Cheryl called Susan McCoy at nine in the morning, in between checking on Dean and told her the situation. She knew there wasn't any need to hide the truth. You magically weld a locket to your child's neck, you're not going to blink at being told that the ghost of Calvin Lowry had been disposed of.
Susan had sounded overwhelmed and grateful on the phone, told Cheryl she was already at the airport. She'd been planning to pick the children up later that night anyway. She wanted to know how Emma and Ben were. It was easy enough to pass the phone over, let them talk to their mother. Like most children, they had bounced back relatively promptly. Cheryl had them out of bed, showered, dressed, fed and then they were chasing around in the backyard to burn off some energy.
Emma was thrilled that her mother was coming to pick them up. Cheryl had noticed a distinct change in the girl, her confidence growing by leaps and bounds over the short hours of her freedom. With the locket gone it seemed she felt like she could dump the responsibilities placed on her shoulder and find out what it was like to be a child.
After the phone call, and the regular trips upstairs, she did what she always did when she wanted to relax. She started cooking and decided that with so many guests in the house, lunch was definitely in order.
Bobby joined her, made sure the kids weren't in their line of sight, and put an arm around her waist and pulled her back against him, his other arm wrapping over in front of her collarbone.
"I've been wantin' to do that since I got here."
"You mind me staying a few days? You know, since Sam might need some help with Dean."
"Old man, I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Good. I could use some home cooking."
She gave him a playful slap. "You can cook. You just want someone else to cook for you."
"Ain't that the truth."
"Just so we're clear..."
"When you say, 'stay over' I presume that might involve sharing my bed."
"Well, I was never one to presume anything, but if you're asking..."
She slapped him again. "After Emma and Ben have gone."
"You always were one for proper behavior Ms. Manners. What about the boys?"
"It won't kill them."
"That's not what they'll say."
Cheryl hesitated a moment, removed one of his arms so she could go back to whisking eggs. "Bobby, I'm thinking of telling Dean."
"What? That you're an ex-Army shrink?"
"Not such a good idea. He'll yell at you and then he'll start yelling at me."
"He's had enough pain in his life. And enough manipulation. If I'm honest with him, he might just get up enough courage to see me again."
"You ain't seen Dean in a snit. Did I mention the yelling? Did I mention that the boy gets spooked by shrinks and authority figures in general?"
"Good. Remind me to be somewhere else when you do the deed."
"You're such a coward."
"You gonna tell Sam?"
She frowned at that. Sam. Her instincts said that Sam didn't need to know. Shouldn't know.
"No. I think my prior occupation needs to be private between Dean and me. Something Dean doesn't need anyone else to know."
"'Cept for me."
"Except for you. Of course, I know you'll keep your mouth shut."
He raised an eyebrow at her, still stuck on the Sam part. "You really aren't going to tell Sam? You know something I don't?"
"Just call it a hunch. That's all."
Dean woke up late afternoon the next day. Wedged on his front, deeply uncomfortable, hungry, stiffened into a mass of pulled muscles and pain and badly needing to take a leak. He felt terrible and that was with the medication.
Cheryl had politely indicated that he should stay in bed, and use a plastic urinal bottle, and he had told her to shove it. He hated them because they were awkward to use and on the humiliation range they were positioned lower than a bed pan but higher than a catheter. He'd have to be in traction before he'd use it.
"God fucking damn it!"
As no one responded to his cursing, he figured he had been temporarily left alone. He'd made a play for the bathroom a couple of times before and knew what to expect. He cursed his way through rolling himself back onto his side. Cursed as he managed to get himself sitting upright. Cursed because he was actually sitting upright. Cursed as he shambled himself forward off the edge of the bed and cursed really loudly when he stood up. Then cursed some more as he took a small step.
It descended into a litany of solid stream-of-consciousness cursing as he shuffled his way to the bathroom.
"Fuck, fuck, fuckety-fuck-fuck. On a stick. Fuck."
He stopped cursing enough to take a piss, and actually sighed with the relief of an empty bladder. Then, hand washing, and the long and slow half-walk back to bed.
Sam entered as he made it to the mid-point, yelling a heart felt potty mouthed epithet at angels, God, Heaven, hell, archangels, demons, and whoever invented the fabric softener teddy bear.
