motioned with his head to the rapidly thinning circle.
Dean nodded brusquely; he'd seen it too. His words, almost inaudible beneath the howl of the wind, tumbled out even faster, even as he bent down and picked up a length of metal chain from the floor.
He finished the incantation just as a gap appeared in the circle. Barnes's cold smile widened triumphantly as the breach became a full break.
Squinting against the wind, Sam raised his shotgun and pulled the trigger – just as the spirit reached out and pulled the gun from his grasp. The shot went wide, the gun skittering across the floor. In the same motion, Barnes waved his hand toward Sam, a blast of energy cutting through the wind, picking up the younger Winchester off his feet and tossing him across the cabin. He hit the far wall hard and crumpled to the floor.
Barnes turned immediately to Dean, sneering as he raised his shotgun. But before the gun was even level, Dean had wrapped the chain he held around his hand – and pulled.
The chain stretched from Dean to the fireplace, where it was attached to an iron tripod Sam had constructed over the grate. Suspended from the tripod was a covered pot containing the herbs and oils needed to complete the banishing ritual. When Dean pulled the chain, the tripod collapsed, jarring loose the lid and dumping the pot and its contents into the fire.
Barnes roared, any powers he possessed gone the instant the mixture blended with fire. The flames turned blue, exploding out into the room. The howling winds, still racing around the circle, suddenly turned on Barnes, swirling around him, faster and faster, until, like the salt on the floor, they scrubbed the spirit from existence.
As he vanished with one final scream of rage, there was a bright flash of light, followed by a concussive blast that blew out the windows, lifted Dean off his feet and sent him skidding across the worn, plank floor.
Suddenly, the cabin was silent.
Sprawled on his back, coughing at the dust kicked up by the explosion, Dean pushed himself shakily onto his elbows, immediately seeking out Sam. His brother lay in a crumpled heap against the wall. "Sammy?"
Sam groaned, pushing himself up but falling back against the wall. Coughing, he nodded slowly. "I'm good."
"Liar." Dean lurched to his feet, staggering over to his brother.
Sam bit back another groan as he worked the kinks out of his back. "Had a good teacher. Just gimme a minute." He scrubbed a hand over his face and looked up at Dean, worry quickly overtaking his own discomfort. "You?"
Dean offered an exaggerated grin: "Awesome – except for the splinters in my ass from that slide across the floor." He rubbed his backside as he scanned the now trashed cabin.
The salt circle was almost scrubbed clean, the broken glass from the hurricane lamps scattered throughout the room. The candles were overturned and extinguished, thin trails of smoke spiraling upwards.
In the fireplace, the once roaring fire was out, the embers fading quickly from red to grey beneath the iron grate. Soot stained the hearth underneath the collapsed tripod that had held the banishing mixture. The pot itself had been blown across the room by the final supernatural explosion.
The windows were gone, jagged glass hanging from the cracked frames and littering the sills, and the cabin door hung at an unnatural angle after the spirit-fuelled wind had ripped it from its hinges.
Dean shook his head at the destruction. "We knew he wasn't gonna go quietly but damn ..."
Sam nodded as he surveyed the damage. "That controlling the wind thing? That's a new one on me."
"I know." Dean reached down to help up his brother. "Ever get the feeling we cut class the day they handed out the playbook on fighting these bastards?"
Sam took Dean's proffered hand and hauled himself to his feet. "There's a playbook?"
Dean snorted, but watched Sam carefully as he stretched his back and rolled his neck from side to side. "Still good?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. Nothing a hot shower won't fix."
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "Well, that won't be for a while. We've got a long walk back to the motel. That going to be a problem?"
Sam shook his head. "Nah. You?"
"I'm good." He glanced down at his feet. "Just glad I'm wearing my boots and not those lame-ass loafers." He grinned. "And it'll feel good to take them off by myself too, and not have to ask my kid brother to do it for me."
