Sam carefully helped Dean into the lounge and deposited him gently on a sofa. The funeral tech followed him, hovering nearby and anxiously asking if he should call 911.
Sam looked at Dean, who shook his head. "No," Sam answered unsurely, "he'll be ok, thanks."
"I'll get you some ice water." the man offered, hurrying off to alert his director of the incident.
"Are you really ok?" Sam demanded, peering intently at Dean.
Dean was shaky and still breathing heavily, but he closed his eyes and nodded.
Maggie sat beside him, running her fingers through his damp hair. "God, you scared me!" she said.
He smiled wanly. -scared me too- "It'd take a lot more than this to boot my ass down to hell." He was decidedly not ok, but it was concerning his psyche more than anything else. He'd already experienced a failing heart enough in his young life; he'd had more heart attacks than a retired postal worker. And here he had again. It was profoundly unsettling, and he had the urge to just curl up and shut the world out. But he pushed the feelings away, for the sake of his dignity and the people who hovered over him now. And he knew it didn't affect him alone, Maggie had experienced a terrible trauma herself. Dean asked Sam to help him up to a sitting position. He pulled Maggie down beside him and wrapped his arms around her. He had to deal with this for her sake.
"I know what you saw in there…" he said quietly.."And you'll never be able to forget it. But I want you to know this; Daniel only attacked me because he was still afraid, and hurt, and angry. But he doesn't feel any of that now,…ok? And I'm not really hurt, just a little shaken up, so don't feel bad for me. Danny has peace now. You gave him that…you allowed us to lead him to that."
She crumpled into soft crying as he stroked her hair. She could feel the trembling running through him, knowing that he was comforting her when clearly, he sorely needed it himself. She would always love him for that.
"It's okay." he soothed. "I know how you feel...we'll talk about all this later." He closed his eyes and coached himself to breath more evenly, and holding her, he felt some measure of calm return.
The man who had witnessed the strange events returned with a pitcher and a glass. Sam accepted it from him, filled the glass and placed it into Dean's shaking hand. He took it gratefully. He had a few sips and handed it back.
"The director is on his way down." the nervous man informed. He hovered longer than necessary, clearly troubled.
"Uh...look, I'm sorry...I know you're all…well, I mean... Christ, what the hell happened there?"
Sam took him aside. "Listen...what you saw there was something you never want to discuss with anyone, ok? For your own sake. That was a spirit. It was a little screwed up, but it's gone now. I know you saw it, and you felt the cold, and you saw what it did to my brother. But unless you want to look like a lunatic, keep it to yourself. It's just my advice...forget about all this. You'll be a lot better off. And thank-you, by the way, for helping us. It made a difference...probably saved his life."
The shaken man nodded. He left for home minutes later. And he quit the next day.
The director flew through the doors, his mind filled with dread over the possibility of litigation. "What happened? Is everyone alright?" he demanded, flustered from his sprint from his office.
Sam took over. "It's ok, sir. My brother just got faint when he saw the body, it's nothing, really."
"But my staff-member said-"
"He was confused. Everything is fine."
"Oh…well, I'm very glad to hear that. " He really was. "Were you able to…complete your request?"
"Yes, sir. The cremation is underway. I'm going to get these two home, it's been a long, hard day. We'd appreciate a call when the ashes are ready. And thank-you for accommodating us, sir."
The director nodded. His professional mask of saccharine sympathy slipped into place. He offered his condolences and promised to call when it was appropriate.
Sam helped Dean to his feet. Dean drew on his store of adrenalin to appear just as he was described, a wuss who got the willies and fainted. He wasn't thrilled with that portrayal. He really had earned more of a hero's adulation, but que sera. But once safely stowed in the Impala, Dean gave in. That was as near to death as he cared to tread. He was fairly undone by it all.
Sam knew. He'd seen versions of it before. But he knew Dean would keep it together for Maggie's sake. He wouldn't allow himself the luxury of any real emotional reaction to it all. Not publicly, anyway. Not when she had her own traumas to deal with.
All Dean allowed himself was to close his eyes and drift. His mind wandered in search of some perfect place, somewhere that required nothing of him. He must have found it, because he stopped responding to both Maggie and Sam's anxious queries as to how he was doing.
They arrived back at her house. Maggie exited and opened her front door, and this time no one was in the crosshairs of Ivan's welcome. The big dog circled the front yard several times before giving in to his needs. Sam tried to wake Dean, but had limited success. So he gathered him up and carried him in to a sofa.
Maggie went to brew some tea. Tea was normal...tea was peaceful. She wanted nothing else.
Sam sat beside his brother, waiting for him to return to the living. He didn't want to rush it, he knew that Dean had experienced a serious ordeal. This quiet was good.