"Dean, we can hear you downstairs."
"Well, you know, maybe just lay off the language for an hour. I have visitors with me."
Dean froze in mid shuffle. Emma and Ben were with Sam, neatly dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. A woman he hadn't met before was with them and he guessed it must be their mother. She was covering Ben's ears but Ben shrugged off the hands, completely fascinated by what he'd just heard.
Emma was wide eyed, and amazed. "Mom, I think Mr. Dean just said a whole lot of bad words."
"Yes. I think he did. But I'm sure he didn't mean them."
"Mommy, what does 'fucking son of a bitch' mean?" Ben asked in all innocence.
"Not right now, honey," said the woman.
Dean had a sudden and heart felt wish that the ground would open up and swallow him and put him in some sort of oblivion where he couldn't inadvertently destroy the linguistic innocence of children.
"Uh, sorry about that," he apologized. Tried to look sufficiently contrite. Started shuffling back to the bed again.
Sam rushed over, took his arm and helped him limp the rest of the way. He felt like he was freaking 80 and just as cranky.
It took effort to sit down and he couldn't face the prospect of trying to lie down again, so kept himself upright and on the edge of the bed.
The woman came over to introduce herself.
"I'm Susan McCoy." She reached over, shook his hand. "I don't know what to say, or how to thank you for breaking the family curse."
She sat down in the chair, elegantly brushing her skirt underneath her. Her entire dress standard said businesswoman elegance.
"You can tell me why you left those kids alone," he replied. It came out wrong, sounding accusatory, but he did want to know. Sensed that maybe Emma and Ben were getting a milder repeat of the Winchester childhood.
"Our family became reasonably wealthy over the past century. My great great grandmother started her own trading business and we've somehow managed to survived the current economic climate relatively intact. The sole purpose of our funds was to search for a way to put an end to Lowry. We'd always looked for help from the covens since a coven created the original binding spell. Half of my business trips have been about trying to find the answers. As to Emma and Ben – with the locket bound to Emma, I knew Ben was safe and Emma... All I can say is that I'm sorry for what happened to her but I didn't have any choice. And I didn't want the children to be around some of the people I've contacted."
Dean felt his thighs throbbing in time to his heart beat. He had an unsexy desire to go and sit down in a bathtub lined with ice. "Most hunters would have taken you up on the job if you'd offered."
"We tried a couple of times over the years. They couldn't seem to break the original spell."
"Yeah, it was major hoodoo. Bobby's good at researching that type of stuff."
"Good thing that you were able to cast it so effectively."
There was a brief pause. She started digging around in her handbag, pulling out a check book and a pen. "I wanted to give you something."
Dean shook his head. "We haven't got a bank account."
"We try to keep our names out of circulation as much as possible," added Sam.
This seemed to throw her somewhat but she didn't put it away. "Okay. I'm going to write this out to Dr. McTierney. She can hold it for you in trust. Until you need it."
Dean didn't bother to ask how much she was considering giving them, but he saw Sam's eyes go wide as she wrote out a figure.
"Thanks," stammered Sam. "That's uh, that's very generous."
She ripped the check out of the book, and gave it, and a business card to Sam. "I know the hunter lifestyle doesn't lend itself to a permanent residence, or possessions, but one day, you might feel the need to take a break. Call me if you ever need my help."
Throughout the conversation, Emma and Ben had stood by their mother, smiling at Dean and he couldn't believe the change in their demeanor. Especially Emma.
Their mother stood, gently stroked Emma's hair. "We have to go now. Why don't you two thank Sam and Dean?"
Emma turned to Sam, gave him a hug, as did Ben.
"Thanks Mr. Sam. Thank you for saving me and Emma," said Ben
"Yes," said Emma. "Thank you for letting me be like normal people."
Sam said that it was okay, that's what they did for a living, all the while looking horribly uncomfortable at the fact that they were hugging his knees.
They turned their attentions to Dean but seemed have been told that it was a strictly hands-off event with no cute hugging or hand holding. Emma thanked him again. Solemnly. Ben also thanked him and then insisted that he needed to take his Spider-Man coloring book and crayons so he wouldn't be bored.
Well, he couldn't say 'no' to that. He always was a sucker for kids. Even ones that thought his coloring skills sucked.