Sam began to gather up any salvageable supplies. "You know it was never a problem."
Dean watched Sam and smiled, that rare, unguarded smile that only Sam was privy to. "Yeah – and thanks for that. For … everything."
Sam looked up, returned the smile, and kept working.
The clean-up didn't take long. There was little they could do about the physical damage to the cabin but, within minutes, they had removed any identifiable traces of their presence.
Dean gave the room a final once-over. Satisfied, he pulled on his leather coat, slung the duffel over his shoulder and followed his brother down the path that led to the service road. Sam reached the final bend in the path first and stopped.
Dean frowned. "Shake a leg, Sammy. I wanna call Bobby ASAP so he can pick up the car. How long do you think it'll take to get from South Dakota to Vermont with a flatbed?"
Sam stood, hands in his pockets, squinting against the bright sunlight as he looked back at his brother. "Don't think we'll need one."
Dean quirked an eyebrow. "What?"
Sam grinned, motioning with his head around the corner.
Puzzled, Dean rounded the bend – his face lighting up as he did. Parked on the service road was the Impala. An undamaged Impala, her black paint gleaming in the clear mountain sunlight.
"Damn." Dean dropped the duffel, moving quickly to his car. "Oh, baby – you are a sight for sore eyes." He ran his hand reverentially over the hood as he walked around to the driver's side. He looked at Sam incredulously. "Look at her. There's not a speck of dirt, never mind a dent."
He pulled open the door, grinning at the familiar groan of the hinges. "You think Bertie did this?"
Sam picked up the duffel Dean had dropped, opened the back door and tossed it on the back seat. "Who else?"
Dean settled happily into the driver's seat, hands sliding lovingly around the wheel.
Sam walked around the car, opened the passenger door and glanced over at his brother, biting back a smile. "You want me to take a walk? Give you two some time?"
Dean grinned. "Don't spoil the moment, Sammy. You're okay, I'm okay, my baby's rockin' and this world has one less bastard spirit screwing over the good guys." He turned the key that was sitting in the ignition and sighed contentedly as the engine turned over on the first try, the familiar throaty rumble replacing the silence. "This is a good day."
Sam grinned as he folded himself into the passenger seat and closed the door. "No argument here."
Dean slid the car in gear, eased his foot down on the gas pedal and pulled away from cabin. As the Chevy picked up speed, he glanced in the rearview mirror. Berthe stood in the middle of the road, her hood down, the wind gently playing with her long blonde hair. She smiled and nodded, just as gust of wind lifted her cloak, causing it to billow outwards.
Dean's eyes widened and he slammed on the brakes, whipping his head around to look out the rear window.
Sam's arm shot out, grabbing the dashboard to brace himself against the sudden stop, then followed his brother's gaze. "What?" There was nothing behind them. "What is it?"
"It was Bertie." Dean gestured with his head to the road behind them. "She was standing right there."
Sam shook his head. "I didn't see her."
Dean's eyebrow quirked. "Oh I saw her. All of her. The wind blew open her cape and, um …"
"Oh." Sam grinned, turning to face the front. "Guess I forgot to mention she's sky clad huh?"
Dean glared at his brother. "If that means naked then, yeah, Sammy, you left out that little detail."
Sam's grin widened. "Oops."
Dean glanced again behind them. "Seriously? A naked goddess saved our butts?"
Sam shrugged. "Nudity's pretty common in pagan lore, Dean – communing with the world as you came into, that sort of thing. Most of the stories about Berthe suggest that, when she's earthbound, she wears her cape and nothing else."
Dean shot his brother a look. "It's not fair, Sammy." He pressed the accelerator, shaking his head as the Chevy picked up speed. "All the ugly-ass demons and puke-inducing creatures we go up against on a daily basis, we finally run into a hot babe – a naked, hot babe - who's good with cars, no less – and I'm too freakin' out of it to notice. It's just not fair."