Dean groaned and turned onto his side. The discomfort woke him and he struggled to sit up. "Sam? he asked, rubbing his eyes "Where are we…?"
"It's ok, Dean, we're back at Maggie's. The salt and burn is done." he assured.
Dean sighed his relief, remembering. "Is she ok?"
"Yeah, Dean, she's fine. How about you?"
He nodded his response.
Maggie brought in some mugs. Dean accepted his, took a few dutiful sips and gave Sam a look. Sam got up and discreetly retrieved the bourbon.
After Dean downed a couple of generous ounces he felt better.
Maggie sat with them. She spied the bottle and reached for it. "Wow." she said quietly. It was quite the understatement. She had so much more to say, so many questions. But when she looked to her exhausted and spent lover, she felt it could all wait until tomorrow. She knew the important thing...Daniel had passed on to peace. Dean and Sam had made sure. Nothing mattered more than that.
Dean slept for two days.
He needed it. He was legitimately exhausted, hurt and in need of healing for the first 24 hours. He was hardly aware of just how many times they peeked in on him, his two anxious nurses. The second 24 hours were good for him too...but were more of an excuse to spend most of the day in the sack with Maggie. Ivan had never been walked so much in his life.
When Maggie finally gave herself a breather, she went about arranging a short-notice memorial service for Daniel. She invited the people who knew him best, Bill, her co-workers at Harry's, Daniel's few but close friends. And the handful of family members remaining in the area. And of course, the Winchester brothers, without whom the memorial could not have happened. It was to take place the next day. Bill had offered Harry's...the bar would be closed tomorrow to accommodate the mourners.
Sam had gone out and picked up the ashes. Dean was still asleep, and when Sam returned with the unassuming box, he sat with Maggie for a little while. She held the container in her hands.
"It's so little." she said, in a small voice, fighting to keep her composure.
Sam understood. To her, Daniel was everything. To see him reduced to this small package was so contrary to what she held so dear.
"It is. And you know why, don't you?" he asked gently.
She nodded. This box represented only a small portion of who, and what Daniel Elliot Williams was. He was kind, and good-humoured, warm in spirit. A rescuer of stray cats. An eighties techno band aficionado. A closet drummer. He was the only one who could revive her abused African violets. The one who insisted that Christmas stockings were more important than expensive presents under the tree. All those things were still out there, somewhere. This little pile of dust was almost insignificant when there were people keeping his memory alive.
She had questions...questions she was almost too afraid to ask. But Sam helped her. He had enough experience with these things…not as much as Dean, but he was a more spiritual person so he was better suited to guide her through this. Sam had a more optimistic and hopeful outlook when it came to the next level, whatever that may be. Dean was jaded, he had seen and suffered too much of the negative side of it all.
After some heart-rending conversation she was able to find a comfortable place. She was glad to have seen him, even under the circumstances. She knew she was blessed, everyone who had lost someone close begged and prayed to see them again somehow. She was one of the rare few who had had the opportunity. She would cherish that last moment, when his face was transformed by that peaceful smile, and he reached out to touch her. She knew she was very, very lucky. And she knew who had suffered to deliver that to her.
Maggie had been brought up to speed regarding the other pressures that drove the Winchester brothers. She knew why Dean had to leave. And she knew he didn't want to. Life sucked sometimes. Really, really sucked.
The wake for Danny was wonderful, in true Irish style. Everyone did their best to get hammered, the stories and remembrances spilling over each other. Maggie had no idea how many people's lives were touched by her younger brother. There were dozens more than she had invited. It was awe-inspiring.
At the brothers' request, no mention was made of their part in it all. It was dangerous for them, and besides, they wanted it to be all about Danny. They were merely another two friends remembering him. At the end of the wake, when the last weepy straggler had been escorted to a cab, it was Dean and Sam, and Bill and Maggie. Maggie was pretty looped, even by her standards. She'd kept it together for the evening but she'd downed three tequila shooters in Danny's honour at the end, and they were hitting her hard now. Even Sam was unable to walk with any dignity.
But Dean had remained uncharacteristically in control.
This wake was about sad and untimely partings, but not just involving Dan. For him, it also represented his impending separation from this wonderful girl.
Bill, being a professional after all, was also fairly sober. He found Dean and took him aside. "Listen. I wanna thank you…on behalf of all of us, for what you did for our Maggie. She was really lost, and hurting, not knowing what happened to Dan. She, and the rest of us I guess—all knew, somehow, that it would end this way. Danny wasn't the type to just wander off. But if she never had found out...well, it would have been an open sore for her 'til the day she died. And we would have had to watch her suffer." He sighed, not sure if he had the eloquence to say what he wanted to.