"Hey, thanks," he told Ben as sincerely as possible. "I promise to color between the lines."
"Will you send me one when you finish it?
"Sure. Absolutely." He was as sincere as he could be, even though he didn't intend to ever fulfill that particular promise.
Susan thanked them again then ushered the children from the room, telling Sam they would see themselves out.
Sam picked up the coloring book, flicked the pages. Stopped at the single page that had been cut out and them jammed back in again. Burst out laughing before holding it up.
It was Dean's gay Spider-Man with fangs.
"I presume this is yours?"
"I was bored."
"Dude, that's sick."
"Spider-Man isn't my thing."
"You're not going to do that to the rest of the book are you?"
"No way. Ben will freak out."
"Cheryl's cooking up a storm. Something about steak burgers with home made potato wedges. I'll bring you up a plate."
Oh, hell yes. He really did love that woman to bits. Sam was walking out of the room and he called out after him. "Remember to bring the ketchup!"
"Okay! Keep your shirt on," called back Sam, already in the hallway.
The room was quiet again. He managed to rearrange himself into a position vaguely resembling comfortable. The Spider-Man coloring book just sat there, taunting him. He opened it, keeping an ear out for the return of his baby brother and did some more unspeakable things to the superhero. He thought the bolts on Spidey's neck and the hideous scars were his best work yet.
Cheryl climbed the stairs and felt the kind of dread that came with having to tell patients bad news. Or in the case of Dean, that she wasn't the innocent baker of cookies and cupcakes he'd come to trust.
She knocked on the door, opened it, stuck her head around the edge to scope out the room. Sam was gone and Dean was half heartedly watching the TV. He noticed her straight away.
"Tell me you brought food."
She entered, went to sit on the chair. "Sorry, kiddo. No food."
"That's the toll for entry into my domain. Food. No food, no audience with me," he said jokingly.
"Clearly you're not a push-over then."
He laughed, and she watched him try to shift around without causing himself too much pain.
"I wanted to tell you something," she said, trying to keep a neutral expression on her face. Of course, he had years of experience in knowing when people were about to spring him with news he wouldn't like, so he picked up on it immediately.
"Like what? Do I have cancer? 'Cause although that would suck, it wouldn't be unexpected. You know, with the general theme of my life so far."
She shook her head. "No. You know how I told you that I was a doctor in the Army?"
"While I was in the Army, I was a psychiatrist. I specialized in helping troops with combat stress."
His initial expression appeared to be shock, and then she could see him putting two and two together. She waited for the yelling but it didn't happen. Not yet anyway.
"Did Bobby plan this?" He previously friendly tone of voice had vanished.
She nodded. "You have to understand that he's very fond of you. And Sam. I think he sees you almost like you're his own kids. He really did think the job was nothing you couldn't handle. He wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Answer the question."
She tried to keep her body language as neutral as possible. Arms resting by her sides. Legs straight out and not crossed. Nothing defensive in her posture whatsoever.
"Yes. He asked for my help. I volunteered."
"So Bobby thinks I've driven off the crazy cliff."
"No. Bobby does not think that. He thinks you both needed to talk to a neutral third party, who just might understand where you've been."
Dean pursed his lips, and she wondered how much trust she had blown by not telling him at the start. Thing was, Bobby was right – if she'd told him at the start he would have marched out the door and she never would have seen him again.
"Bobby trusts you," he said. It wasn't so much a question, as a statement.
"Yes. He trusts me."
"How'd you meet him?"
"I was treating a soldier back here for what I thought was a psychotic break. He kept claiming he saw demons in the ward. Then we had two patients die. Both times we couldn't find out how they managed to get out of their rooms. Next thing I know, I'm on the night shift and some guy turns up claiming that the ward is haunted. I go to get him thrown out by security and find that same solider in my office, holding a butcher's knife and telling me how he's going to rip out my heart and eat it. That was not the guy I was treating. Even when he was psychotic. Next thing I know Bobby throws a handful of salt at him, douses him in holy water and starts reciting Latin."
"Let me guess. The whole office goes bat shit, furniture moves around and then smoke comes out of the guy's mouth."
"Yep, and right then I became an official member of the Bobby Singer fan club. Quit my job the next day, cashed in half of my stock options and came out here."