Dean pushed open the door and walked into the motel room, rubbing his stomach contentedly. "That … was a damn fine steak."
Sam smiled as he followed his brother in, closing the door behind them. "I should be used to it by now but I still don't know how you do it."
"What?" Dean looked over his shoulder at Sam as he placed the paper bag he carried on the desk and shrugged out of his leather jacket.
Sam shook his head as he pulled off his coat, throwing it onto a chair "Polish off the biggest steak in the house, a potato the size of Idaho, half a basket of bread rolls and a salad – and still find room for pie."
Dean grinned as he pulled a bottle of Crown Royal from the paper bag and unscrewed the cap. "I was hungry."
"Three pieces of pie."
Dean turned over two glasses that sat on the desk and poured a healthy shot of whiskey into each. "What can I say: kicking a spirit's ass always gives me an appetite."
He carried the glasses across the room, handing one to Sam and raising his own. "To one less son of bitch spirit kicking the crap out of innocent people, to naked goddesses coming to our rescue – may it happen again when I'm conscious enough to fully appreciate it – and to my pain-in-the-ass little brother and his kick-ass Christmas presents. Cheers."
Sam, now sitting on the edge of his bed, leaned forward and clinked his glass with Dean's. "To good health." He smiled as he glanced at Dean's healthy hands, and at the silver band now back on his brother's right ring finger. "To things back as they should be."
Dean caught the glance, looked down at his ring and rolled his eyes. "Nice move, by the way – giving me this back at the restaurant."
Sam swung his legs up on the bed and leaned back against the headboard, eyes widening innocently. "What? We were celebrating. Seemed like the right time."
Dean eyebrows arched. "Right – and it wasn't the least bit awkward that the couple at the table next to us thought you were proposing."
Sam grinned. "It was real nice of them to send over champagne." His grin widened. "And they were just thrilled that you said yes."
"Yeah, you playing along? Real funny," Dean huffed, as he sat down on the edge of his bed and grabbed the remote. He turned on the TV and started flipping through channels.
Sam just smiled at his brother's grousing, as he grabbed his new copy of To Kill a Mockingbird from the bedside table and opened it to Chapter One. Moments like this, when a job had gone well, and left both of them in one piece, were increasingly rare; moments when they could let their guard down and just enjoy each other's company, even more so.
"Hey look, Jaws is on."
Sam glanced at the TV, then over at his brother. "You've only seen it like a million times. Think I'll read my book."
Dean shot Sam a look. "Remind me again, how many times have you read that?"
Sam grinned. "Touché."
Dean's eyebrow quirked. "Touché? See, that's why you need more Jaws, less Mockingbird - you'd never catch Robert Shaw saying 'Touché.'"
Sam rolled his eyes and dropped the book on the bed beside him. "Fine, let's watch the movie."
Dean smiled happily, kicked off his boots, pulled his legs up on the bed and settled back against the headboard.
Sam glanced over at his brother. "I think I've found us a new hunt. There's a-"
"Not tonight, Sammy." Dean stared into his glass. "There's always gonna be a new hunt, always gonna be some evil son of bitch lying around the corner." He looked up at his brother. "Today was a good day, and life's pretty stingy with those when your last name's Winchester. Let's just enjoy it."
He settled back, taking another sip of his whiskey and savoring the pleasant burn. "The world can kick our asses tomorrow."
A/N: For anyone curious, Berthe, or Percht, exists in pagan lore as Sam described her. And, yes, she supposedly travels around 'sky clad.' That was too good not to use. I took some creative licence - for instance, I'm not sure how good the real Berthe is with car but, hey, the Impala deserved a happy ending too. Lines you recognized in Sam's nightmare sequence came from Devil's Trap and In My Time of Dying, written by Kripke & Co.. Hope you enjoyed the story and, as always, I'd love to hear from you. A big hug to all of you for reading and your amazing encouragement. Till next time, cheers.