"I know." Dean said, simply.
And Bill knew that he did. His frizzy, squirrel moustache curled up in a smile. "Good lad." He clapped Dean firmly on the back and left for home.
Dean hid the pain it caused. He was ready to head for home himself. Well, for Maggie's home anyway... He slipped out to start the Impala and warm it up. As he sat alone, the reality hit him hard. -crap-
CRAP CRAP CRAP! He pounded his hands against the steering wheel. This all sucked! He deserved better. Maggie did too. And Sam. This goddamned life, this hunting...it was costing them everything. And it was too late to change. He couldn't undo the trouble they were in. He couldn't ignore what he knew of the world, and what lurked in it's shadows. But at this moment he'd have given everything to know nothing. He dropped his head into his hands, weary and overcome.
Sam and Maggie staggered over to the car. They were giggling stupidly, and Dean rubbed his eyes quickly and shook his head at their sorry state. He had to smile despite himself. Sam clumsily pulled the heavy door open and helped Maggie in before climbing in himself. Dean ferried them home. They'd all done Danny proud tonight.
Once back at the house, he again managed to avoid Ivan at the door and he guided his stumbling charges to their respective rooms. He tucked Sam in with a bucket and glass of water at his bedside.
And he gently comforted a weepy Maggie until she fell into an exhausted sleep.
That left Ivan. Dean went back out, called the big dog, and closed the door behind him when he had finished his business. Ivan immediately headed for Sam's room.
Dean sat in the quiet of the house. He was tired, but sleep was evasive. He was deeply affected by the outpouring of love and regret for Daniel. He wished he had a life where, in the end, he too would have inspired a gathering like this. But instead, he had the reputation of a criminal…a murderer no less. He had been forced to drag Sam into the same rootless existence. He had to leave everything that mattered behind, regularly. No one, except Sam, would miss him or lament him if he were gone tomorrow...and for what? The great rewards of hunting? It didn't even pay for their most basic needs. And they left their own blood behind each time.
He was f~cking sick of it. He dealt a bitter kick to the ottoman. Ivan, alerted by the sound, left Sam's bed and came in. He walked up to Dean, whined, and licked his face. Dean sighed, smiled a little and scratched his wiry head. It was a little thing, but enough to distract him from the bitter road he was heading down. He got up and headed off to bed. Tomorrow was going to be hard.
It was pissing down rain hard that morning. It was fitting.
Sheriff McClary stopped by Maggie's place. It was early, but Sam and Maggie were up, preparing for the brothers' departure. Dean was still asleep.
"Thought you might miss this." he said, handing the camera to Sam.
Sam thanked him, grateful to have his gift from Dean back. "So, you don't need it for evidence?"
The sheriff shook his head. "We retrieved the recording from it. That's all we need. So you two are heading out?"
"Yes sir. Around noon, probably."
"Well, that's good. Any idea where you're headed?"
Sam could honestly say they had no idea.
Maggie poured a coffee for the sheriff and he sat down with it. They joined him.
"How's your brother doing?" he asked quietly.
"Uh…better, and worse. He had a rough week. We had a little interaction…with Danny's spirit at the crematorium. Danny fought back, for a few minutes. Almost had to plan two funerals… I'd explain, but I know how you feel about all this."
Sheriff McClary sighed and sat back. "Yeah...about that. I called your Detective Ballard contact. She had quite a tale to tell. It was like pulling teeth to get it out of her, 'course I understand why. But it was another goddamned eye-opener. I checked her out, she has an excellent record so I can't class her a nut-case either. You know, I keep wanting to find evidence that proves you're all crazy, or con-artists...and I keep coming up with squat. It's very disconcerting…" He was serious, but a little smile played on his lips.
Maggie got up to feed Ivan, who was becoming an ever-more obvious presence.
Sheriff McClary continued. "The coroner confirmed what you said would be there on Randy Jarvis' body. And cause of death. Even that sonofabitch deputy of mine had the marks." He sipped at his coffee. "So what happened to Dean at the funeral home?"
Sam knew why the Sheriff was asking. He was a reluctant neophyte in all this. He wanted to know more and more, to make sense of it. He could no longer comfortably reject it all.
"He was applying salt to the body, so that it burned with it. It's the way to release a spirit from it's tormented state...salt and burn the remains. That's a whole other discussion, the whys and hows and wheres. Well...Danny Williams didn't like the idea. He was frightened, and he fought back. He stopped Dean's heart, until Maggie got through to him and got him to quit hurting him. She was pretty freaked out about it all, seeing her little brother's spirit, for starters...and watching it try to kill her friend. But she had what it took to change his mind...she gentled him. And the salt and burn is done now, Danny is gone on to wherever he was supposed to go."