He seemed to be on the verge of a decision and he wasn't blowing his stack, for which she was grateful. Maybe she'd made a difference after all. Or at least, he didn't perceive her as a threat.
"Does Bobby, uh... You know – talk to you about shit?" Dean's face was as neutral as her posture.
"Yes, but don't tell him I said that. It's more like a chat over cups of coffee."
"So. You're okay with it?"
"You're not going to diagnose me or anything? I'm not taking meds."
"You've been certified sane."
He smiled then seemed to have an idea. "Feel free to give them to Sam though. He could use a dose of Prozac. It might cheer him up."
She returned his smile but then tried for a serious tone. "I'm not telling Sam. This is between you and me."
"I'm serious. Don't tell him. You two have lived in each other's damn pockets for too long. You need to have one thing that's private."
"We don't lie to each other. At least, we never used to."
"I'm not telling you to lie. I'm telling you to give yourself permission to have one thing in your life that's got nothing to do with Sam."
He seemed taken aback by the her stridency. "It's Sam."
"Look, I can't stop you, but without knowing too much about your childhood I can guess the general theme. Sam was the youngest and that means Sam got catered to more than you ever did. In fact, I would say right up until puberty the kid had both you and your father wrapped around his little finger."
Dean's eyes widened. Her supposition had been correct. She kept going. "This is one thing that Sam can't have."
"But if he wanted to, he could. Right?" His concern had shifted to his brother and she made a mental note to try and find out how one man's self worth could sink so low.
"Yes, if he wanted to. But I'm more concerned with you. I just want to make sure you're okay with this. That you're not upset."
He shook his head. "Nope. I don't think so anyway."
"Good. Okay, I'm going to get cookies."
"Thank, God. I was beginning to think you were going to talk all day."
"That's enough from you," she said. Then she stood up and went to leave the room. "See you soon."
She stopped in the doorway. "What is it, kiddo?"
"Promise me that if you see a chance, you'll talk to Sam. I mean, he could probably use someone too. You know. For coffee and stuff."
She couldn't really refuse him. "Sure thing. If Sam wants to talk, I'm right here. For both of you."
It had taken three days for the pain to subside enough to allow Dean to walk very far. They'd shifted him downstairs the next day, when he insisted on wanting to watch TV on a bigger TV and then he'd bitched the entire two days about a variety of irritations including the ice packs, the sound on the TV (too loud, or too soft), and the lack of reading material. He mostly stayed on his side, or front and watching him struggle to get comfortable made everyone else uncomfortable. When it rained, he'd fretted that the Impala was in the elements unprotected until Cheryl had told Sam to park the car in her garage.
When Bobby had innocently leaned over to peck Cheryl on the cheek while they were all watching TV, Dean had yelled that old person sex squicked him out and could they please not have any public displays of affection in his presence. Bobby had looked like he was going to give Dean a swift smack across the back of the head then stopped himself.
Sam for the most part, just tried to keep calm, made sure his brother was eating and sleeping, helped him hobble to the bathroom and made sure he didn't fall over in the shower. Apart from that he kept out of the way.
Bobby had taken Dean's general surliness to heart and gone out to change the Impala's air filter before Dean attempted to do it himself. After another few days he announced he was heading back to his yard, because Rumsfield Junior needed to be fed.
Cheryl had hugged him, promised to visit.
Sam had taken the Impala into the city to get a break and also on the pretext of buying one tiny thing that would cheer Dean up. He'd initially thought bear was the easiest and most sure bet then then his sense of humor had gone into overdrove when he'd walked past a Toys R Us. He'd bought a Hotwheels Mustang Cobra and a '69 Pontiac GTO. Hoped Dean would see the funny side.
Then he'd driven back at a leisurely pace, just pleased to not have to really worry about much at all. Dean would be itching to get back on the road but right here, right now they had a temporary home, and he'd decided that he was going to enjoy it as much as possible. He'd even cut back down on the demon blood, hadn't phoned Ruby at all since they'd arrived at Cheryl's place. The supply he had would last a couple of days at least and it was like a breeze had blown through his brain and dislodged some of the cobwebs.
Everything was good, and as long as the other side didn't turn up either – the angels – it was actually really like an honest to God vacation. Except for the bruises.
He came in through the back door, went into the kitchen to help himself to a cup of coffee, stopped himself at the entrance to the living room.
Cheryl and Dean were talking. He shouldn't eavesdrop, knew he shouldn't but he did anyway. He could tell Dean worshiped Cheryl, saw it on his face every time he talked to her. Dean softened a fraction every time he was in the room with her. And that was something he never saw in his brother. A softer side. One that wasn't being hurt, or doing the hurting.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better. Haven't had any bad nightmares for the last couple of days either."
"The prazosin seems to be working. You know, I can write you a scrip so you can keep taking it."
There was hesitation, Dean didn't immediately respond. "I dunno. What if Sam finds out?'
Sam could hear Cheryl smacking herself on the forehead from where he was standing.
"I think that you should care less about what other people think, and be more concerned for your own health. Besides, as far as your brother's concerned its for blood pressure."
"I haven't got high blood pressure."
"Yet. Remember, what I told you? It's borderline. You were 125 over 90 yesterday. A guy like you should be 120 over 80 at a minimum. I'd expect 110 over 80 or less."
"I'm not heart attack material."
"Crappy food, bad accommodation, long hours in the car - wait until you hit your forties and then tell me all about it."
Again, there was that pause. "Are you sure I'm sane? 'Cause Sam thinks I'm nuts."
Crap. There it was. Dean saying what Sam was too damn scared to admit to himself. He'd called it by other names. Said Dean wasn't entirely all there, that he was weak, that he needed help. He hadn't said the other words though. Crazy. Nuts. Damaged.
"I think I've told you this before, but I'll tell you again - you're officially sane. You've just been going through a fairly intense adjustment period with some PTSD and believe me, you'll get over it. As to Sam. Well, maybe you could also meet him half way and at least try to help him understand what you're going through."
"I'm not that good at explaining it. It pisses him off."
Ouch. That hurt. He didn't know why Dean would say that about him. He'd looked after Dean every time Dean was sick and hurting. Sat at his hospital bed. If nothing else, he was rock solid when it came to taking care of Dean when he got sick. Maybe not so much with the squirrelly behavior, but he was definitely good with the physical side. Of course he'd understand if Dean would just be a little better at telling him what was wrong. Indignation welled up and he felt like he should march in there and tell them exactly what he thought.
But he didn't. His guilty conscience, and the voice that had begun to sound like his father about a year ago, told him it wasn't his place to do that. It was no good getting snotty about the situation when you just had to look at the facts, his father's voice was saying. You've been distancing yourself, pulling back, like I did. You don't want him hurt again if this all goes wrong. It's better if he hates you because if he hates you he won't make a dumb deal ever again. He won't freaking sell himself to the next spawn of hell that oozes along and promises that if he sells himself, Sam will be saved. Sam was going to make sure that Dean was done with the self sacrificing because Sam knew that whatever happened next, Dean was in serious danger of losing himself.
He really wanted to explain that to his brother, put it all into words but couldn't. He knew Dean would go ballistic at Sam drinking demon blood and his continued association with Ruby. Dean wouldn't understand that Sam needed to be the one to sacrifice himself this time around. It wasn't such a big burden to bear compared to what Dean had done for Sam.
Sam heard Dean's voice. It was quiet and filled with a sadness Sam had never heard before. "I worry about Sam. You know, there's all that stuff he's dealing with and he's always wanted to just have a life. You know? Just a job, and a girlfriend and I guess, maybe he wanted a house or something. A life that didn't involve staying in flea pit motels."
"I told you, Dean. You can't take care of him forever. It's his choice. "
"No, it wasn't. I came looking for him. I dragged him back to hunting and I dragged him down with me. I ruined everything for him."
There was a noise, something like a sniff, or a sob and Sam stood there, nailed to the spot, realizing that Dean was crying. Really crying and there was no way he could just walk into that room. No way. His brother deserved to cry in privacy.
He heard Cheryl again, her voice soft. Imagined that she had her hand on Dean's head.
"Sweetheart, it's okay. None of this is your fault. You've been used, like a pawn, and there's nothing you could have done about it. Okay?"
A pawn. That summed it up. And she was right. They were all pawns, desperately telling themselves that they had a choice, that it was about free will, but he was beginning to suspect that it wasn't right at all. Maybe the correct response was to stop fighting, give into the inevitable with fatalism and be done with it.