"Salt. …Huh. So Dean...he's ok?"
Sam smiled wryly. "As much as on any given day. He'll get over it all. He always does."
"Mm. Sam, tell me more about this thing out in St. Louis. "
Sam was caught off guard, and at a loss for words…
"Shapeshifter." It was Dean who answered. He came out and sat on a chair opposite from the sheriff. Maggie got up and made a strong coffee for him, returning and handing it to him. He nodded gratefully. "It was a human-like thing…we call them shape-shifters. Maybe they're not always evil, I don't know. But we don't hear about the good ones, only the ones that use their power to do bad things. Well...this one got his jollies by hurting women, just like any average psycho. It takes on someone's form, and to do it they need to be in close contact with the person, so they nab the victim, disguise their body as theirs and usually kill them. And when they need to change form, when things get too hot for them, they shed their skin like an insect. They like underground lairs, sewers, that sort of thing, where they can leave their sheddings without anyone seeing. Oh, and their eyes fluoresce, like a cat's. That's about it."
" Christ." It was all McClary could come up with at the moment. But he had to know... "Look...why the hell are you two chasing these things? This is the part that I really don't get. What's in it for you?"
Dean and Sam exchanged looks of helplessness. The hardly had an adequate answer for themselves lately, let alone for a skeptical onlooker.
"Satisfaction that one more evil sonofabitch is back in hell where it belongs. Or that some poor bastard that doesn't know he's dead can move on." Dean said, shrugging.
"Our Dad started us in this." Sam added. " After our mother was taken by a...well, an evil thing. He started to learn about all these things that are really out there, and he made it his mission to get rid of as many as he could. And he found this underground community of hunters. People who have seen it all, and go after these evils."
The sheriff was quiet. He was no longer able to categorically dismiss this all. It was a new and uncomfortable awareness. He sighed. "Well, boys. I don't know what to make of you, and all of this. But I sure as hell won't be the one to stand in the way of people like you who are willing to go after this shit and fix it. I've been a lawman for over twenty years. There's always something strange happening. But I have my days filled by the crap that normal human-beings do to each other. I think I'll leave this other shit to you to deal with, since you seem to know what you're doing." He got up and made motions to leave. He paused at the door, scratching his head. "You know...this state is old, really got a deep history. And I hear of stuff… Well, if I ever need to get, uh...an informed opinion on something...I'd like to think I can count on you."
"You got it, Sheriff." Dean said without hesitation. "Just get a hold of Maggie here. She'll be able to contact us." He reached around her waist and drew her closer.
Sheriff McClary nodded. "Listen...one more thing. Seems whenever some one accesses your police file, there's a note made. It must be flagged on the system, or something. Within hours of my search I got a call from a Henrickson, from the FBI. He wanted to know why you were being searched, and where. So be warned; you've got somebody out there, high up, who's interested."
Dean swore under his breath. Getting far away was now more important than ever. "Thanks for the heads-up, sir."
McClary left with a wave.
Sam went out to the Impala, making sure all was packed and ready. He started it, warming her up.
Dean was left with Maggie. "Here...I got you this." He awkwardly handed a box to Maggie.
She opened it. It was a silver ID bracelet. It was kind of mannish, very Dean. She turned it over, seeing the number scratched crudely into the back.
"Yeah, I know...it's kind of ugly. But that's my cell, on the back, ok? It's all I could find that I could fit the number on."
She knew the significance. It was tantamount to his placing his life in her hands. She put in on, and he helped with the clasp. "Thank-you…" She couldn't hold back her tears.
"Please, Maggie...please call me, whenever you need me…Ok? I don't care if it's about a nightmare, or a thunderstorm…or a crossword puzzle question… I mean, I probably won't be able to help you with the crossword, but just...call me anyway."
She looked up at him with shining eyes. "I will."
He held her tightly, nuzzling her hair, her neck. "Jesus, Maggie…if it were different…"
"I know, Dean. I know. Please…be careful. I know this will be over someday. Maybe I'll be some grey-haired old biddy, I dunno…but when all the monsters are gone, come home to me...promise me."
He pulled her closer. "I promise, Maggie. I promise."
Sam drove the first leg. It was a very quiet trip.
Dean was forced to sit sideways on the seat, still unable to bear the contact with the firm leather back. He rested his head on the top edge…drifting between sleep and quiet wakefulness. "Where are we going?" he asked, not particularly interested in the answer.
Sam answered firmly. He'd been thinking of this for some time. "Mexico. We're going to Mexico, Dean. We going to do a vacation properly this time."
Dean smiled, adjusting his position against the headrest.
Mexico… He decided it was just about perfect.