The soft sound of someone crying stopped and there was a shaky laugh from Dean.
"I know this is going to sound weird," said Dean. "But, uh, can I have a teaspoon?"
"Sure. You want to .. Stir coffee?"
"No. To keep."
"Um... Sure. I see no reason why you can't have a teaspoon."
"I've got fifteen of them."
"Yep. From everywhere I stayed for the past year."
He heard Cheryl laugh and before she could leave, Sam turned away, tip-toed back the kitchen to drink his coffee and pretend he hadn't heard a thing.
Soon as Dean was ready, he was going to take him to Huron.
It wasn't hard to find. A giant fiber glass bird perched on top of an old liquor store announced itself to everyone passing by. Especially since it towered over everything in the immediate vicinity - it's tail hung out over the parking lot and its yellow, unblinking eyes stared out over a grass field.
Dean was up and about but could only manage a few hours at a time sitting in the car. He still had to haul himself out for frequent rest stops but Dean seemed happy with the arrangement since it involved walking around and eating from the stash of cookies and chocolate cake that Cheryl had thrust in their direction after a mammoth baking session.
Sam tried not to hover and unobtrusively monitored Dean's pill consumption so that he took them on a regular basis. He pretended he didn't see Dean take the prazosin and would continue to do so. At some point during the trip, Dean had made some random comment about going back to Cheryl's for coffee at some point and Sam had mumbled, "Sure, don't see why not." Even though he wasn't sure what he was going to say to the woman. It had been nice enough, but... He was a Winchester and Winchesters didn't talk about the family business.
They both walked up the viewing platform, Sam dug out his cellphone, thought he would take a photo of Dean looking happy.
"Dean, stand still. I want to get this."
Dean pulled a face. "Get a shot of the pheasant, not me."
"I was going to take a photo of you and the giant freaky bird."
He felt a tap on his shoulder. A young couple were standing behind him.
"Would you like us to take a photo of both of you?"
He hesitated, unused to offers of help from strangers. "Oh. Are you sure? I mean, my brother and I were just sort of visiting."
The man laughed at that. "Visiting. Tell me that you're just visiting when we see you at the giant buffalo."
"There's a giant buffalo?" Dean could hardly contain himself.
The woman laughed. "I know, weird but cool. Have you seen the giant otter in Minnesota?"
Sam shook his head. Dean looked like he'd just discovered a new hobby.
The man put an arm around the woman. "We're doing a road trip of all the giant statues we can find. Next stop, the giant prairie dog in Cactus Flats." He didn't wait from Sam to say another word. "I know. Weird."
"No. Actually, it sounds like fun."
"That it is, my friend. That it is."
Sam handed over his cellphone, showed them how to take a photo. He stood beside Dean, paused a moment before putting an arm around his brother's shoulders. Dean frowned at him, then smiled, did the same.
The man took the photo and showed it to them.
"It's a good photo," said the man, handing back the phone.
"Thanks for taking it," said Sam. He meant it.
Both brothers peered at the tiny screen on the cellphone. Dean seemed uncharacteristically quiet, smart ass remarks unforthcoming.
They were both staring at a photo of two brothers, grinning like maniacs, in front of a garishly painted bird and even though it looked like them, was them, it felt like they were someone else.
See, there were just these two guys, taking a road trip around America. One of them was on sabbatical from Stanford. The other was going back to his job as a mechanic when they were done. They were still young so there was plenty of time to catch up on the day-to-day stuff of average lives when they got back. The taller guy had a girlfriend anyway, and she'd been calling him, asking him when he was coming home. The other one needed to get back to his job and figure out how to start his own business. He wanted to own an auto shop of his own. Fix classic cars.
Dean cleared his throat. "Hey, we look..." He paused, searching for the right word. "Uh. Like ordinary people. Normal. Don't ya think?"
Sam didn't acknowledge him for a moment, just stared at the photo and what it symbolized and what he desperately wanted for both of them. Just to be able to exist, and not be weighed down by the responsibilities of Heaven and hell and the world.
"Yeah," he said. "We do."
Then Dean shut the phone, handed it back to Sam and they walked back to the car in silence.